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What Happened at the WWDC 2017 Keynote: New Hardware, Software and Upgrades

apple-product-releases-wwdc-2017

It took over three hours today at Apple’s WWDC to talk about and demo all its new hardware and software. Let’s review the highlights.

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Apple unleashed an all you can eat buffet of product announcements today at its 2017, World Wide Developer Conference in San Jose, California. The nearly three-hour keynote opened with an Armageddon calamity of a world without apps. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, prepped the audience with a preview of what to expect; six major announcements, a combination of software and hardware. If you didn’t get a chance to watch today’s keynote, here is a rundown of what was announced.

IOS 11, macOS High Sierra, watchOS 4, New Macs and iPads Launched at WWDC 2017

The WWDC 2017 was so jam packed, CEO, Tim Cook, didn’t even bother going into the annual financial reports. Much of the keynote focused on Apple’s key platforms, watchOS, tvOS, macOS, and iOS. A couple of hardware update surprises were thrown in for good measure.

watchOS – Apple’s wearable device was the first to come up; no surprise, the next major version, watchOS 4, will be launched this fall, with support for all Apple Watch editions. WatchOS 4 includes a new timeline interface that focuses on your day and location. It now provides proactive reminders that are relevant to time and place. Users can scroll through the watchOS interface to see upcoming events and activities. Apple also added new watch faces that can be easily personalized. Newly animated interfaces featuring Toy Story characters will also be available.

Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, is prominently featured in the new user interface, making it an easy-to-access feature on the home screen. watchOS 4 will also feature better integration with Apple’s new wireless airpods. A new music app in watchOS 4 will make it easy to create and interact with your playlist on the go, too. The new update will provide better integration with gym equipment as well as new exercise routines and sporting activities such as weight training and surfing.

tvOS – Apple’s set-top box was light on new features, but a major app from Amazon might have been all that was needed. Users will now be able to stream Amazon’s library of TV shows, including Amazon Prime video. Not much else was announced, but the platform continues to grow, with over 50 channels now available.

macOS – Apple’s desktop operating system is a unique part of owning an Apple computer. There were many speculations about possible mergers with iOS or a significant name change among just a few of the rumors. Apple’s Craig Federighi kept it straightforward and quick. Called macOS High Sierra, version 10.13 is all about refinements.

One major announcement that was already known, High Sierra will be switching from the 30-year-old HFS file system to the new APFS (Apple File System). In early March, Apple switched iOS to the new file system starting with 10.3. Apple’s web browser, Safari, jumps to version 11 and includes quite a few welcome features. There is support for WebRTC, WebAssembly, Intelligent tracking prevention and Auto-Play blocking.

We previously covered some of the benefits of APFS, so if you are interested, check out that article. Overall, the benefits are performance, resiliency and better security. Not much else was announced regarding 10.13, but this release suggests Apple is prepping a major release next year. These tick-tock releases are not unusual; past versions such as 10.6, 10.9, 10.11 have focused on refinements in the past. Considering the major file system upgrade though, I would still perform a Time Machine backup before upgrading. Regarding availability, Apple says the new release will be ready this fall and support machines already running Sierra.

iOS – Apple saved its most anticipated operating system update for last. Version 11 of its iOS operating system seemed light on features initially – it’s possible however Apple is saving some surprises for the fall iPhone release. The new version features improvements to the Lock Screen, with a widget based interface that’s accessible from the home screen.

The new widgets feature new interactivity, with support for 3D touch; revealing additional functionality.

Apple’s Phil Schiller showed off a redesigned App Store app providing quicker access to Games and Apps through dedicated tabs. The App Store sees the return of the Today page, which shows what’s hot with recommendations and reviews. It was a bit meh, to be honest, and it looks quite crowded, but what can you do in a store filled with millions of apps on a device that fits in the palm of your hand?

Stickers introduced in last year’s iOS 10 release adds an app drawer for your stickers, so you can quickly access and download new ones.

iOS 11 makes message syncing a whole lot more reliable; when you set up a new device, your messages are automatically synced through iCloud. Only deleted replies and images in your message threads are not synced, and to reduce space, only the changes are synced to the device.

Apple is jumping into the payment market; iOS users will now be able to send and receive money between Apple devices. You can even make a request and make purchases from supported retailers or have cash transferred to your local bank account. This is going to be a game changer. If it’s truly that simple and still secure and reliable, watch out Paypal and Square!

