Apple didn't introduce any shiny new objects on the first day of its annual Worldwide Developers Conference here, at least when it comes to hardware. No larger-display iPhone or larger-screen iPad, no new Macintosh computer and certainly no fancy new television or smart watch.
But those are kind of beside the point, since WWDC, now in its 25th year, has always been mostly about software. And folks starving for any of the items on the aforementioned wish list can pretty much count on seeing one or more of these come this fall.
That's also when people can start enjoying the fruits of what Apple previewed Monday, notably, iOS 8, the latest operating system for iPads, iPhones and the iPod touch, and Mac OS X Yosemite, the newly named version of the venerable Mac operating system. (Developers can get at the beta software now).
The software gave the crowd at San Francisco's Moscone Center more than a glimpse into the near-time direction of Apple, and there's a lot to chew on.
Developers drooled over every tiny detail provided by Apple CEO Tim Cook and the other Apple executives who trotted on stage. But based on what I saw and heard, I expect consumers to be quite pleased, as well.
Start with Yosemite, the free successor to OS X Mavericks. It promises an improved version of Apple's Spotlight search feature, and tools within the Mail app that let you mark up a photograph and more easily add your handwritten signature (via the computer's track pad). If you draw an arrow as I do, you'll appreciate that the app can automatically polish it up. Yosemite adds what appears to be some subtle but attractive new design elements -- yes, even a better-looking trash can.
Most critically, Macs running Yosemite promise to work in harmony with iPads and iPhones running iOS 8, and vice versa. Consider that one of the big-deal takeaways from Monday's proceedings. For example, through a Handoff feature, you can start composing an e-mail on your iPhone and finish it on the Mac. Or a call placed to your iPhone can be answered on the Mac. The feature works both ways, and is potentially huge. You can also use your phone to create an instant hot spot.
The AirDrop feature for wirelessly sharing files now works across Macs and iOS devices. Previously, it was one or the other. The Messages app was opened up for people to communicate with standard text messages rather than only through Apple's iMessages system. Apple improved the Group Messages feature to make it easier for someone tiring of a group message to bail out of the group or at least turn on a "Do Not Disturb" feature.
Apple also seems to be opening things up more to outsiders. I know plenty of people who will applaud the fact that you'll be able use a third-party keyboard with the iPhone. Apple also has apparently improved its own iOS keyboard with a predictive typing feature that takes an educated stab at what you'll want to type next, based on context. For example if you start typing "the meeting was ..." the keyboard might suggest words such as "canceled" or "rescheduled."
As expected, iOS 8 pushes Apple into the burgeoning and hot areas of health and fitness and home automation. Today, these areas are mostly silo'd, so you might run separate apps that contain your blood pressure readings, weight or the number of steps that you take. Apple brings these together through a new Health app that's part of a developer tool called HealthKit. Rival Samsung, among others, is also placing greater emphasis on tracking health and fitness.
The home automation field is similarly disparate, with separate apps these days to open digital locks, control your garage door, control your thermostat and so on. Apple plans to bring these together through something it calls HomeKit.
HealthKit and HomeKit seem to suggest that Apple might finally deliver some of its long-rumored products such as the iWatch or another wearable. That may happen. But this also says as much about Apple cementing its ecosystem through third-party offerings. "Both the smart home and wearables markets are currently characterized by huge numbers of players whose products don't talk to each other," says analyst Jan Dawson. "Though others have tried, Apple is arguably the first player with the consumer pull to really make a difference in bringing these industries together in a way that makes sense for end users." This is an area worth watching.
I'm also keen to see how Apple implements the new Family Sharing app within iOS 8, which promises one place for sharing family photos, calendars, even purchases -- yes, a parent will be notified when Junior tries to buy something. I hope Apple adds more stringent parental controls for limiting the number of hours when a kid can use the devices.
There's much to dig into with both Yosemite and iOS 8. I plan to do just that as I get some hands-on access to the software.
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