TechSummit Rewind 178: WWDC 2017

This is a special edition of the TechSummit Rewind, focusing on Apple’s WWDC developer conference.

Apple used its annual developer conference to launch a flurry of updates for all of the company’s major platforms. Here’s a recap of what you might’ve missed:

TV

Apple TV Siri

Amazon Prime Video will debut on the Apple TV later this year, giving users access to shows like Transparent, Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle, and Catastrophe without having to fiddle with AirPlay.

The partnership is a long time coming and is a truce to a years-long war between the rival streaming platforms. After Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that the two companies couldn’t find “acceptable business terms” to put the app on the Apple TV, Amazon stopped selling the device in 2015 because it couldn’t access Prime Video.

Coincidentally, the Apple TV will also return to Amazon’s store with this announcement.

watchOS 4

watchOS 4 will launch later this year, with new features for watch faces. For instance, complications (glanceable pieces of information) will be updatable based on the time of day or location and a new Siri-based watch face.

The Siri watch face uses machine learning to determine what information is most valuable to you at a given moment like flight boarding passes, sunset time, or smart home controls.

Apple has also developed a kaleidoscope watch face and new character faces based on Toy Story’s Woody, Jesse, and Buzz.

Fitness tracking also gets updated here, with a new interface for the Workout app and new integrations with gym equipment manufacturers that let equipment provide information like incline and intensity to the Watch for more accurate workout tracking. According to Apple, Watch wearers can link their devices with the gym equipment through NFC.

Music management will also be improved, with the Watch automatically importing Apple Music playlists and supporting multiple playlists. Apple has also redesigned the dock with a vertical interface for scrolling through recent apps.

Developers can access a preview version of watchOS 4 starting today, with a public release launching this fall for all Apple Watches paired to an iPhone 5s or later running on iOS 11.

macOS High Sierra

The next version of macOS is called High Sierra, which Apple senior vice president of software Craig Federighi joked was “fully baked.”

The update hopes to be faster, safer, and more efficient about system space. This effort will be led by the behind-the-scenes switch from the Hierarchical File System first introduced in 1985 to the Apple File System that launched with iOS 10.3 in March. Apple claims that the new system is safer and more secure.

In terms of performance, Federighi claims that the High Sierra version of Safari will be 80 percent faster than Chrome in JavaScript. Safari will also use machine learning to identify and block ad trackers as you navigate the web, and will be capable of blocking autoplay videos.

Mail will meanwhile take up 35 percent less space than it has previously.

The Photos app is getting refreshed to become a lot closer to Photoshop, with easier search functionality.

Metal 2, an updated version of Apple’s graphics technology, is coming with High Sierra with VR support in tow.

High Sierra will launch in a developer beta today, with a public beta coming later this month before it rolls out to the public for free this fall on all devices compatible with macOS Sierra.

New MacBooks

The entire MacBook line got a spec bump, with last year’s MacBook Pros and the 12-inch MacBook getting Intel’s Kaby Lake processors.

There’s also a new tier for the 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar that starts at a cheaper $1,299 price tag, with the 15-incher getting discrete graphics standard. Otherwise, the MacBook is unchanged.

The MacBook now maxes out with a 1.3GHz Core i7 processor, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro peaks with a 3.5GHz Core i7 and the 15-incher goes up to a 3.1GHz Core i7 processor.

Finally, the ailing MacBook Air is getting a speed boost with a faster 1.8GHz Intel processor… and that’s it. There’s still the same 1400 x 900 panel, wedge design, and no USB-C ports.

The new MacBooks are available today.

New iMacs

 

The iMac line is also getting Kaby Lake processors and what Apple calls “the best Mac display ever” with up to 500 nits of brightness (43 percent brighter than the previous generation).

The 21.5-inch model can now be configured with up to 32GB of RAM, with the 27-inch model going up to a whopping 64GB of RAM that’s double the previous iteration. The new iMacs are also getting two USB-C ports, a first for Apple desktops.

Beyond that, these are still your standard iMacs.

However, things perk up with the iMac Pro. The workstation class PC is going to replace the painfully outdated Mac Pro for the foreseeable future when it launches in December.

The iMac Pro will ship with an 8-core Intel Xeon processor and will scale up to an 18-core Xeon processor with a 5K display and AMD Radeon Vega GPU. You’ll also be able to shell out for up to 16GB of VRAM, 128GB of data corruption-protecting ECC RAM, and up to 4TB of SSD storage.

You can pick one up starting at a whopping $4,999.

iOS 11

iOS 11 will improve on the “core technologies” that powers the OS and numerous user-facing features. Starting with new productivity solutions for iPad, but other enhancements are coming to Messages, Apple Pay, and other apps.

Conversations across iCloud, iOS, and macOS will be synced. If messages are erased on your iPhone or iPad, that will also be reflected on Mac. They will be stored on iCloud, which should make them easier to retrieve on your future Apple devices.

Pay

Apple Pay

Apple Pay is also expanding to include person-to-person payments, positioning Apple to compete with Venmo and Square Cash. iOS 11 will introduce an Apple Pay Cash Card, where users will store their received funds from peer-to-peer transactions. The money can then be transferred to your personal bank account.

Siri

Siri has been tweaked to have a more natural voice when responding to users, and can now perform translations from English to Chinese, French, German, Italian, or Spanish.

Siri is also getting smarter about suggestions with “on-device learning.” This is synced across your other Apple devices and “kept completely private, readable only by you and your devices.” According to Apple, on-device learning lets Siri give suggestions “based on personal usage of Safari, News, Mail, Messages, and more. For example, as Siri learns topics or places a user is interested in while browsing Safari, they will be suggested when typing in Mail, Messages, and other apps.”

