eXtensions - Wednesday 7 June 2017
Wednesday File (8) - WWDC 2017 at San Jose: Expectations and Realities
By Graham K. Rogers
WWDC Expectations and ContentWith the anticipation for WWDC this year, I decided to stay up and watch the whole affair via the Apple TV app for this, but I had not really expected the Keynote to take just over two and a half hours. While the presentation was taking place, I updated my site with comments several times with a timeline. The amount of information that was being thrown at me, and the pace, meant that I missed some of the details, many of which were couched in technical terms.
My first comments here are from impressions taken from that presentation, but there is more detail later. I watched some of the Keynote again. Apple also released a couple of new products silently, like a wireless keyboard with number-pad. This is shown as 4,500 baht in the Thai store, one version does have Thai keys but you need to tap on a button to select this. There is no date for shipping. Also shown in the online store are new Apple Watch bands, some new iPhone cases, and a case for the Apple Pencil. I ordered one of those in Midnight Blue (1200 baht).
This was primarily a developers' conference, something that Wall Street does not fully grasp. The Keynote sets the scene for the next few days when those attending will examine the new technologies in more detail so that they cash begin to incorporate new features into their apps. Apple also uses the presentation as a window on its direction over the next few months (and beyond). With the lack of updates of late, many were hoping for hardware announcements.
Apple obliged, but not everything that the rumors had predicted was shown. But then there were a couple of items that exceeded the rumours. Mac updates were outlined briefly, but (apart from what could be implied with OS updates) there was nothing on the next iPhone or Apple Watch.
Tim Cook briefly mentioned the AppleTV making much of the point that Amazon Prime is coming to the AppleTV app, which is almost useless in Thailand. There may be some good programs on this service, but the login process must have had lessons from Adobe. I tried; but I give this a miss. Cook did say that there will be much more news about Apple TV later in the year, which I take to mean a little more than just the release of CarPool Karaoke.
WatchOSSoftware updates were overall as expected: WatchOS, tvOS, macOS and iOS. Kevin Lynch, sporting a new beard did the honors for the Apple Watch. The new features appear to be incremental, with emphasis on sports and performance, but there was a comment on linking with 3rd party hardware, like a blood-glucose monitor. This was made almost in passing. What look like minor changes to the WatchOS suggest a lot of work behind the scenes.
There are new watch faces, including a Siri watch-face which displays information intelligently, using AI. It provides dynamic updates throughout the day including from 3rd party apps. AI featured a lot during the presentations and it looks like Apple has been doing much work on this, starting with its Siri basis and incorporating algorithms into many aspects of the operations. Users will not see any evidence of this directly, but devices will work more intelligently: helping the user.
Personal activity updates will be based on user's own inputs. For example, Workout will be updated, including an enhanced Pool workout, and high intensity interval training. More tools will allow users to fine tune these, including working with gym equipment. This is supported by 3rd party manufacturers. Music on the Watch updates automatically and Lynch mentioned AirPods as integrated devices. I have yet to set these up with the Watch.
MacOSThis was followed by the outline of the next version of macOs, which is simply called High Sierra, as an indication that the update is incremental (in some ways) but does add some interesting features and technologies. A welcome change was when Craig Federighi announced that autoplay videos will be blocked, which I am sure is going to give advertisers nightmares. There are improvements to Mail, including a split-screen option. Photos has some additional editing options, some of which, like Selective Color look like they have been borrowed from Aperture. This makes this much more flexible.
High Sierra - Image courtesy of Apple
iOS 11The software introductions switched to iOS 11 and several changes were announced for this; Siri upgrade with new voices and with a translation feature: English to Chinese was demonstrated and this did go down well. There are 5 languages to start with, including French, Spanish, German and Italian, with more to be added later.
As part of its design the Control Center is reorganised with more use of 3D touch, and is now merged with Notifications. There is also a (small) Dock with room for a few app icons. One of the new features is Files, which is like a Finder for iOS, but included in this is iCloud, so that is not replaced. Changes to Maps are focused on US users, although malls for one or two other cities were shown, with airports for a few places outside the USA also available.
