WWDC-14

Apple’s WWDC Keynote Amuses, Confuses

on Monday, Jun. 2nd

To be fair, this wasn’t for us.

The keynote presentation this morning headlined by Apple CEO Time Cook and SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi was at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. As such the target demographic was literally right there in front of the stage: 6000 software makers who had paid big bucks to find out how Apple is going to change their lives over the next twelve months.

In the game of Internet expectations, however, an Apple keynote that has its own dedicated live video stream sets a certain bar. That bar being: hardware announcement. Spoiler Alert: there was no new hardware. Which is what the narrative is going to be for a long time now, despite some pretty significant rollouts on the software side at this here software conference.

The four biggest of which are:

  • Continuity– a set of protocols that allow for seamless* transitions from desktop to mobile devices for everything from document edits to phone calls. It will soon be possible to answer phone calls directly on a Mac laptop, or pick up an email edit on an iPhone where you left off on a desktop. The user experience enhancements here are rich, and if it all work the way its supposed to will do what Apple does best: set a new standard.
  • iOS Extensions– here’s something that many iOS users, some of whom have switched over to Android, have long asked for: the ability to have third party apps play a more significant role in the core UI of Apple devices. Using the extensions philosophy that powers the Safari browser, the software team in Cupertino is opening up iOS in exactly that fashion. Pinterestaholics will be able to post directly from an iPad browser using a share sheet. Third party photo apps can be summoned from the core, revamped, Photo app to provide filters and other features. The Notification Center will be customizable adding widgets–an Android staple–to the deck. Another Android staple–third party keyboards–are on their way.
  • Touch ID SDK– anyone with a pulse knew this was coming, but the potential is astounding: Apple is opening up the verifications from the device fingerprint scanners to developers. Not the fingerprint themselves, mind you. This paves the way for all kinds of secure transactions to be powered by an iPhone. Given how many people now bother to use pass codes thanks to the scanners, this could be a titanic shift for mobile payments.
  • Swift– Apple unleashed a whole new programming language on their developers today, and from the reaction of the audience–nerd party!!!–you could tell that this is a huge deal. Combined with a gaming-focused developer environment called Metal, the toolkits that Apple is pushing give developers a fresh arsenal of weapons at their disposal. The hope, surely, is that this will spawn a fresh wave of innovation from app makers. If it does, the material that read as “boring” to consumers will wind up having the greatest impact on their lives.

All this, however, will be washed away by the lamentations of the tech press that there are no new hardware toys. The conventional wisdom has been marching towards the consensus that “Apple doesn’t innovate” anymore, and this event will do little to dispell that. The fault, such as it is, lies with making this event so easily accessible online. While it isn’t Apple’s job to meet the expectations of its critics and detractors at every turn, it surely wouldn’t hurt to frame an event like this WWDC keynote in more modest terms.

Instead we got a lot of stage ham from Federighi, who had to shoulder almost the entire keynote. Federighi is usually a bright spot in the Apple keynotes, but 90 minutes of self-deprecating humor and “really great” superlatives become boring. What is necessary to keep an audience of 6000 engaged doesn’t necessarily translate to the home audience.

Which is even more true for the deep software announcements at the end of the keynote. Here is where, if you were monitoring Twitter, you could see the laymen tune out. Which begs the question: why put a bunch of material that doesn’t make sense to the masses on such a worldwide stage? The answer, of course, is that there are millions of software developers out there watching, but a broad platform always addresses the lowest common denominator whether one wants it to or not. The non-developer at-home crowd is taking away the impression that this stuff is not for them.

Which is correct, but that also cuts right against Apple’s mystique.  In some ways Cupertino is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Odds are that the next WWDC keynote won’t get so much attention from the masses.

 

*I’ll believe it when I see it working consistently.

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