June 16th, 2016 WWDC 2016
Apple’s annual developer conference was held in San Francisco this month, and we’ve been analysing the introduction of new technologies and trends for Apple’s four platforms.
Opening up iOS
The main theme for iOS was allowing access to snippets of apps through new parts of the operating system. Developers can now create rich notifications, which can show a map of your Uber arriving without needing to unlock your phone. The Messages app will be getting an App Store which lets developers create small conversation-enhancing apps, such as sending money to your friend within the chat (this should not be confused with bots, where you have a conversation with an app or a service). Siri has also been updated with a long awaited API so that developers can allow their apps to be interacted with via the voice assistant.
These moves signal a change of direction for Apple, which has traditionally only allowed developers to interact with the rest of the system through Notification Centre widgets. It should help to de-isolate apps from their individual silos and make the platform feel much more fluid.
Making Apple Watch Fast
Perhaps the most significant improvement to Apple’s platforms was via watchOS 3, featuring an improved user experience and significant speed improvements. The current loading time for apps on Apple Watch is the most common complaint of the device; due to slow launch times, every app currently fails to meet Apple’s recommended interaction time of 2 seconds.
Apple has replaced the often out-of-date Glances with a Dock, which macOS users will find familiar. The Watch can now keep up to 10 apps in memory, meaning they can be loaded instantly and can be updated much more regularly in the background so the information is there as soon as you need it. This should greatly enhance interest in Watch apps for both developers and customers, and should make the Watch a much more attractive option to people skeptical of the platform and wearables in general.
The introduction of Swift 3 sees the programming language reach a new level of maturity, which has benefited from being open source and receiving feedback from the developer community. The language has now been tidied up to make it read more clearly and easier to learn.
On the iPad, Apple introduced the Swift Playgrounds app to teach people how to code. Rather than starting users off at a low level, the app features exercises of half-built apps that the user needs to complete; the results of the user’s code are displayed by an animated character named Byte. Playgrounds feels like a modern day version of Logo’s Turtle game, but in a language that is much easier to transition into production-ready code.
This is Apple’s investment in the next generation of programmers, who will be ready to develop for any of Apple’s four platforms upon completing the exercises in the app. This is a clever investment in the future from Apple.
Security and Privacy
Leading up to WWDC, many analysts discussed whether Apple could compete with the likes of Google and Facebook in the AI field, while still maintaining their strict stance on privacy. Fortunately, Apple appears to have done just that.
An updated Photos app was introduced that uses advanced computer vision to analyse objects and faces in photos, and creates automatic collections and videos around a certain theme called Moments. While this may sound similar to Google Photos, Apple has managed to achieve this by processing the images on device, so that Apple has no knowledge of your private photo collection’s contents.
For cases where the processing can’t be done on the device, such as Siri and Maps, Apple has adopted a technique called differential privacy. The aim of this technique is to gather data from large crowds, to iteratively improve services, while also keeping individual users’ data completely private. Prof. Aaron Roth, an expert in the field, said “incorporating differential privacy broadly into Apple’s technology is visionary, and positions Apple as the clear privacy leader among technology companies today.”
Finally, Apple will be updating the file system of all its platforms to AFPS, which encrypts every file individually, amongst other benefits, to increase user security. The iOS kernel, the central part of the operating system, has also been opened up so that security researchers can find flaws, such as the in the system more easily which improves the system’s security.