Machine Learning and Augmented Reality

A lot of iOS 11 improvements were under the hood, mostly focused on machine learning (ML) and augmented reality (AR). Craig Federighi discussed Apple’s use of the buzzword technologies throughout many aspects of iOS 11. The company is using ML to take advantage of its A-series chips to perform a lot of local processing including facial recognition and organizing your Photos library to create short automated memories movies you can watch and share.

Machine learning has come a long way, and Apple is using it to recognize events, people, and places you visit. It knows your family; can identify children and even your pets. Even photo and video editing options are being influenced by ML, allowing users to make perfect edits on Live Photos. Machine learning is so powerful, it will let you watch videos in either portrait or landscape by automatically choosing what will work best based on what you shot. What’s amazing is, all of this is being done locally.

Siri is benefiting from these improvements too, by recognizing your activities. When you perform a web search or communicate with family and friends over Messages, or schedule an activity, Siri will pro-actively present information based on these events. For instance, if you search for the name of a place with a weird spelling, then try to spell it in a message, the soft keyboard will know to suggest the name. I thought that was pretty cool.

Apple gave us its early preview of what it’s been doing with Augmented Reality. AR took off last year with apps like Pokemon Go (which I only tried a few times). Software companies are jumping on AR, brands such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google and the HTC Vive all offer hardware and software solutions that help transport users into virtual worlds. AR remains immature and expensive for many, and the application support for us regular people just isn’t there yet. But, some of what Apple demonstrated today, shows how it wants to be the best, not the first when it comes to the latest consumer technology.

A simple app showed off examples of how the company is thinking about applying AR. For example, Apple is using ML to again, recognize objects in your environment, such as a table and even humans and applying virtual, photo-realistic objects with them. For example, a vase or lampshade that looks so real, you think it’s there. It even has depth, shadows, and perspective.

I can’t even imagine what Apple is planning with its next iPhone release this fall. The company is already working with third-party developers to show off some early examples of games that offer a whole new level of interactivity. This got me thinking about what can we expect if Apple enters the market for glasses with similar technology built in.

New iOS Improvements for iPad

To finish up, Apple showed off new improvements to iOS specifically for iPad users. The interface has been optimized with better support for drag and drop, multi-tasking and expanded options in Control Center. The biggest highlight was the new File’s app, basically a Finder interface in iOS. Apparently, this has been a top feature request from its global customer base on the iPad.

The Files app will let users easily manage their local files and even those stored in on-line cloud platforms including OneDrive, Box, Adobe Cloud, Google Drive, Dropbox and Apple’s own iCloud. Users have access to common file management capabilities such as tags, creating folders, different views, and layouts — just like a laptop…

A new pervasive Dock makes it easy to switch between apps using a drag and drop, left or right action, which enables split view. Other improvements users can expect on iPad include better support for the Apple Pencil; you can now perform markup in any app. Notes now include a built-in document scanner, and you can easily crop and share content from the Share Sheet just by tapping your photo.

Hardware: New Macs, iPads, and Siri-Powered Speaker

WWDC is normally centered around software, but Apple took a different approach with today’s keynote. The company also launched and previewed updates to future hardware. Here is what Apple released and previewed.

MacBook Pro – Apple’s line of professional notebooks was last updated in October of 2016. Many users were disappointed by the updates after waiting for nearly three years. The keyboards were controversial; the processors were considered outdated, and the virtual touch bar didn’t take the world by storm. Today’s update kept a lot of what was announced nine months ago intact.

What’s new? The new MacBook Pro will have the Intel seventh generation Kaby Lake processors. Everything remained the same, except for a price drop on the base model, with no touch bar, 13 inch MacBook Pro. Users should note, that price drop also means a reduction in storage; $1,299 now gets you only 128 GB of storage. It also puts the company’s Retina 12 inch MacBook in an awkward position, which now supports up to 16 GB of RAM and starts at $1,299.

Prices remained the same on the rest of the lineup, but an unexpected family member, the MacBook Air, got a processor speed bump. It seems the older MacBook Air, which started the ultrabook wave remains popular due to its price, speed and no compromise in ports. Users who want 32 GB of RAM on the 15 inch will have to wait a bit longer. The new processors though should improve battery life and performance. It’s also a hopeful sign that Apple will get back on a regular update cycle for its hardware.

iMac – Apple’s all in one desktop also got upgraded with the Intel Kaby Lake along with a few physical improvements too. In addition to standard USB A ports, the new iMacs also support two USB C ports. The 27 inch 5K iMac now supports up to 64GB of RAM, and the fusion drive comes standard. Fusion Drive is Apple’s implementation of hybrid drives consisting of flash and mechanical storage. The standard 21 inch and 4K 21 inch also support the new processors.

