Thoughts On Apple WWDC 2015

Apple unveiled several newfangled software products to much fanfare and hoopla at their World Wide Developer Conference this week in San Francisco. I didn’t get a chance to watch the live stream when it aired Monday but I was able to catch a replay Tuesday night on my beloved Apple TV. I’d like to share some of my rambling thoughts and armchair commentary about what I witnessed.

Bill Hader

Bill Hader WWDC 2015
Photo: Apple

Bill Hader and that awkward comedienne from This Is 40 kicked things off with an internet meme-heavy video about WWDC rehearsals. I like Bill Hader, but he was an odd choice for the opening act. The video felt like a better fit for the Academy Awards and wasn’t even funny. If you step back and think about it, it’s kind of crazy something this elaborate was created just for the keynote address at a nerd software developer conference. Apple software is that big of a deal.

Tim Cook

lubegate

We love Tim Cook, even though he’s no Steve Jobs. He makes sensible decisions and does a decent job on stage. The Cleveland Indians ransom skit was a little bizarre though. Especially, after news leaked that the list originally included a demand for a “50 gallon drum of lube” from one of the Indians jocks. That item, of course, was mysteriously photoshopped out of this family-friendly event. I get that Apple wants to highlight how popular and ubiquitous Apple crap is these days, but why did they decide to gift all those Apple products to a bunch of baseball playing millionaires? Poor things. They could have donated them to needy inner-city Cleveland kids who can’t even afford tickets to an Indians game much less an Apple Watch.

Mac OSX

Craig Federighi El Capitan

Craig Federighi is by far the most entertaining man on stage these days now that Steve Jobs is no longer in the show. His dorky jokes are great. Free Bottom Fridays!

Craig was quick to point out the new OS X El Capitan is focused on improving the experience and performance of last year’s OS X Yosemite. This is a great move on Apple’s part to fix what was broken instead of just releasing another new crap version of OS X with shiny new features that no one wants. It also explains why the next California-themed OS X name didn’t even make it outside of Yosemite Valley. OS X El Capitan is just an iteration of OS X Yosemite.

So what was the first feature of the demo? A new cursor. When you shake the mouse around to find your cursor, the cursor now grows into a cartoon-like larger version of itself. Truly revolutionary. I guess.

Spotlight search was up next. Spotlight has been an absolutely worthless feature to me. It can’t fulfill it’s main task, which is to find stuff on my computer. Much like Siri, it almost never works, so I never use it.  They’re “improving” it by adding more outside content like sports scores and weather. I don’t give a shit about this. That’s what Google’s for. I just want it to find things on my computer. I’m hoping the new native voice search functionality improves this. In theory, it sounds very promising to search with commands like “slides from Brian” but I’m skeptical it will actually work well.

My biggest complaint about the previous versions of OS X is the abysmal way in which windows and files are managed. Luckily, window management is getting a much needed overhaul. Again, I’m cautious it will actually improve the experience. Why does Apple think everyone wants to work in a small window that only takes up part of the screen? At my job I work all day, every day on an awful Windows 7 machine (which I loathe), but at least Microsoft makes it dead simple to click one button and fully expand a window. On a Mac you have to manually drag the edge of each window to the edge of the screen – or worse, put the window in the always annoying Full Screen mode which hides the top menu bar and other important “distractions.” It baffles me that they can’t get basic window re-sizing right. The new Split View feature might take the sting off this a little but it looks too cumbersome to enjoy. I just want to be able to maximize windows with one click and then easily shuffle between screens via a keyboard shortcut. Pretty simple.

As for file management, Finder looks it hasn’t really changed, which means you still have to sort files by name in order to see or even select all of them on screen. If you want to sort your files by Date or any other attribute, they’re idiotically spread across a horizontal column and you can’t select any of the files not visible on the screen. It’s infuriating. Again, Microsoft figured the basics of file management out years ago but Apple still can’t get it right.

Gestures in Mail? Does anyone even use Mail?

Pinning sites in Safari? I’ve been doing that for ages in Chrome. Apple improves the feature by making links from the pinned tabs automatically open in a new tab. Chrome doesn’t do this – yet. Displaying audio in the tab is also something Chrome has done for years. Apple is adding the ability to mute it from the browser, which is a nice enhancement.

