Tech alliances rarely deliver on their initial promises. Some seem to exist for years without anything meaningful to show for it. Others break up after a bit. Some work. Some work for a while until the big companies have a fall out, the commitments waver, and you slowly end up back at square one.
The smart home industry has certainly seen a plethora of partnerships in recent years, most not really achieving anything of significance. What Connected Home over IP has going for it, is that they have somehow managed to get every big player together; platform leaders in Apple, Google and Amazon as well as the main accessory manufacturers like Samsung, Philips Hue, the lot. They also have noble aims; an open source smart home protocol for smart accessories. This isn’t some private pact that locks others out.
Arguably, this whole thing benefits Apple the most. It's a way to dramatically increase the number of HomeKit compatible accessories on the market.
Positive intent is better than none at all, and so the chances of a better smart home ecosystem are unquestionably higher today than they were the day before this was announced. Like everyone else, I was sceptical the moment the news broke. Why would these companies suddenly want to play happy families, after five years of constructing fiefdoms?
Well, I think I’ve figured out the motivations. This open protocol commoditises access to appliances and accessories. For manufacturers today, getting their stuff to work (and certified) with proprietary platforms is expensive and time consuming, especially for HomeKit. An open initiative should break down those walls and reduce costs. For Apple, Amazon and Google, they don’t base their business on the smart home accessories themselves. Their interest is in the voice assistants, in the intelligence layer, in the hardware and services that manages the accessories. And this doesn’t threaten that at all.
So, with that in mind, I’m not as doubtful as I was initially. The wins for customers may be small, but still welcomed nonetheless.
This year, Apple paid more attention than ever to its end-of-year commendations. They invited press to an intimate media briefing in New York to announce their App Store Best Of 2019 picks, beyond the normal press release. Apple also made a big song and dance about 2019 music. iTunes has released top song lists and ‘artist of the year’ editorials for as long as I can remember, but this year they formalised proceedings into official Apple Music Awards. The winners receive an awesome custom physical trophy, featuring a 12-inch disc of silicon as a perfect fusion of modern technology and vinyl throwback. They even held a celebratory concert at the Steve Jobs Theater.
However, in an awkward state of affairs, I feel like they invested far more effort into the ceremony of the thing than the actual process of award-giving. The chosen picks are predictable and uninspired. It doesn’t seem like they took any risks and mostly stuck to name brands and big companies. It makes for a very dry list of featured apps. I also think it is hilarious that in the same year Apple launched a dedicated App Store for Apple Watch, they did not have a Watch category at all. It just seems like such a waste to host this non-event event with such bland recommendations underlying it all; contrast the Best Of list to this year’s Apple Design Awards this year, which was a much more diverse and interesting set of apps but was honoured with far less fanfare.
On the music side, Apple Music’s inaugural awards had meagre ambitions. Apple Music normally makes a huge deal about the breadth and depth of their huge catalogue with playlists for all genres and moods. Yet Apple gave out just five awards for 2019, three chosen by editorial teams and two based on global play counts. With three out of five of this year’s awards being given to the same artist, the need for more diversity is even more highlighted. At the very least, there should be awards for every genre of music. They could do a lot more that emphasises unique elements of Apple Music; awards picked by Beats 1 hosts, some kind of sing-along lyrics tie in, most streamed music video, the works. I hope they have a better all-round showing for 2020.
Nine titles is not a lot. Eight TV shows and one movie, and one of those shows is the Oprah book interview. However, I think Apple did a decent job at spanning the gamut of content appeals. Shows for adults, shows for children, and an all-family documentary film. From what I’ve watched, “The Morning Show” has the best story, “See” has the best visuals, “For All Mankind” has the most novel plot with a lot of potential, and “Dickinson” is just plain fun.
There was a lot of speculation in the last couple of years that Apple was heading towards a family friendly tone. The launch dramas obviously dispel that myth comprehensively. Almost the opposite, there is not a TV+ show that is actually appropriate for the whole family to enjoy together. The children’s programming isn’t sophisticated enough in story to entertain adults and the adult shows contain far too much swearing/sex/violence to be kid friendly. The three Apple originals scheduled for the rest of 2019 are also decidedly adult material.
What’s missing is something like “Doctor Who”, something that you can watch on a Saturday night after dinner before its bedtime. “Amazing Stories” seems like it was the property meant to fill exactly that gap. It’s rated TV-PG and we have heard that it was destined to be one of the Apple TV+ launch shows — until production was delayed.
For nine titles, I think Apple did about as well as they could have done. The response from critics was definitely not what they were hoping for but the general audience reaction seems to be up to par. Their challenge now is to keep delivering on this formula at a pace that is fast enough to fend off competition from other original content services.
The abundance of 12-month free trials have enabled them to debut with a small library offering but they need to expand quickly if they want people to start paying for real when November 2020 rolls around. On current pace, they will have about 35 original titles in a year’s time. That puts them somewhere between passable to good in my evaluations, depending on the number of smash hits they chance upon. The proposition is much stronger in the second year when the TV+ library will be closing in on a hundred titles.
It is interesting that Apple chose not to give these stage time at the September event, only to be available for holiday sales a month later. It seems unlikely that the fate of the product was unknown then. Manufacturing and freight alone make up a several week lead time. Obviously, the AirPower embarrassment looms over the company but I haven’t quite worked out the new policy; the Mac Pro and Deep Fusion are just two examples of things that they had no qualms in previewing ahead of time.
The new AirPods Pro are a logical addition to the AirPods family. I bet for a lot of people, the draw of AirPods Pro is simply having another shot at a design that is comfortable for their ears. ‘One size fits all’ AirPods did a good job at covering a wide spectrum of human ear shapes, but clearly there were people left out — either due to comfort or looseness. AirPods Pro, and its three choices of ear tips, should fill in the gaps.
