WWDC 2016

“Well, that was nice.” The words came unbidden to my mind as the WWDC stream closed and my Apple TV cycled back to the WWDC info screen, and “it’s been a while” segued, as my subconscious finished taking it all in and began rewinding to the highlights.

Yes, it’s been a while since a WWDC keynote was this good, at least as far as I’m concerned, and that alone makes it worthy of a quick write-up.

The Hits

There were five things that really popped out at me this year:

  • I can’t wait for my watch to be faster. That they’re doing so without a hardware refresh is nice, but I am a little leery of the side effects in terms of battery life. But hey, scribbling seems pretty darn useful.
  • “macOS” is OK in my book. I’ve just renamed the relevant pages on my site, and will be moving on, thankful that we’re finally calling it what everyone else was anyway. I don’t care if “Sierra” is boring, I like my operating systems polished until frictionless and (above all) stable.
  • For a change (and a stupendous, momentous one), the Apple Music demo was phenomenal (both due to the presenter herself and to the undoing of a number of questionable UI choices in previous iterations).
  • The repeated emphasis on privacy and using machine learning on the device itself is laudable. I like the idea of that tremendously powerful hardware we’re putting in our pockets actually doing something useful.
  • The Swift Playgrounds app for iOS is going to be big. Personally, I like the timing (my eldest has been pestering me to learn to code in earnest, and I’ve been teaching him Python, but Swift is a nice second language)

I also like the other news that’s steadily trickling out (and which we’re all sure to read about multiple times during the week): that we’re getting a new (hopefully decent) filesystem for macOS, proper multilingual typing support in iOS (with extra on-device smarts), better continuity between devices, APIs for Siri, (arguably) better maps, etc.

And yes, I think it’s about time I started looking into Swift a bit more. Back in December I noticed the compiler was already working under Ubuntu ARM, so now it should be mostly a time of figuring out how good the standard libraries are.

The Downers

But there was other stuff that… Oh well. Let’s rant on a bit, shall we?

Let’s IM each other in incompatible ways

There were a lot of rumors about iMessage for Android, and I’m a bit saddened, not by its absence, but by the amount of time spent reaching parity with Google again, and on instant messaging frippery of all things… Well, no, wait, let’s put that into context:

  • I am aware that we, as (vaguely) evolved simians, are chatty and like shiny, animated things.
  • I am also (painfully) aware that messaging is still a burgeoning market, and that younger simians appreciate both emojis and shiny stuff.
  • As such, and given both Facebook’s steady bloating of Messenger and Google’s recent announcements, keeping up to par is a necessity.

But I still find it odd that we, as a species (of simians) are spending bajillions of dollars in gamifying communication through modernized (albeit standardized) ideograms, and yet managing to fail in every aspect on the otherwise sensible guarantee of interoperability.

Now, instant messaging standards breakdown isn’t a new thing. I wrote about that thirteen years ago in a desktop context, and mobile plus social networking didn’t improve things – in fact, I now have three more “social messaging” apps on my phone since two years ago, bringing the total up to… fourteen.

It isn’t about the features. It isn’t about the age group, or choice, or the monetization of interpersonal messaging with branded sticker packs – it’s about the waste of time, patience, and, ultimately, money.

No mention of multi-user mode for the iPad

The limited multi-user mode that surfaced with iOS 9.3 was squarely targeted at the educational market, and we haven’t heard a peep from it since, other than a few reviews of the Classroom app and some public airing of grievances about it not being part of the core iPad experience.

I was sad to notice its continued absence in the WWDC keynote – hopefully there’ll be some kind of follow-up, but I have a hunch (which I hope to see disproved) that we’re not going to see much in that regard in iOS 10.

That Optimize Storage Voodoo

I like the concept, seriously. But my gut reaction, much like with Dropbox Infinte, is that I don’t want any truck with it, and that there is absolutely no way I am going to offload part of my storage to the cloud the way Apple is envisioning without a lot more control.

I like the selective sync features (current) Dropbox and OneDrive have because of the clear cut distinction between stuff I know I want with me and stuff I very seldom use, and replacing that with a grey area in terms of file availability, access times and cost isn’t good enough for me.

Distributed file systems are hard, almost invariably slow and full of compromises, and I don’t think I want my personal files in them – fooling around with Coda and AFS back in the primordial days of the Internet gave me enough insights into that almost Heisenbergian state of affairs, and I would have found it a lot more interesting if (for instance) Apple had announced storage APIs that let me use Optimize Storage against the NAS of my own choosing. I’ve had enough of silos.

The (Thankfully) Missing Convergence Strategy

Nope, macOS and iOS won’t converge. Which is good, really. But there is no inkling that the Mac will, for instance, ever even acknowledge that touchscreens exist (which seems a bit risky these days), or that developers can leverage more than Apple’s SDK (in)consistencies to build apps that span device categories.

This hasn’t been much of a concern other than to various industry pundits, but I think that the expectations people have towards computers (in general) are changing, and that Google’s Android on Chromebooks play might well accelerate that in coming years.

The way the various Apple SDKs are put together help lessen that somewhat by making it somewhat easy to build cross-device applications, but it’s still irritating to see that iOS and macOS have a number of mismatches in terms of functionality and features – I don’t want to run iOS apps on macOS, but I would like the experience to be… more consistent.

I suppose that will play out somewhat better with hardware refreshes, but it’s still annoying, even if you stick to iOS – remember, the iPad still doesn’t have 3D Touch…