Camera

With iOS 11, users can take Portrait Mode images with optical image stabilization, a flash, or in HDR. Loop and Bounce effects can now be applied to Live Photos, and Apple is using a High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) to shrink the amount of storage photos take up.

Control Center

Apple also completely redesigned Control Center, the panel that users can swipe up to access frequent and important settings or change songs when listening to music.

iPad

The iPad got a ton of attention with iOS 11, with the dock becoming more Mac-like by letting users add many more apps to it.

A new drag-and-drop feature lets you quickly move info or media from one split-screen app into the one beside it or apps on your home screen and dock.

App pairings can also now be preserved when switching between apps. Essentially, it’s a port of the Mac’s Spaces feature. This means you can keep two apps you commonly use together when switching to another app, and return to them without having to set up the split screen view again.

New Files App

Apple will give file management its own app with iOS 11. The Files app will give users a simple view of files on their device, and also those shared with cloud services like iCloud, Dropbox, and OneDrive.

Maps

Apple Maps is getting indoor maps for airports and shopping centers in select cities.

Mall layouts will be available for Boston, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, Tokyo, and Washington DC.

Indoor maps will also come to over 20 major airports.

When you’re behind the wheel, lane guidance and speed limits will help you navigate unfamiliar sections of the open road.

More importantly, Do Not Disturb While Driving will get rid of potential distractions when your eyes should be focused on the road. Text messages won’t be shown by default, though senders have the option of replying with “urgent” in cases when you need to see something.

Music

Apple Music

iOS 11 will introduce support for multi-room audio between iPhones, iPads, and a slew of third-party speakers.

Plus, Apple Music is getting a social element that will show what your friends are currently listening to on the service. Like Spotify, you can also listen privately if you’re shamelessly belting out Taylor Swift’s Shake it Out.

App Store

new_app_store_three_iphones_apps_games_today

The App Store is getting the biggest makeover in its history with iOS 11. There’s a new Today tab that’ll surface notable releases, and Apple is breaking out games into its own dedicated section. There’s also a larger editorial aspect to the store now, too, as users will find how-tos, “making of” stories, and other content that pertains to certain apps. Other refinements include the ability for developers to directly list in-app purchases in the App Store – rather than making users hunt for them in the app.

ARKit

Apple is building augmented reality directly into the core of iOS, giving developers the tools they need to convincingly blend digital entertainment with the real world.

Other features coming include screen recording, a one-handed keyboard, FaceTime Live Photos, and password autofill in apps.

iOS 11 will launch this fall – presumably alongside new iPhones, with a public beta launching later in June for the iPhone 5s and later, all iPad Air and iPad Pros, the 5th generation iPad, iPad mini 2 and later, and the 6th generation iPod touch. Some features – like person-to-person Apple Pay – require newer hardware.

iPad Pro

Apple introduced a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro and a refreshed 12.9-inch model that both ship next week. The 10.5-inch model starts at $649 with 64GB of memory and just WiFi, or $779 for 64GB of storage with cellular support. Meanwhile, the 12.9-inch model starts at $799 for 64GB of storage with just WiFi, or $929 for 64GB of storage with cellular support. Pricing will increase with up to 512GB of storage.

Both devices are powered by the new A10X six-core CPU and include a 12-core GPU. They support HDR video with a 120Hz refresh rate. Apple pitched this as essential for the Apple Pencil because of its responsiveness and ability to drop the latency rate to 20 milliseconds. That refresh rate adjusts dynamically based on what you’re viewing for smarter power conservation. The True Tone display is also 50 percent brighter than earlier models.

The new iPad Pros have a 12-megapixel rear camera and a 7-megapixel front camera. Both should last for 10 hours on a charge (in line with pretty much every other iPad to date). In addition, Apple is launching new sleeves and accessories, like a leather sleeve for both that starts at $129.

HomePod

Lastly, Apple introduced the HomePod speaker that the company claims will reinvent music in the home.

The HomePod is a small cylinder covered in mesh that looks like a wider Logitech UE Boom, and will be available in white and space gray.

The smart speaker features a seven-speaker array of tweeters. Additionally, there’s a four-inch upward-facing subwoofer and an Apple A8 chip. The speaker features “spatial awareness,” which lets it automatically tune the sound to the space that the speaker is in. Setup is simple – hold an iPhone (5s or later) next to the HomePod a la AirPods. You’ll also be able to use a pair of HomePods together in a single room for improved sound. It also works with Apple’s AirPlay 2 multi-room audio solution (more on that above).

Naturally, HomePod is compatible with Apple Music and can wirelessly access the service’s full catalog. A six-microphone array is used to access Siri, which has been upgraded to handle specific music requests like “Who’s playing drums on this track?” or “What was the top song on May 5th, 2016?” Apple claims that the microphones are good enough to hear commands from far away, even with music at full volume. The Siri waveform appears on top of the device when the assistant is activated, similar to the LED lights on an Amazon Echo. However, the HomePod also has integrated touch controls.

Along with the music support, Siri can be used for things like unit conversion, news, weather, traffic, sports, reminders, timers, and more. Apple’s own services tie in too: you can send iMessages, or control HomeKit devices. HomePod will also serve as a HomeKit hub to let you control smart home products away from your home, too.

Security is also a highlight feature for the HomePod. While the device will always listen for a “Hey, Siri” prompt to activate, information won’t be sent to Apple’s servers until after that command is heard. That information is also “encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.”

HomePod will set you back $349 when it ships in December in the US, UK, and Australia.

 

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