The change from a double-tap to a press is something that I hope trickles down to the normal AirPods. The double-tap gesture means pushing the buds down your ear canal, with a relatively strong intensity lets the AirPods not detect your intent. With the new force sensor in the stem, the idea is you can just pinch either side of the stalk, mimicking the press of inline buttons on old Apple wired headphones. As you press down evenly with a finger on both sides of the stalk, the AirPods Pro themselves should stay fixed in place and it won’t be anywhere near as uncomfortable as the tapping.
The Beats Studio and newly-released Beats Solo Pro feature active noise cancellation. It is effective but carries a fairly significant battery life penalty: the headphones boast 40 hours of music listening, but only 22 hours when active noise cancellation is turned on. Battery life is essentially halved. Because of this, when the design of the new AirPods Pro leaked, I automatically assumed that the noise cancellation features would be achieved by way of the natural sound isolation of in-ear buds, that is to say, passively. However, that is not the case. The AirPods Pro actually do have active noise cancellation (and a transparency mode like the Solo Pro). But what is intriguing is the quoted battery life impact is only half an hour. You get 4.5 hours of music playback compared to the normal 5 hours of AirPods battery life. I guess we’ll have to wait for the reviews to see if Apple took any shortcuts to achieve this feat.
The $250 price feels a little high although clearly Apple is going to have no trouble selling these given how in demand AirPods are in general. The price elasticity is obviously there. I hope Apple can find a way to get rid of the AirPods with (non-wireless) Charging Case SKU. The lineup does feel a little bloated. In a perfect world, you’d just have AirPods at $149 and AirPods Pro at $199.
If you take interest in Apple — as in Apple the company — like I do, then you have to care about Apple TV+. As much as some people might want it to be, TV+ is not a side project or distraction. It’s not like iBooks textbooks or iWork in iCloud.com. Over the last two years, Apple set up a dedicated video division and they mean business. Just this week, news broke that Apple is spending an estimated $100 million on the production of a single film. Apple’s overall (and ongoing) financial investment in TV+ content must surely eclipse the budgets of many of its hardware projects.
You can not care about television, or not be interested in the shows Apple is making. But if you care about the machinations of Apple, then television programming is a fascinating venture to follow. In particular, one aspect that has piqued my curiosity is the pace of Apple’s content rollout. Looking beyond the launch, Apple hasn’t really shown us anything of what it has coming in the pipeline apart from quick glimpses as part of a one-minute Apple TV+ sizzle reel.
The M. Night Shyamalan production "Servant" debuts on Thanksgiving, November 28th.
Today, Apple announced that its “Truth Be Told” drama will be available from December 6th. With that date now out there, we can know work out how much maximum runway Apple has with the launch lineup, as listed on tv.apple.com.
The company revealed in its September press release that most shows will be released according to the following schedule: three episodes upfront, with the remaining episodes of the season on a weekly cadence.
Apple’s television projects have between 10-12 episodes per season. If you take December 6th as the latest possible starting point, then Apple will exhaust its entire cache of TV+ launch content … by the end of January. Even in regard to TV+ movies, “The Elephant Queen” is available on November 1st and “Hala” is coming in December. “The Banker” will follow in January, and Apple hasn’t said anything about any other films so far.
You can laugh at the fact TV+ only has a dozen different franchises, but that’s the state of the game right now. It’s not like Apple is going to be sit on the launch catalogue for a year. They can’t. Almost all of the launch lineup will have ended before 2020 starts, and we don’t expect to see the next seasons of those shows start for the good part of a year.
To keep to Apple’s promise of new content every month, in the most pessimistic case of every show being on the gradual one-a-week schedule, Apple will have at least doubled the number of available shows by March. Throw in three or four movies too.
What shows are these going to be? We don’t really know. This Wikipedia page lists all known Apple commissions, but it’s not clear which of them are in the can and ready to go. “Little America” is the only one I know of that is close to being released; that’s the anthology series produced by Kumail Nanjiani which Apple talked about at the March event.
Furthermore, the aforementioned press statement also says that some shows will drop an entire season of episodes at once, binge-style. Naturally, Apple’s need to put out new shows quicker accelerates for every show that is released in that manner. I had assumed that clause was referring to mostly kids content, like the Snoopy cartoon or “Helpsters”. It turns out that some of Apple’s premier shows are also adopting that strategy. Hailee Steinfeld recently revealed to Jimmy Fallon that “Dickinson” will be one such case, all 10 episodes available on November 1st. (Apple has been running broadcast and social media adverts for “Dickinson” like it’s no tomorrow.)
This whole thing is a whirlwind and I can’t wait to try out the service and watch how it grows. Maybe Apple’s first ten shows will all be terrible and a miserable flop. As calculated above, it’ll only be a handful of months before we can reassess with an as-yet-unknown lineup of a dozen TV+ original series.
We have cable TV at home. I rarely watch anything live as it airs. Everything is recorded, and the fast forward button on the remote is probably one of the most worn keys. Adverts suck. When you are introduced to a better world, it’s really hard to go back. I hate TV ads even for the duration that I’m fast-forwarding past them.
Whatever the ethicalness of DVR’ing television and skipping the ad breaks is, the simple fact is you can’t do the same thing with apps. If there’s an ad-ridden game, you are seeing the banner ads. You are watching the interstitial ads. Often, you complete a level, you are subjected to watching a sponsored video, and then you get kicked back to the menu screen which has a persistent banner across the bottom.