Apple gave the audience a sneak peek of what they are working for pro users. Called the iMac Pro, this all-in-one beast promises to satisfy professional users who have been disappointed by the Mac Pro’s lack of updates since 2013. The iMac Pro is a new category; Apple is still working on a direct replacement for the Mac Pro.

But the new iMac Pro promises to provide workstation-class performance by featuring support for four USB C ports, a space gray finish in a 27-inch 5K display, support for Intel Xeon processors with up to 18 cores, 128 GB of EEC DDR4 RAM, 4 TB of SSD storage and 16 GB of video RAM. Apple promises the new Mac is intended for users who want to work on AR/VR projects and other professional workloads such as video and photography. This computer is not intended for your YouTube videos, tweets, and Facebook photos. The price tag says as much, starting at $5,000, most users will probably settle for checking it out at your local Apple Store.

The new MacBook Pro and iMac is available for purchase today. Customizable configurations might see a two-week delay. The iMac Pro will be available later in December.

The iPad has been in decline since 2014, not necessarily because of popularity, but users just see little reason to upgrade their existing iPads. Apple is hoping to change that, starting with 2015’s 12.9 iPad Pro, then followed by the 9.7 iPad Pro. Both have not really done much to change the platform’s fortunes, but the company is trying to meet users where they are at.

In March, the company launched a cheaper iPad model lacking features physical features such as lamination, thicker design, and a slower A9 processor. Starting at $330, the new iPad model hopes to entice users to upgrade from older but still capable models such as the iPad 2 and iPad Air.

Pro users looking for an even more capable iPad Pro got a couple of updates today. A new 10.5 inch iPad Pro replaces the 9.7 screen first launched in 2010. The new size maintains the current form factor, but widens the screen, making it more advantageous for users who want to multi-task. The new iPad Pro’s is also available in 12.9-inch size, features an A10x SOC, brighter display, faster refresh rates, at up to 120 MHz and better support for the Apple Pencil. The new iPad Pro’s are available today and starts at $650 for the 10.5 model and $800 for the 12.9 model.

HomePod

Apple wasn’t done yet; a “One More Thing” moment occurred with the introduction of another preview. This time, Apple showed off a smart speaker, it’s attempt to get in on the Amazon Echo and Google Home bandwagon. The HomePod as Apple calls it, puts emphasis on Music. Built around an A8 series SOC, the speaker is wrapped in an acoustically designed material with several speakers at the bottom that intelligently distributes sound depending on the room it’s placed in.

The built in A8 speaker is there for a reason; Siri will be able to help you play your favorite music, playlist, find the name of an artist playing, play similar music, genres and more. The A8 processor helps with audio, too, by providing acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, and multi-channel echo cancellation. You can also use HomePod to create reminders, find out information about traffic, news, stocks, weather, sports, translation, stocks, etc. HomePod comes in white and space gray and is available for $350 this December.

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Oh, by the way, today was the launch of Apple’s developer conference if you didn’t remember. I told you it was jam packed, even writing this article took a lot of effort. Apple seemed to have schooled the industry today. People I follow on Twitter who have been talking about jumping over to the Microsoft camp based on its recent hardware releases sounded like they were rethinking that decision. Again, today was very impressive!

That’s a wrap!

I’m sure I missed a few things but, these are the highlights that piqued my interest.

Next year’s updates are likely to be the company’s most transformational products to date based on today’s demos. The doldrums are in the rear view it seems. The company has taken a few hits over the past couple years, but they seem ready to amaze and inspire once again. With more than 16 million developers worldwide, an 800 Billion+ Market Cap and almost 100 Billion in cash, Apple is in an extremely strong position as demonstrated by a bit of its flexing this afternoon. And with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning just starting to hit the mainstream… I’m frightened what it will be able to accomplish with its own hardware and OS ecosystem over the next 12-18 months.

Let us know what you think of today’s announcements.


1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Yikes that’s a lot of new stuff! HomePod is long overdue. I don’t think I’ll be buying multiple $350 smart speakers, but if third-party manufacturers make an affordable AirPlay 2 speaker that has multi-room support in conjunction with HomePod, then we may have a winner.

    Looks like Apple has Sonos, Google, and Amazon in its sights.

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