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TIMO ZIMMERMANN

balancing software engineering & infosec

Thoughts on WWDC2020

posted on Thursday 2nd of July 2020 in ,

Another year, another WWDC. I could be wrong but this felt like the most consumer focused WWDC I have ever watched. And it is one of the few which actually will have an impact for years to come – think PowerPC to Intel or the introduction of the iPhone. I did not immediately want to post thoughts on all the announcements as I wanted to play with Big Sur first. While it took a bit more work than I would have liked, I got a virtual machine set up and had a chance to spend some time with it.

Big Sur

There is a lot going on, but the biggest change is likely the UI. It is closer to iOS and iPadOS than anything we have seen before. Somehow Apple managed to still make it feel like a Mac, not a scaled up iPadOS version. If you like the design is up to you, tastes are different – personally I am looking forward to upgrade my main system later this year.

The animations are subtle, but I can see people already complaining that actions now take 0.5 seconds longer than before. After all those years – and hearing the same complaints about Windows – I still did not figure out what people do with the 2 minutes a day they gain on not waiting for animations to finish. But I am sure it is life changing.

To me the biggest change is Notes. It finally does not offend the eye anymore! I cannot express how much I hated this slightly yellow, textured design. I am glad it is gone. Reminders also received some nice updates. While it will not compete with Todoist, it might be enough for some people to not buy the next upgrade of Things.

iOS

Apple really tried getting rid of things taking over the whole screen, like incoming phone calls or Siri. But this is mostly a visual change: While Siri is active you still cannot interact with the elements on screen you are seeing. And this seems intentional – in an interview Greg Federighi mentioned they tried a version where you could interact with the system and it did not feel right.

The feature that struck me as odd one is picture in picture. I get it on the iPad 12.9”. While I am not a big fan, it is okay to use from time to time. But phones have limited screen real estate. I cannot imagine actually looking at a video in PiP mode on any phone in existence right now.

(So here is a bit of speculation that might be too forward thinking – what if… Apple works on a foldable phone? Maybe two separate screens with a hinge design. Suddenly there is a lot more screen. And taking over half of the screen available for a phone call or Siri while still presenting information and working on the other screen makes the design decision more coherent.)

Apple Clips could be a game changer. There is a lot of potential – to succeed or fail – and Apple likely has a better chance getting people to adopt it than Android had when they shipped their version. What I really dislike is that it is not an open standard. For businesses to support something like App Clips would be a lot easier to justify it they would not need a customer study first to see if the majority of their customers actually have an Apple device.

(I will not go deep on the whole widget and icon organisation topic – I have used this on my Android dev device enough to know that I literally do not care.)

iPadOS

Search is likely the big one – especially with the magic keyboard it feels more natural to have an macOS like Spotlight experience than the thing we got right now. It also looks like a visual upgrade to me and it makes multitasking feel a bit more natural.

The really big one for me here is – again – Notes. While the handwriting recognition is nice (if it works), the fact that it finally has shape recognition means I can do most of my sketching for architecture diagrams in Notes. Together with the initial draft of the document, primarily because Notes on macOS does not look horrible anymore.

Apple Silicon

I am waiting for an ad screaming “don’t call it CPU”. I do not think I have heard the word silicon so often in a 20 minute video as in this keynote. It is a change people predicted for a very long time and now we will finally see systems ship with Apples own Silicon.

I can easily see this being amazing for notebooks. We will see how the first iteration performs, but considering what most people do with their laptops it will be good enough. Likely not for many engineers, media professionals,… but regular users writing emails, documents and using the web. Considering my iPad Pro has a 36.71-watt-hour battery which lasts for 10 hours imagine how long a laptop would run if the battery only stays the same as in todays models. We are talking truly all day battery life.

Considering they still plan to announce Intel based system as well and that they surely are a few years away from being able to replace a Mac Pro for example, I do not see them deprecating current systems soon(tm). This does put a lot more pressure on the compatibility layer. No one likes “you cannot run this software on your system because reasons you do not understand” – again, we are talking about regular users, not software engineers that know the difference Silicon can make.

While I do not see them merging macOS and iPadOS / iOS, I am curious if portability of apps means I will finally get Xcode on my iPad. What I would really like (and I have been asking for that for years) is to be able to plug a monitor into my iPhone or iPad, connecting a keyboard and mouse and switching the UI to macOS. There is a very good reason why Apple will not do this though: They would cannibalise their low end laptop market. There is also a very good reason why Apple will do this: They can streamline their product lineup and upsell tablet upgrades. Time will tell which way that will go.

The rest

Nothing in watchOS 7 actually excites me. Literally nothing. I also do not see a lot they might want to change at this point, I think we will first see a new revision or new type of wearable which might justify significant OS changes. In the meantime some actually useful standalone apps would be nice.

tvOS – I am sure someone somewhere will use AirPod sharing once. YouTube in 4k is very much appreciated.

Automatically switching between devices will either be an amazing experience or super frustrating when your video call drops audio because you receive a notification on your phone. As I am not running any of the betas on real devices this one is hard to test.

Virtual keynote

Honestly, I like the style. A lot more information than you usually see in a keynote and a faster pace. It felt like the right mix of acknowledging the situation and still being light hearted. And whoever worked on the Apple Silicon intro – kudos, usually I would expect something like this to end in a cringe fest, which it didn’t.

I am sure Apple will move back to a physical event as soon as possible. But I hope they keep the current way they engage with developers and share content. It feels a lot nicer than the years before and the iPad app is actually pretty good.