If ads are one tier of ickiness, the pseudo-gambling virtual currency mechanisms are a million times worse. Nevertheless, that is the status quo of the App Store. It’s so dominant that it’s actively difficult to find titles that do not feature those things. In many cases, a game will have both ads and in-app purchases galore.
Arcade has value on that axis alone; a simple place to find games that do not have those distractions and borderline casino business models. It also helps that the Arcade games are good.
There are currently about 70 titles on offer, spanning a diverse set of genres. There’s puzzle games, RPGs, endless runners, the works. There’s really deep adventures and other games suited to be played in bitesize five-minutes-of-fun chunks on the bus. Apple is promising there will be 100 Arcade games before the end of the year.
I’ve been playing What the Golf, Assemble with Care, and just started Don’t Bug Me. They are engaging and work great on the iPhone. I’m having fun playing with them and not seeing a single ad in that time is — truly — a breath of fresh air. I play Words with Friends with my family, and its egregious usage of advertising is more annoying than ever before. Before, I’d put up with it. Now, I actively detest it. And Arcade has been out for a fortnight.
I’d love for Arcade to offer an ad-free Scrabble clone. Arcade has a word game called Word Laces. It’s fine, but the best thing about it is that it is ad-free. What’s weird when you are playing Arcade titles is that your brain is accustomed to freemium tropes. You are primed to expect a paywall screen that your gems have run out of juice or you need to buy this lightning bolt gizmo to progress. And those things just don’t exist.
Word Laces has a lightbulb button that gives you a hint if you get stuck in a puzzle. It took me a week to have the innate confidence to tap it because my brain was avoiding it, automatically ascribing it as some sort of in-app purchase thing. Nope. You tap the lightbulb, you get a hint.
Apple’s marketing describes the Arcade library as a collection of “groundbreaking” titles that “redefine” games. I don’t get that feeling. The games are not really innovative, they are pretty standard. It’s almost like putting the Steam indie catalogue on your phone. I haven’t seen any Arcade game so far that surprised me with an innovative premise. I don’t care. I like that the games are new releases, offering new content, and I like that they are fun. Being “groundbreaking” is not what interests me.
Arcade is great. You should try it. $4.99 for six people spanning iPhone, iPad, TV and Mac is good value pricing. Nevertheless, it’s not perfect.
I mentioned I downloaded three Arcade games to my phone. I also downloaded many more titles and promptly deleted them after a few minutes, including some of the flagship Arcade recommendations like Hot Lava and Oceanhorn 2.
They aren’t bad games, but they aren’t suited for the phone. Hot Lava really warrants an iPad-or-larger screen to be enjoyed, and the touch control scheme is unplayable. I don’t know how anyone could get past the first level in Hot Lava without a controller with physical buttons. Even more trivially, the performance of the game is poor. It makes my phone run really hot and my 2015-era iPad Pro exhibits terrible FPS. Oceanhorn is a bit better phone optimised, but it still feels too constrained.
Arcade has a lot of games that are clearly not designed for the iPhone and yet probably fantastic TV, iPad or Mac experiences. Similarly, a physical game controller is effectively required for some titles. However, Arcade is careless in this regard. The storefront is identical across every platform and is not personalised for you, or your devices.
A big part of the value proposition of Apple Music is its carefully-curated playlists of songs. Arcade doesn’t have much of that. I don’t think Hot Lava should be the top recommendation when I’m browsing the Arcade tab on my phone. The store shouldn’t recommend games if the device I am browsing with is too underpowered. Seriously, try playing Hot Lava on an Apple TV HD, the non-4K model. It’s a mess of jaggies and dropped frames. Yet when I updated my Apple TV to tvOS 13, Arcade was proudly recommending Hot Lava as a daily play. It reflects badly on Arcade, and it reflects badly on the Apple hardware.
Arcade needs better curation and better organisation. Arcade doesn’t really have categories to browse by genre and there are no charts for ‘most played’ or ‘hot’ games. It’s hard to even view the entire catalogue of games. You have to open the Arcade tab in the App Store, scroll to the very bottom, tap ‘See All Games’ and then scroll a flat list of games in reverse-chronological order. This will only become more unwieldy as new games are added.
Arcade is also a very isolating experience because there is effectively zero social integration. All the games diligently implement Game Center, supporting high scores and achievements. There should be a single place where you can see progress across all of your Arcade games and compare against other people, at least the other people in your Family Sharing group. Even something akin to Apple Music’s ‘Friends Are Listening To’ feature would go a long way.
It’s almost claustrophobic to pack all of this stuff into one tab inside the App Store app. Perhaps, they would be better off with a dedicated Arcade app that can have sections for your library, game recommendations, Game Center achievements, top charts, and search. Interestingly, the Apple TV actually does have a dedicated Arcade app, but there’s no additional functionality exposed there yet. It just mirrors what is shown under the Arcade section in the App Store.
I was also disappointed to find some games inside Arcade that behave like they depend on freemium mechanics, even though they don’t. These games were obviously in development before Apple approached them with its service and have been quickly ported over with the in-app purchases removed. Sonic Racing is a good example of this. It has so many things you can unlock that intrude on the actual gameplay, that only exist because they were meant to be avenues for monetisation. Sonic Racing isn’t even optimised for notch phones; the top toolbar on the game’s main screen is cut off by the Face ID camera housing.
Apple should not have let these big publishers get away with being so tasteless. Apple should scrutinise the finesse of every game, regardless of who made it. Arcade is meant to be a premium service of good games after all. And it mostly is, but there are a handful of slackers in the mix.