Mission Control can now open with a three finger swipe. Who has brain capacity to remember that one? I don’t. It’s like you have to remember a secret handshake to find your browser window. Mission Control sucks anyway and I never use it.

The Notes app received about 10 new features. Is this really what we need? Maybe we just don’t know we needed it yet? I like the ability to draw within Notes, but I can’t imagine this is very useful with my fat fingers on my 4″ iPhone screen.

The software performance improvements are very welcome. Now how about reducing the amount of time it takes to start up my machine? Somewhere around the Mavericks or Yosemite a slow crawling progress bar was added to the startup procedure. This was a step backwards. Even on my brand new iMac it takes long enough to start up that I curse it under my breath each time I sit through it.

Despite my numerous complaints and general skepticism, I’m still grateful for a free OS upgrade once a year. Windows customers can’t say that. I’ll definitely sign up for Beta in July like I did with Yosemite. You can too, here.

iOS 9

Photo: Lowyat.net
Photo: Lowyat.net

Much like OS X, the iOS operating system is taking a “back to basics” approach this year by focusing on foundational improvements like battery life and security. This is much appreciated as iOS has gotten increasingly buggier in past years.

I’m less optimistic about the new push to compete with Google Now by adding additional native “intelligence” into the operating system. Proactive Assistant is the name for this new intelligence and it will supposedly learn your behavior and help you. Like playing iTunes during your morning run or the audio book during your car commute. Most of this is already in Google Now. This stuff usually never goes well for Apple. They should just retire the tarnished Siri “brand” at this point and replace her with something that works. Really 9 out of 10 times it doesn’t work at all. Either she can’t understand me, can’t “compute” my commands, or can’t submit my request to the server. It’s pointless. All the cool tricks I forget she does so don’t use them. My confidence is low that this will be a more useful feature than now.

The new API endpoints that will allow app developers to enable search within their apps sounds promising. Will this work only for content on your phone or anything in the cloud within the app? Like the Yummly recipes Craig demonstrated? Maybe third party developers can fix this mess?

During Craig’s video about his average day using Proactive Assistant, I really appreciated the glimpse into his bedroom meditation routine. It was also nice to hear an old classic like “Bust A Move” at an Apple event. What a great karaoke song.

Privacy

WWDC Privacy

This might be the best thing Apple shared with us about Proactive Assistant.

  • Anonymous
  • Not associated with Apple ID
  • Randomized identifier
  • Not linked to other Apple services
  • Not shared with third parties
  • You’re in control
  • “We don’t care”
  • This feels like a big fuck you to the government (and Google)

Apple Pay

Photo: TechCrunch
Photo: TechCrunch

There was a woman on stage. First time ever.

I still have an iPhone 5S, so Apple Pay really doesn’t interest me yet. Sounds like an even easier way to spend all your money. I’m glad you can now add store cards so I can finally get rid of the Key Ring app. But wasn’t this supposed to happen with Passpbook? Passbook turned out to be near-complete failure. It was so damn hard to enable it. You had to download each individual app and figure out within each app how to add the card. Then, obviously, delete the app after you enable the Passbook card because who needs the Walgreens app on their phone? Hopefully with the switch to wallet this will be easier. My smart phone still feels a long way away from replacing my wallet.

Notes app

Photo: Apple
Photo: Apple

Again, was this necessary? The Notes app has now officially taken the feature bloat crown from iTunes. Although I have to admit I’ve been using Notes more lately because it’s quicker to open and feels lighter than Evernote. It still needs a better system for organizing dozens of note entries. Reorder by name? Folders? Maybe it already has this and I just have no idea how to use it. Bad UI either way.

Maps

Now includes transit directions which means I can finally delete Google Maps. I actually think Apple Maps is better at this point anyway. My only complaint – other than lack of transit – is that you can’t move the map around during navigation without having to click Overview. I love how they’ve mapped out the subway structures and entrances/exits so you also know how long its going to take you to walk through the station to get to your train.

News

Photo: Apple
Photo: Apple

Another woman on stage!

