Note This article was originally published on my LinkedIn.
TL:DR iOS 14 finally catches up with Android and macOS jumps ship. In a seismic but deliberately underplayed change Apple signalled to developers that macOS is moving to Apple Silicon with first production computers by the end of the year and developer hardware orderable today!
Fortunately for Apple, the Keynote from their Worldwide developer conference, #WWDC20 did not need a live audience to pack a punch.
Highlights from the pre-filmed Keynote include: Major iOS 14 news, and a transition from one chip architecture to another. Big news although widely leaked in advance.
iOS 14 / iPadOS 14
On mobile, the changes in iOS 14 look like Android catch up for the most part. If you've had a recent Samsung Galaxy Android phone you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.
From the Android perspective: Samsung has An A-Z list of apps; widgets in a variety of sizes; a very customisable home screen which can contain a variety of widgets and apps; and less intrusive call notifications which you can flick away! Furthermore there is Bixby (a voice assistant like Siri), Dark Mode and more. So although Craig Federighi is the Apple demo king, when he says it is easier than ever to get to your apps, this can easily be decoded as a whiff of competitor catch up here.
CarPlay gets new wallpapers. That is as underwhelming as it sounds. Next year if you buy a new BMW 5 series you will be able to have a digital car key, which apparently will keep working for hours after the battery inevitably runs out on the iPhone. The demo showed a screen with “Invite people to use your BMW key”. Personally I am not sure how that will go in practice, given the potential for reliability issues in the long term.
Messages gets some new WhatsApp like features including: pinned conversations, new Memoji accessories of which perhaps the most important is the new facemask memoji, and stickers, group in-line replies, mentions and unique group emojis. More competitor catch up. No announcement of RCS (next generation SMS) interoperability with Android devices.
The App Store is introducing App Clips, a small part of an app that is fast and easy to discover and launches via a card. These are discoverable from the App Library and from the web or via NFC or QR code or an Apple designed proprietary code symbol. App Clips are not full apps, yet they integrate Apple Pay and have an option to download the full app. This must mean that they can only be used if there is a data connection. These look again in a nod to Google, like 'Google Play Instant' which is a format for native Apps which do not need to be installed and has been around for over a year now. Of course the benefit is discoverability and increased engagement especially in those 'right now' situations where an app is relevant to a parking space, an exhibit or a market stall.
iPadOS 14 gets all the things in iOS 14 and more. There is a focus on search improvements. There was a demo of sidebars and drag and drop in the Photos and Files Apple system apps. Much was said about apps making better use of the iPad's display and pencil improvements including 'Scribble' which turns the iPad into a kind of 2020 Apple Newton, in that it automatically recognises handwriting in fields and on drawing canvases. The pencil is not something that appeals to everyone, including this writer, although there are many who swear by it for note taking, brainstorming, writing, and of course drawing.
Now that the iPad has an optional keyboard with a trackpad the blur between tablet and laptop is narrower than ever but iPadOS is still locked down to obtaining apps from the App Store, enterprise certificates, or a managed corporate purchase program via Apple Business Manager and a mobile device management system.
AirPods received a "Steve Jobs"-esque eulogy to spatial audio. The audience was informed that Apple can place sounds virtually anywhere in space, even managing the motion comparison between your head and the screen. That does not stop people wearing AirPods looking bizarre though.
WatchOS 7 was all about richer capabilities: Rich complications, (Watch)Face sharing, the improvements from Apple Maps including cycle directions; new workouts with dance; And sleep tracking which we are told is ‘a holistic approach to sleep’ helping you transition mentally before bed. OK. There is also an automatic hand washing app. It rewards and approves if it detects correct hand washing procedures (really, this is not a joke, the countown numbers look like soap bubbles).
Apple put privacy as a central pillar of their ethos once again, calling it a principle in all Apple products. Apple even evoked imagery of piles of floppy disks, highlighting that they were private back in the day as your data should be now. Apple makes it clear that they follow these principles today focusing on data minimisation and on device intelligence to provide security. In iOS 14 there are more location indicators in the status bar, and tracking is more transparent. For developers too there are new requirements to self report privacy policies which will be displayed on the App Store.
Apples Home app provides easy and private home automation, and Apple demonstrated completely private cameras and doorbells with face recognition integrated with Apple TV. The focus on privacy must be aimed at competitors who are suspected of giving data to third parties. HomeKit, Apples developer resources for home automation announced a new partnership with Google and Amazon among others to make home accessories interoperate better.