As it stands, the infrastructure of the Arcade storefront is at minimum-viable product level. I think Arcade is off to a great start but I hope there’s a lot more in the pipeline. We also have to keep abreast of what new games are added, at what frequency, and whether they maintain the generally high standards of quality. It’s also not entirely clear to me … can a developer choose to leave Arcade and take their games out of the subscription? That would sour the appeal of the service significantly.
The 2018 iPhone XS and iPhone XR lineup was wonky. Price and iPhone price perception was one thing, but even on technical specs, the 2018 iPhones clashed with each other. The cheapest phone could be more appealing to a hypothetical consumer with unlimited budget because of the battery life. The XR summarily trounced the iPhone XS in longevity. With the iPhone XS, and iPhone X before it, you would have to baby the phone to get you through the day. In comparison, the XR was a care-free vacation of unrestraint. The XS Max was close to XR battery, but the Max is out of the question for a lot of people because it is simply too big.
What this meant was that even tech journalists would migrate to the iPhone XR and not the high-end XS line. The benefits of ‘unlimited’ battery dominated the draws of a slighter nicer screen and a second rear lens. There is clearly a problem in the product line when the most dedicated, most technically-minded, portion of the user base are not attracted to the top models. The XR was not complementary, it was cannibalistic.
So, with the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, this imbalance has been rectified. In fact, all three phones are advertised as getting better battery life than the XR. And it’s a clean straight line as you would expect. Based on Apple’s reported video playback durations, the iPhone XR gets 16 hours — that’s the baseline. The 11 beats it by an hour, the Pro beats it by 2 hours and the Pro Max extends the gap further for a monstrous 20 hour battery life.
If you have an effective unlimited budget, there is no way you are picking the $699 iPhone 11. The discounted XR doesn’t have a chance to win either. Now, your choice is a simple matter of ergonomic preference: iPhone 11 Pro, or iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Obviously, the biggest news in terms of customer interest is the new iPhone lineup. The focus really is on the camera, this year. The new triple-lens system is the hero feature of 2019 and I bet Apple spends a lot of time on it. The camera improvements will be a lot more substantial and deep than just a wider angle zoom mode. It has to be significant; the iPhone is already falling behind the market in key areas of the camera. This is the year where they have to catch up, but also surpass the status quo in some areas to justify the unsightly trinocular module. I’m expecting a major leap here. Gurman hinted as much in his event rundown.
In contrast, I am not expecting much from the Apple Watch department this year. I feel like Apple front-loaded a lot of changes with the Series 4 last year, and they aren’t ready to make another technological leap. I believe Apple are going to continue selling the same Series 3 and Series 4 models through the holiday season, perhaps with a price drop, and the addition of some new case colours and finishes (ceramic, titanium).
My colleague Guilherme Rambo reported that first-party sleep tracking features are actively in development, but I personally don’t think they are launching that this year. Sleep was not mentioned at WWDC, which logically implies that Apple is holding the feature for new hardware, otherwise they would beta test it through the summer. However, I’m working on the presumption that there is no new Watch hardware this year. Maybe it’s a surprise Series 4 addition for the holidays, but I’m sticking to the idea that sleep tracking is not launching until 2020; a timeline first voiced by Bloomberg earlier this year.
I think the other hardware announcement will be the Apple tracker/tag/tile thingy. It’s a perfect iPhone accessory and Christmas gift idea. Where other trackers like Tile have struggled is the ramp of the network effect. You need a big user base to make the mesh location feature useful, but how do you attract customers if the critical mass isn’t there? Apple’s tag won’t have this chicken-and-egg problem because they are making the entire Apple device install base part of the mesh automatically, with iOS 13 and the other platform software updates. The tag will be just be another beacon in the Find My network, for any nearby iPhone to detect and flag down. This kind of accessory is an easy sell for Apple, perhaps priced at $40-$50 each.
That’s all in regard to hardware expectations; iPad updates and the new 16-inch MacBook Pro are primed for an October unveiling. Naturally, Apple is going to use the attention of the iPhone event stage to showcase its service offerings once again. There will be Apple Arcade game demos. There will be a rundown of what the debut show lineup is for Apple TV+. Whilst I don’t think either service will be available simultaneously with iOS 13, I think Apple will release at least one full episode of their original shows on the same day as the event. They can whet people’s appetites for the impending Apple TV+ launch and gather a few more early bird signups. That is how you fully capitalise on the captive audience and worldwide interest of a new iPhone news cycle.
I predict that there will not be a bundle. They might try and pair Apple TV+ with other Channels like HBO or Disney+, but I would be astonished if they attempt to do an ‘Amazon Prime’-esque subscription of everything Apple for one price. That kind of thing is a desperation play, a fallback if it transpires that they cannot successfully sell their services as standalone products.
I have been expecting a $9.99 base subscription price for Apple TV+ ever since it was announced. Apple is pitching it as a premium video service and premium video services are not free, or free perks when you buy an iPhone or whatever some people were hoping. Apple is investing billions into original content because they want to make billions, driving Services revenue higher.
The question for me has always been how they get this off the ground. With a clear aversion to licensing a library of back-catalogue content, launching this service is always going to be tough. Can Apple really debut a TV subscription that offers 5-12 shows and expect people to pay for it?
The proposition for Apple TV+ in two or three years time is palatable, when the company has several seasons in the archive and a roster of shows and movies numbering in the hundreds. Those first months, the first year even, that’s the really hard part. The launch period is also when the service will have the most attention, the most scrutiny, it’s the time when people will make up their minds if Apple has got it right or wrong.
Bloomberg effectively says Apple’s TV+ will launch with at least five shows, and be priced at $10 per month. The publication says Apple is considering releasing the first three episodes of a show at once, and then transitioning to a weekly broadcast schedule.