This new app is exciting and really fills a gap in my media consumption. Right now my news comes from a cobbled together combination of Digg, Digg Reader, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and TechMeme. The animation in the app is fluid looks beautiful. My only fear is that it will be too much like Flipboard. Flipboard does an awful job of trying to predict and curate content for me, so every time I install it I get frustrated and end up deleting it a week or two later. I’ve done this multiple times and never learn. What about non-partner content? Can I start importing my RSS feed?

iPad

Photo: Mac Rumors
Photo: Mac Rumors

The much anticipated split screen Multitask feature is finally available on iPad which allows two apps on the same screen simultaneously. The keyboard was enhanced to allow Quick Type keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, bold, etc. When you place two fingers on the keyboard it becomes a track pad. All very nice, but I never use my iPad. It’s just not convenient and does very little that my iPhone can’t already do in one hand. I noticed Big Sur was featured prominantly during this demo. I wonder if this was a subtle hint at the potential name of the next major OS X edition? OS X Big Sur has a nice ring to it.

Swift

Apple now provides their Swift programming language as a single language for both iOS and OS X. Even bigger news is that it’s open source now.

App Store

An App Store motivational/celebratory video. Oh, boy. I fast-forwarded through this part.

watchOS

Why is it lowercase? I find the watch less and less interesting every day. And I could really use a new watch right now. It’s just too ugly and reminds me of the first generation iPhone. I fast forwarded through this part. I’ll catch up with the watch in a few years when it’s improved.

Apple Music

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One more thing…

I remember when this was something to get excited about. But Apple Music isn’t anything to get excited about. It’s a Spotify competitor that doesn’t have a free tier (I definitely don’t pay for Spotify) and the only unique selling point is the 24/7 internet radio station. Really? Internet radio? I’m not sure this is the direction things are heading right now. What’s the format? Are there interviews or zany morning zoo shows? Are there commercials? In the current age of the monogenre, how can they possibly expect to catch everyone’s interest with a single radio station? This is the exact opposite direction of where music is going. Who the fuck is Zane Lowe? Will there there other DJs or will those three have to trade 8 hour shifts around the clock?

Jimmy Iovine seems like a creep. Not to mention his presentation was completely flat and unpolished. By far the worst presenter of the day. He’s as responsible as anybody for the state of the music industry right now. After getting beat up by Apple for the past decade or so, he’s finally jumping into bed with them. This worries me. At first it felt like the music industry finally saw the light and was gravitating towards Apple’s end of the spectrum. Increasingly, I’m thinking Apple is gravitating to the old guard music industry’s end of the spectrum. Beats 1 Radio is evidence of this. So is “independent” artist Loren Kramar who turns out isn’t really an independent artist and has ties to none other than Jimmy Iovine. It’s more of the same music industry bullshit we’ve been putting up with for generations.

Connect is the new feature in Apple Music that allows artists to post things that they would normally post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, SnapChat or other much better social networks. How does this work for unsigned artists? Can I just upload my music and photos of my crappy lyrics like Chris Cornell did in the demo? This feels like Ping 2.0.

 

Drake

Photo: New York Times
Photo: New York Times

I love former Canadian soap opera stars turned rappers. This one just happens to be the voice of the Generation Y (and apparently a close personal friend of Eddy Cue’s.) Drake looked super nervous up there. He probably should have performed instead of talked. His jokes were worse than Jimmy Iovine’s and I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about most of the time.

Eddy Cue

Eddy looked like he borrowed one of Phil Shiller’s huge shirts. I didn’t realize he’s such a Pharell phan. His Apple Music app’s UI is pretty, but I’m not confident the music discovery functionality he demonstrated is going to play me the right song at the right time. To be honest, I don’t really want Apple or Jimmy Iovine’s industry “experts” recommending music to me. I want my friends in my existing social networks recommending music. That’s what I care about – my friends. I don’t trust the record companies. They don’t have my best interest in mind. Side note: I laughed when Eddy asked Siri to “play the song from Selma” and it played “Selene” by Imagine Dragons instead. Cringe. The struggle is real, Eddy! Siri sucks.

The Weeknd

Another Canadian musician on stage. Who would have thought it would be our neighbors to the north saving R&B music in 2015. Good song, great hair, but still… I’ve always been a little meh about the weekend.

Summary

Photo: Alphr.com

In summary… Where the hell is my new Apple TV? That’s honestly the only Apple product I really care about at this point – and it’s been long overdue. I cut the cord several years ago and don’t watch TV that much anymore because it’s become such an awful experience. I need Apple to save me and I’m willing to pay for it. Steve Jobs couldn’t figure it out. Can Tim Cook do it?