TvOS 14 was not a huge focus of the Keynote. A rumoured new Apple TV device did not show up. Apple TV is coming to Sony TV's (it is already on Samsung TV's). The demo was uninspiring with the exception of Isaac Asimov’s "Foundation" coming to Apple TV+ next year.
macOS Big Sur, Version 11.0
Now macOS Big Sur (Version 11.0) was a major announcement. All the macOS demo's were on the new version of macOS on Apple Silicon although this was not revealed until later.
macOS Big Sur certainly channels iOS with the iOS like control centre. It is clear that design cues from iOS are going to be found throughout macOS now. The clarity of design, the new materials (language that google developers will be familiar with) for buttons corners and elevation are a welcome modernisation. Apple called them gorgeous new app icons with a space efficient toolbar with a new icon set - new glyphs - and - beautiful refreshed system apps.
The menu is still present (unlike on iOS) but it is now translucent perhaps showing it is lessening in importance or perhaps even being phased out. Think about that. The Apple Menu is something Apple patented, the single menu that changes when the foreground app changes is a unique distinction they fought for against imitators in the courts, and makes a Mac unique. It certainly seems that this is an indicator that big changes are on the horizon beyond macOS Big Sur.
"Perhaps this is a signal that the menu is fading from importance. It makes me wonder if the production macOS Big Sur hardware will have a touch screen!"
The Messages and Maps apps are Catalyst apps look to have been built from the same project source code for iOS and macOS. Mac Catalyst is the program for taking iOS apps to the Mac and delivers major new APIs and controls - resizable windows and keyboard shortcuts for example.
Safari, according to Apple, outpaces all other major browsers and is 50% faster than Chrome. Strong claims. Functionality is improved though. A new privacy report in the toolbar lets you monitor trackers. There is a Firefox like secure password monitor for data breaches. For the first time Safari extensions will be visible in the Mac App Store with very granular extensions permissions by day, by site. The PM said that "Apple makes sure my private life stays private". Built in in-line translation was demonstrated. This is a potentially huge feature.
If theres a sense of deja vu then it is because Apple want for there to be one. The positioning seems to be that they have done this before, dont worry about it, it will be almost invisible. But make no mistake about it, this is a huge change. It is a gigantic leap forward for the Mac. Apple have been investing in their own silicon chip design capabilities, based on technology from Arm, for years. This is the first delivery of that strategy for macOS.
Apple Silicon in the iPhone, iPad, and later Apple TV has always shown improved performance year on year. The Arm based chips are designed for low power consumption too. Apple have shipped 2 billion processors in 10 years. So they have the expertise to carry this off. It has been a strategic goal for them probably since before Steve Jobs passed away. Apple knows that if they control the silicon, they can control everything about the specification and performance. There are countless stories of let downs from manufacturers, heat problems, security vulerabilities, environmental concerns, employee welfare and other supply chain issues. Apple are brave enough to want to own all that themselves.
The benefits are potentially huge. Along with a common architecture with iOS iPadOS and tvOS, it should be the case that macOS benefits from being able to have those apps easily made available for Mac users. Apple have done this before, in the transition from PowerPC to Intel. So the mechanism is familiar. A macOS app for Intel will have to be recompiled as a 'Universal 2' binary which will support both Intel and Apple Silicon. This is actually straightforward as Universal binaries are well understood.
Apple's demo of an Office system running on Apple Silicon, of Adobe Photoshop, and of Final Cut Pro are meant to reassure developers that this is easy. But as if the deja vu wasn't too much Apple also announced Rosetta 2. Apple originally released Rosetta in 2006 when it changed from the PowerPC to the Intel processor. Rosetta 2 is a dynamic binary translator that will allow Intel binaries to run on Apple Silicon hardware without modification. The demo looked good. The devil will as always be in the detail. Apple showed Parallels virtualisation and mentioned that Docker would also function. No mention of VMware Fusion.
"Just a simple recompile to make apps work"
said Craig. Reminding me of all the devs who have said that before and the inevitable mountain of testing and QA that it really translated into!
Incredibly the Apple Silicon developer machines can be ordered today and Apple promise the first Mac computers with Apple Silicon for customers at the end of the year. This will be the switch of the decade. Eligible devs (those most likely with an existing macOS app) can join a program to get prototype hardware for $500 (it still belongs to Apple, and must be returned).
Apple still plan to release more Intel based Mac computers but I have to say that I would not want to buy one as I would expect them to become obsolete very quickly. Who would have bought a brand new last of the line PowerPC mac, without a steep discount when the Intel based ones became available?