I think the only feasible path for them is to price Apple TV+ at the $10 level, but pair it with a really long trial. We’ve seen them do three months for Apple Music, and one month for Apple News+. A three month trial for TV+ would mean the day-one accounts would get to see most of one season of a debut show, so maybe Apple’s plan is to get someone hooked on a storyline before actually taking their money.
What if Apple TV+ offered a six month free trial? This would be the longest trial for any Apple property to date, but it might just be what they go for. It gives Apple some breathing room to expand its library of aired originals, build buzz and start accruing viewer retention. Apple has said it will be adding new films and shows every month, so six months is a long enough time period that the service would actually have some meaningful intrinsic value by the time people actually had to start paying for it. They could time it so season two of of their hero titles, like “The Morning Show” and “See”, kick off just as the free trials come up for renewal.
Apple’s finance SVP Luca Maestri even hinted as much on the last earnings call. He was pretty open about saying “all these services there is a trial period upfront, it is going to be different trial periods” and “the road to monetisation takes some time”. I think he was priming investors to cool off a bit and to not expect the video service to contribute to 2019 holiday quarter earnings.
On a related note, this week Guilherme Rambo found code references to indicate that Apple is currently planning a $4.99 monthly price for the Apple Arcade subscription. I think there is a good chance that will change by next month’s announcement; it is just too cheap. Apple will not want one of the News/TV/Arcade trio to significantly undercut the others. News+ has set the $10 benchmark and TV+ certainly looks to be heading in the same direction. Arcade is a strong offering and warrants the premium positioning of its cohorts. $7.99/month is the lowest it will go.
When your company is running marketing campaigns that constantly accentuate a privacy focus, it is incongruent to keep stuff like this in the shadows. Apple didn’t try to hide that this is happening but it didn’t do much to keep people informed either.
On its machine learning blog, Apple explained how they use customer voice samples to validate the accuracy of "Hey Siri" detection.
The iOS Security white paper says Siri voice recordings are saved for six months with an ‘anonymous’ identifier that can group recordings from the same person together, and then the recordings are kept for at least another two years without the associated identifier. It says the saved audio is “for use by Apple in improving and developing Siri” with “ongoing improvement and quality assurance”. What it does not say explicitly is that these recordings are reviewed and assessed by humans.
If you give it a second of thought, then of course these clips have to be peer-assessed. To improve software to be more human-like, you need humans to label the training data sets and check sample outputs. However, this indirection may not be immediately obvious to people who don’t understand have a firm grasp of how machine learning works. The onus should not be on the customer to know, or to guess. The paragraph should say it explicitly; something like ‘anonymised recordings are reviewed by Apple employees for ongoing improvement and quality assurance of the Siri service’.
It’s also important to point out that the content of the white paper is not what is shown to a user when they activate Siri on their iPhone or iPad. The “Ask Siri, Dictation & Privacy” screen focuses on how Apple handles your data to process Siri requests in the moment, and the copy quickly glazes over the retention policy details. It does not mention the six-month or two-year periods for example.
What is also weird is that Apple has no opt-out for Siri data retention. You can turn off Siri completely and Apple will delete any data on its servers that can be traced back to your account, but you cannot elect to use Siri and not have Apple keep data to improve the service. Plenty of other iOS features provide this granularity, with dedicated options to “Improve Maps”, “Share iCloud Analytics” and the like. It’s a strange omission that Siri offers no such controls.
The worst parts of the 3D Touch user interface was the home screen quick actions system. The quick actions are useful, but the gesture of applying force to an app icon clashed with the gesture of long-pressing on the icon to make the icons jiggle and enable editing of the home screen arrangement. They are technically wholly independent interactions; one based on time, one based on pressure exerted. In reality, people found it nigh-impossible to differentiate those actions. It’s hard to long-press on a screen without also pressing firmly.
This overlap resulted in a laundry list of issues in iOS where the same UI elements would respond differently to pressure and long-press gestures. The home screen was by far the worst offender, though. Jiggle mode has existed since the dawn of time. All of a sudden, starting with the iPhone 6S, ‘long-pressing’ would sometimes work correctly and sometimes trigger this strange menu of actions — with no escape hatch.
The new design in iOS 13 beta 4 is definitely an improvement over what came before. 3D Touch, Haptic Touch and long-press gestures are now standardised into this one context menu system. If you press down on an icon and wait, the quick actions menu always displays first. If you keep waiting with your finger still on the display, the menu dismisses and jiggle mode activates. If you apply force when you press down on the screen, i.e. using your pressure-sensitive iPhone display, then the same sequence of events happen. The benefit you get from 3D Touch now is that it reduces the delay before the quick actions menu is shown, thanks to the more affirmative initiation.
Moreover, if a user does release their finger early, the new system is still forgiving to the ‘average user’ who probably just wants to edit their home screen. This is because the quick actions menu now includes a “Rearrange Apps” item. Tapping this button enters jiggle mode. You can’t really get stuck in the wrong place anymore.
There are a couple of warts as of beta 4. It would be better if all of the new iOS 13 context menus featured taller rows. They are barely 44 pixels tall; this means small font text, tiny icons and not too much leeway in where your finger can be when you are quickly sliding around. In the old 3D Touch menu design, the buttons were like three times the size and the ergonomics were better for it.
The “Rearrange Apps” button is a great addition (and something I’ve been advocating for a while) but it is a bit lazy to just append it to the bottom of the other actions. It should be distinct from the app actions, probably as a pill button in the corner of the screen, like the Done button that appears when jiggle mode is active.