Like the Apple Watch, there was emphasis on AI and machine learning. New APIs for Vision and Natural Language were outlined as well as Augmented Reality with the ARKit. The demo that followed, from Alastair Coull of WingnutAR, was quite impressive and Apple stole the show - the market - with this new feature.
A number of the technologies like Photo editing, messages, maps and Apple Pay were featured but there are several new features and technologies that are to be included and will be part of the developer sessions during the week. Of particular interest were changes to the Notes app with some new tools. As it was being demonstrated these features reminded me of Notability, while others have suggested there is a similarity to Readdle.
Not that it was announced, but Apple has apparently dropped support for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Vimeo integration in iOS 11 (Mikey Campbell, AppleInsider): the system level integration that had been touted earlier, although one developer session implies there may be a workaround for this.
HardwareThere had been considerable buzz about what hardware Apple would announce at WWDC, but I reminded myself that the last two or three years have seen no hardware at all. Perhaps Apple felt it was under some pressure, but what was announced was in the main dealt with so fast that it was easy to miss some of the features. Despite the noises, despite the announcements about WatchOS and iOS, Apple said nothing about the next Apple Watch or the iPhone.
The first hardware announcement was about new iMacs. These have better displays (21.5" and 27") and use Kaby Lake processors. Up to 32GB RAM can be installed in the 21.5" iMac, and 64GB RAM in the 27" version. Graphics have been updated and boosted considerably. A demo from Visual Light & Magic using VR was quite stunning, showing the player inside the game: technology for movies is now available for the home user.
A new fan solution was outlined and the specifications start with a 8-core Xeon processor or 10-Core Xeon processor and it can be configured up to an 18-Core processor. It has Radeon Vega Graphics with up to 22 teraflops of graphics performance and maximum ECC memory of 128GB. There is a maximum 4TB SSD configuration option, 4 Thunderbolt ports and 10GB Ethernet. There is lot of performance here. In a comparison with the workstation market the performance would cost $7000, but the start price of this iMac is $4999. Available December.
iMac Pro - Image courtesy of Apple
Affinity Photo for iPad
It looks like a squat MacPro with a grille (fabric in black or white). Inside there is an A8 processor (same as the iPad), 7 tweeters, each with its own amplifier, and a 4" woofer that points upwards. It has spatial awareness and works with Apple Music subscriptions. It does indeed use Siri and as well as controlling music output this way, it can provide the user with information on demand (Hey, Siri) and can control home devices.
HomePod - Image courtesy of Apple
We do remember a previous attempt from Apple of a speaker system: the 19,000 baht iPod HiFi which I looked at in May 2006. This was quite simple when compared to this latest HomePod and I would much rather have one of the new ones than the former Boombox.
CommentsIf you ignore the financial press - and I tend to glance at this and snort - a lot of people were happy with what Apple put out on Monday. The dam was broken for notebook computers now that suitable Kaby Lake processors are available, but there may well be more in this range. Both the MacBook and MacBook Air had minor upgrades, so we might expect some more with these early next year or late this year.
With the range of updates and releases around the end of the year, Apple may need to spread some of these out otherwise sales will be limited, in an either, or way; and they want the iPhone to be the major seller. Pro users may not car as they are not restricted by monthly incomes, so that iMac Pro could do well come December and January when companies have new budgets.
This is mainly a developers conference and this point is often lost to some. A a lot of the information is technical and those who cover news for popular sites may not realise the importance of certain APIs.
As well as the silent updates to hardware I mention in the introduction, Apple has changed storage plans for iCloud, removing the 1TB level, but pricing the new 2TB option at the price previously charged for 1TB. It is still a jump from 200GB. Plans now are 5GB free; 50GB, $0.99/month; 200GB, $2.99/month; and 2TB, $9.99/month.
Late ItemsSome news has now begun to drift in and I saw a few items early Wednesday that interested me:
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)
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