Apple Has a Vision, and it's Pro

I’m going to get the Vision Pro out of the way first, because besides being at least a year out, $3499 and requiring lens inserts (which will very likely not be available for my specific case), it’s not something that’s going to matter to me for a long while.

Yes, Apple has a VR headset. Yes, it’s going to be expensive. Yes, it’s going to be a niche product. Yes, it’s going to be a great product. Yes, it’s going to be a great product for a niche market–right now, everything else is just speculation, and whether or not it’s going to be a category-defining device or not, it’s just too early to call it.

I’m not overly impressed with the Quest 3 (I think my will be usable for a while yet), and I most certainly don’t subscribe to visions of enterprise productivity where everyone is wearing a headset, but I get that AR/VR is (if you’ll pardon the pun) a new dimension of computing that Apple wants to get into. And I certainly don’t think they are in it for an overwhelming amount of market share.

But I do envision an Android/iOS-like future where Apple has a significant share of the high-end market and everyone else is just pooling at the bottom fighting for scraps of revenue. Because there will be revenue in this–the Vision Pro isn’t designed to play Beat Saber or do dinky little AR demos, it’s designed to be a high-grade productivity and media device (although I am wary of “productivity” here).

And I think that the way they are able to leverage both their (admittedly impressive) silicon prowess and their (often mistreated, but still key) developer ecosystem to deliver a compelling experience makes complete sense. Maybe not $3499 worth of sense (and yes, they can drop the Pro moniker and a grand or so), but I can see it happening.

But let’s get to the rest of the WWDC keynote, because there are some pretty good news, some weird omissions and stuff that has been a long time coming.

The Mac and Apple Silicon

This part is easy to reason about–WE GOT A NEW MAC PRO! Oh, and some laptops. Seriously now:

  • The 15” Air is going to sell like hotcakes, especially with that big a screen and 18h battery life. Discounting the 13” Air is a smart move, too, and make Apple laptops even more appealing.
  • The M2 Ultra is a (predictably expensive) beast, and raises the bar on RAM and storage as well as performance. It’s not a triple-digit performance increase but it’s a solid upgrade, and having it on the Mac Pro form factor is what (nearly) everyone has been waiting for.

Even though I just got a Mac Mini with an M2 Pro chip (more on that later), I’m going to be very interested in pricing, availability and benchmark results.

Update: PCI expansion in the Pro is going to be a hot topic, especially given that it has no third-party GPU support. The marketing copy seems to go out of its way to avoid mentioning GPUs, and they would need to be powered by something else than the bus slots, so… Nope.

iOS 17

This section had a few surprises, but a few things I kinda expected and that were rumored for a while (sometimes years):

  • One of them is the new, rich Caller ID Posters. I can’t believe it took this long–this harks back to an ancient rumor from the first days of FaceTime on iPhone, and seems like a great idea until you factor in teenagers (so I hope they can be turned off by called parties).
  • Live Voicemail (as well as audio message transcriptions) and Facetime recordings are pretty amazing, and are the death knell for traditional telco voicemail (which very few people actually use anymore). A fun side effect of doing it on-device is that carriers will still get to charge call termination fees for the former (and not have to bother with storage for call recordings), so they have every incentive to support them (plus I don’t think they’ll need to do anything for it to just work).
  • Search in messages is a godsend. I just hope it’s not as broken as search in Mail (which today defaults to searching across every folder rather than the one you’re in first).
  • NameDrop is well overdue. It’s going to be OBEX/IrDA of the 2020s, and I sort of hope it can be made to work cross-platform via NFC (come on Apple, be civil).
  • “Ducking”. Finally.

And the new Standby display is one of those simple features that just makes sense.

The rest is just, well, incremental improvements (especially iMessage, which finally gets rid of that annoying app bar).

So, what did they miss? The list is long, but here are three things that I think would have really mattered:

  • I wish they bothered to fix iCloud account takeover and the ease with which it can be used to lock people out of stolen devices.
  • I’m sure Google is devastated that Apple didn’t announce RCS support.
  • They didn’t mention sideloading either–which I suppose would be a headline feature for developers…
  • They also dropped support for the iPhone X, which given its closeness to my is weird (I expected the X to make it to the next release, and actually bought a refurbished one for family).

So everyone gets to be disappointed.

iPadOS 17

In short, more incremental, predictable improvements. The ones I liked were:

  • Useful widgets, at last.
  • Lock screen customization parity with iOS.
  • What looks like simple tiling in Stage Manager (which I kinda wish was available on macOS, too).
  • Health on the iPad is something I’ve been waiting for a long time.

…but still being unable to pair a Watch just became even more annoying. Also, we still don’t have a terminal (or virtualization) on iPadOS, but I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen the way UNIX folk would like it to.

macOS 14 Sonoma and Safari

OK, so we get another quintessentially Apple release name. Sonoma isn’t half bad, for a change, and the lack of high profile new features hints at another “cleanup” release.

But I can’t help that Apple is still reinventing Dashboard year upon year upon year. That said:

  • Continuity for widgets is very nice. Well done, even if I think this is going to be taxing for Continuity.
  • No mention of any real improvements to Stage Manager–which might actually be… good? I mean, at least give us keyboard shortcuts.
  • No mention of real, actionable improvements to Mail, Calendar, etc. They still feel gimped compared to what they should be after years of iterations, and I really hope that Contacts gets fixed as it’s upgraded to match the new features in iOS.
  • The gaming enhancements are… cute (especially improved control polling). Nothing they announced is going to make the Mac a gaming platform overnight, but maybe it’s getting to the point where it’s not laughable anymore.
  • Update: I just saw someplace that Screen Sharing is getting hardware acceleration on Apple Silicon, so I’m curious to understand how that may make it more feasible to have remote access to Macs (this is something that needed to happen to have proper mirroring to the Vision Pro).
  • All the Safari announcements feel like nice quality of life improvements–profiles, family passwords, WebApps (hopefully full PWA support), all are more than welcome.

The Rest

I, for one, miss having Shortcuts that ran locally on watchOS. No hint of that, although I do like the new UX. Time will tell.

But the elephant in the room, for me, is the lack of any significant AI announcements. Not about ChatGPT, or LLMs, or any of that stuff (remember that Apple product cycles can be anywere between 2-7 years), but about actually improving Siri.

Realistically, I know Apple just doesn’t care about the current AI hype, but that doesn’t mean Siri isn’t looking increasingly dated (not to say functionally obsolete, and I use Siri a lot).

Eliminating the wake word doesn’t really matter when on-device data use is still so limited (why can’t it get hints from installed apps, for example?), and when its still just plain clueless at understanding context and intent, and that has to change sometime.

Today would have been a good time.

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