They also have this seamless transition from sliding to select an action in the menu to dragging the app icon if you keep going. This is a clever shortcut but it’s frankly a bit finicky right now. I find that the safe zone of the pan gesture is too small; it’s far too easy to start moving the app icon when you don’t mean to. And when that happens, the result is a messed up home screen. Not the nicest thing to have to deal with.
Hopefully, these niggles will get patched up by the time iOS 13 is finished. Overall, it’s a much better experience. And it’s an experience that is consistent across device type. It doesn’t matter what kind of screen technology your device has, all iPhones and iPads have access to the same features, and they all behave (mostly) the same.
If you take the Wall Street Journal’s timeline as truth, ignoring the silly sales statistics meant to paint a picture of a company in turmoil, then Ive’s exit should only be seen as a positive step. It doesn’t make sense to have a person in the leadership team that is slowing down the product development process out of fatigue. The recent Bloomberg report mostly corroborates the same account of events; Ive was intimately invested in making the Apple Watch, and gradually shirked his responsibilities in the following years after the Watch debuted.
Along these lines, the real criticism should be pointed at Tim Cook for mismanagement of leadership. Ive was gracefully transitioning away from the company with his ‘promotion’ to Chief Design Officer. It was perfectly setup for a clean departure with Richard Howarth and Alan Dye’s faces viewable on the Apple Leadership page since mid-2015. However, what the Wall Street Journal says is that it was Cook who convinced Ive not to leave in 2017, and put him back at the top of the pyramid. History now shows that Ive retook the management role somewhat unwillingly, reportedly frustrating the product development of things like the iPhone X user interface as subordinates looked to approval from a leader who had either lost focus or interest (or understandably otherwise preoccupied by the declining health of his parents).
Ive sold his soul to Apple for a long time, did excellent work, and he now wants to chill out. Who can blame him. I think a lot of people under-approximate Ive’s impact on the company. Up until 2015, he was integral and working hard. I can’t get this Jobs quote from the Isaacson biography out of my head:
He’s not just a designer. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me. There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.
Apple employees waited on his opinions and craved his approval. The Wall Street Journal post cites a good anecdote from Ive’s time as Chief Design Officer (the first run at retirement) where employees who were supposedly under Howarth and Dye’s purview were not interested in judgements that were not Ive’s. Even Cook himself seemingly sided with Ive to begin making watch wearables in the first place.
It will be a hard gap to fill. It was probably the right time for him to be gone, but that doesn’t make dealing with the repercussions any easier. The company renowned for its design expertise literally doesn’t have a leader of design anymore; neither Evans Hankey nor Alan Dye are becoming senior vice presidents. Moreover, the vice presidents fall under Jeff Williams and not Cook directly. Cook is unusual in having a high number of direct reports compared to most CEOs at other companies, yet design is apparently not worth his unqualified attention anymore. To stress this point, there are currently five VPs named on the Leadership page and all of them report to Cook directly. In the two year span of Dye and Howarth’s stewardship, both of them were also listed as reporting to Cook.
I think fears that Apple is transforming into a highly-efficient factory line of iPhones, iPads and $999 last-generation MacBook Airs are overblown. But clearly design is going to be less influential under the new structure than it ever has been. As someone who loves it when Apple releases opinionated products, not necessarily chasing new product categories every year but adventurous products fuelled by daring decision-making and effusive care, a demotion of design leadership does not sit right with me. It didn’t feel right on day one and I can’t shake the consternation a few days later.
Jeff Williams is great, but is he a a best-in-class design lead that is not laden with myriad other responsibilities? If Apple wants to preserve its culture of design, Apple should have a SVP of design.
There’s no one who can tell him what to do, that’s the way I set it up.
It’s been hard to compose a post-WWDC impressions post because there was just so much content to take in and parse. Apple delivered meaningful updates to every single operating system. The sheer quantity of customer features, and developer API, announcements is almost overwhelming, and unlikely to be repeated for a while. For the user-facing things, I think you can also get the sense that this stuff has been in the works for a while and not rushed out the door. The releases have that little bit extra polish and finesse. All told, there’s a lot to like.
The leading flagship feature for the iOS 12 release was performance improvements, particularly for older devices. Yet, just one year later, Apple is set to one-up itself. Due to innovation in how the App Store packages and serves apps, users are apparently going to see 50% smaller download sizes and up to twice-as-fast app launch times. iOS 13 also includes caching of app runtime dependencies and optimisations to other parts of the system, which provide additional benefits on top of the app packaging enhancements. iOS 12 did wonders for older iPhones, but iOS 13 is looking to provide noticeable speed boosts for all hardware models. Last year, I was concerned that the bug fix and performance focus might not be sustainable; you can’t go every year solely focusing on stability and sidelining new stuff. It’s hard to say for sure from beta 1, but I get the feeling that iOS 13 will continue the positive reputation of iOS 12 and bring a long list of feature additions and enhancements.
Apple’s take on Dark Mode is unsurprisingly to use true black as the base layer. This is okay, although it is definitely conducive to OLED smearing. You can scroll grouped table views with Dark Mode active, and the background of the row of the start of every section will wobble like a jelly. It’s an annoying effect but it’s hard to argue against the beauty of true black designs when looking at mostly-static scenes. Apple can sufficiently mitigate OLED’s burn-in issue with software but there isn’t really a way around smearing other than selecting a different colour palette. Presumably, newer OLED screens in future iPhones will be better at minimising the tradeoffs, and of course Apple is rumoured to be working on microLED panels that will not be afflicted with any of OLED’s problems.
A clever nuance of Dark Mode is that the base colour defaults to black, but the system has a concept of ‘elevation’. If a view is elevated, then the base colour changes to a dark grey. This applies to modal presentations inside the app (which now default to a card style by the way) and even the app itself. On the iPad, Slide Over apps are adapted to the elevated appearance for instance. This means they can visually contrast against the apps beneath them. It’s clever.
Adding editing controls for video — two thumbs up from me!
The new Photos tab in the Photos app is really cool. Digital photography and ever-increasing storage capacities enable people to shoot lots of pictures, many of which are taken just in case someone in the frame had their eyes closed or wasn’t looking at the lens. When taking photos, it’s empowering to have the flexibility to take these backup photos, but they are essentially redundant duplicates that hold little long-term value. It takes professional photographers hours to go through their bank of dailies and pick out what to keep and what to delete. Normal people don’t bother with any of that. The Days view does a good job at addressing how people can go back and see their best shots … without having to take the time to curate their libraries by hand. Switching from Days to Months to Years is enjoyable too. The app features incredibly beautiful transitions from state to state; the Days collage group up into months of photos which stack neatly when viewing Years. The dynamism and interactivity makes the other tabs — which have not been updated — almost pale in comparison. They just feel somehow further apart and disconnected.
I’m so happy to see street view come to Apple Maps; they are very behind Google on the breadth of their image collection but better to start now than never. The interface in the Maps app is really nice to boot. You can smoothly pan from place to place instead of the jerkiness of Street View. It’s not hard to see how the same imagery, with overlaid points-of-interest markers, could be applicable to an Apple Car HUD or augmented reality glasses experience. The Share ETA option is clever and useful. It’s not an original idea — there are apps like Glympse where this feature is their entire premise for existence — but it’s much better being built-in to the same app. You can just start a journey home, and automatically notify your significant other if you hit heavy traffic and are going to be delayed.
The mechanics of CarPlay, in which the car acts as a dumb client and the phone renders the entire interface, means that Apple can improve the in-car experience for users just by upgrading the OS of the phone. That will really come to roost in iOS 13 with the biggest update to CarPlay since its debut; a new multi-widget Dashboard home screen, a brand new Calendar app, and a new light UI theme.
Probably my favourite change is the addition of SF Symbols, an expansive icon set designed to match the San Francisco system typeface. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. No more do we have to suffer the boxy fishy hook as the system-wide share icon. The Symbols glyphs have rounded corners, non infinitesimal line weights, and are inviting to look at and touch. The iOS 7 iconography was defined by its clinical and adherence to geometry; SF Symbols are worlds apart. What’s more, Apple has undertaken a major effort to actually use these icons in its apps. Almost every iOS 13 system app has been updated to use the new iconography (and it’s only beta 1 so maybe the stragglers get addressed by September).
I think the rebranding of iOS for iPad to iPadOS is weird. It feels like fan-service to cash in some goodwill. The first home screen may have a widget sidebar now, but it’s still very recognisable as the same operating system as the iPhone. Perhaps it will diverge more in the years to come, but in that case, they could have saved the rename for a better time. In terms of features, it was a solid showing — the Files and Safari changes stick out most in my mind — but I remain unsatisfied with the iPad’s multitasking metaphors. The new multi-window modes enable more sophisticated workflows (like having multiple messages conversations open as separate windows, and flicking through them with the new Slide Over home indicator gesture) but also introduce more complexity to an already confused metaphor. I think it’s insane they still haven’t added a way to easily multitask with apps not in your Dock.
The bevy of new faces in watchOS 6 have the potential to become long-standing favourites. Modular Compact is a really good execution of an analogue face with space for richer Infograph-style complications. The new numerals faces are a more stylish interpretation of the utilitarian X-Large face. But the standout winner is California. It may have a niche name, and its default configuration touts the eponymous horological combination of Roman numerals and normal digits, but it can be customised to be arguably the best all-round face. It looks great in full-screen and circular modes; the circular version is like Infograph with a bit more restraint. You still get the bezel text complication, and four rounded complications in each corner, but the centre is a simple analogue face. It’s a modern Utility.
The addition of Audiobooks, Calculator, Cycles, and Voice Memos fill out obvious missing fundamental features of the Watch form factor. Having a dedicated app for measuring the ambient volume feels a bit overkill, but warning notifications about being immersed in loud environments for too long are potentially life-changing for some people. It’s interesting that Apple put a dedicated App Store on the Watch; maybe it will drive watch app downloads higher but I’m not sure people will really be spending their day searching through the store. It definitely gives exposure to the selection of developers Apple features on the App Store’s main screen, but I don’t expect Watch users to dive any deeper — at least on the watch itself. The big news for watchOS this year is Swift UI. I have long campaigned for something better than WatchKit and Swift UI definitely fits the bill. There is so much stuff that is possible now that simply wasn’t before, and much more stuff is now easy when previously it was so hard to achieve that basically no developer bothered to do it. I know I’m excited to develop for the watch again.
It was interesting that Apple spent relatively little stage time (either in the main keynotes or the sessions) discussing Catalyst, née Marzipan. Catalyst will have by far the biggest impact on the Mac ecosystem in the near term. Apple didn’t shy away from the fact that ported iPad apps will not be as high quality as apps made for Mac first. Catalyst was positioned as a way to get your existing iOS apps available on the Mac with almost no work. I think that’s fine. They may not be as good as real AppKit or SwiftUI apps, but they sure beat apps built on Electron. There is going to be an explosion of Mac apps this autumn. The Mojave Marzipan quartet seem to be largely unchanged in macOS Catalina, but the new Podcasts app makes a concerted effort to be a better platform citizen. It is not merely a port of the iPad interface, it probably doesn’t even share that much code under the hood. I think Apple is hoping that developer’s Catalyst apps will catch on, which will then allow them to justify dedicating resources to code for macOS — whether written in AppKit, UIKit or SwiftUI.
I haven’t updated my MacBook yet to Catalina, but I probably will soon in order to start getting to work on bringing my suite of iOS apps to macOS. This also means I haven’t tried Sidecar for myself yet, but from everything I’ve seen it looks fantastic. Rendering the Touch Bar on the iPad display is a stroke of genius. The bluetooth mesh Apple is building with the Find My network has a lot of potential and clearly will be bolstered by an Apple-branded tag device sometime soon. “Find My” as an app name is downright stupid though. Find a better name. macOS 10.15 says goodbye to the iTunes brand, but it seems like most of its code is preserved in the Music app. I think I would have preferred a larger departure but the strip-down-what-already-worked plan means they haven’t upset the loyal hardcore iTunes fanbase — most features of iTunes remain. The benefits of splitting up iTunes are really seen in the manifestation of the other two apps. The TV app will offer a good platform for accessing the TV+ service on the desktop, and it brings support for Apple’s 4K HDR movies to the Mac for the first time. The dedicated Podcasts app is a huge leap over what Apple had provided on the Mac before; the podcasts section of iTunes sucked.
HomeKit Secure Video is a great feature with the potential to disrupt the business models of a lot of incumbent smart security camera manufacturers who have been depending on subscription services to boost revenue. Analysis of the video to generate significant event notifications, like spotting a person moving, is handled locally by the user’s HomeKit hubs and then the video is stored on iCloud in an end-to-end encrypted fashion. The 200 GB iCloud tier enables 1 camera recording and the 2 TB plan ups that to five cameras total. There is seemingly no option to pay for additional cameras even if you wanted to, which is a weird omission.
I was really surprised and pleased when Apple announced multiple-user support for tvOS; I never thought that was seriously on the cards. The home screen changes for Apple TV also look fantastic and console game controller support for iOS, tvOS and macOS really boosts the chances of Apple Arcade being a success. I also can’t wait to try out the multi-user features on the HomePod — alas there is still no beta process for that device.
The Mac Pro also looks like a winner, for the market it addresses. Apple’s new cheesegrater highlights the bastardisation of the word ‘pro’ in consumer technology. It’s not pro as in iPad Pro or MacBook Pro, it’s pro as in pro-grade. It talks to a very small niche, but that niche appears to be being satisfied. The Pro Display is similarly aimed at that same audience; video and audio professionals. Apple is not targeting the developer market with the Mac Pro but that’s fine, the iMac Pro is a great choice for developers wanting a desktop computer.
And yes, Apple announced an overpriced display stand in probably the most tactless way possible.
For the first time ever, the tvOS portion of the WWDC keynote featured major new enhancements to tvOS. That sounds like a stupid sentence but it’s true. We have been all too accustomed to the TV announcements being about upcoming content partnerships and not much else. This year is different.
Announcing multiple user support for tvOS is a huge deal. I am really looking forward to Apple TV+ and the extent to which I will enjoy the service is inextricably linked to the TV app on Apple TV itself. The current status quo is one shared Up Next and Watch Now recommendations for everyone that uses the Apple TV in the living room. tvOS 13 adds a Control Centre-esque sidebar that lets you quickly switch between user profiles. Now, everyone will be able to have their own independent bucket of TV shows, music and movies. There is an API for third-party apps to respond to changes to the current user profile too so Netflix or Plex could match up the Apple TV’s system user profiles with the user accounts of their own services.
Karaoke-style synchronised lyrics is a fantastic addition to the Apple Music experience. The UI looks great on iOS and tvOS alike; it’s clearly a direct result of Apple’s acquisition of Shazam. tvOS 13 also transforms the home screen into a canvas for video previews based on the currently-highlighted app icon. You can see full-screen film trailers and music videos when hovering over the TV app and Music app respectively. Mirroring the UI vocabulary of the recently-updated TV app, users can swipe up to take the previews full-screen and reveal extra information. Developers can create these new rich Top Shelf Carousels as well. An app can show multiple items at once in a carousel; each item can feature descriptive labels and an action button to open the app straight to that particular piece of content. tvOS arguably received a more significant home screen redesign than the iPad did.
Finally, Apple announced that the Apple TV (as well as iPhone and iPad) will support PlayStation and Xbox controllers as input methods. This is clearly driven by the impending launch of Apple Arcade and I don’t think we would have seen Apple make such a partnership if it wasn’t motivated by Services revenue opportunities. It’s sort of the gaming equivalent to putting the TV app on Samsung smart TVs. Even if you don’t subscribe to Arcade, you can now pair standard console controllers to your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV and enjoy playing existing App Store games that much more.
The table view cell highlighting behaviour is an example of how iOS 7’s design principles resulted in a design that is functional … but boring. There wasn’t anything whizz-bang about how it worked before. Just a few subtle choices to add that extra level of professionalism and sophistication.
The iOS 1-6 highlight was not simply a wash of blue, but a subtle gradient of blues shifting from light to dark. The variation in colour was just enough to suggest that the previously-dormant cell had been active and was popping off of the page.
Simultaneously, the cell content would invert. The black text and accessories, like the disclosure triangles, lit up as a white silhouette on the blue backdrop. The cell reacted as a unit, and the flash of vibrancy rewarded the user for interacting with the screen.
Most third-party developers — and some Apple apps — have already broken ranks with the official HIG and are on the path to more playful and lush designs. No one knows yet what form UIKit will take in iOS 13.
The standard set by iOS 7-12 is much more drab, almost clinical. It’s a flat, nondescript, grey that seems like it was chosen specifically because it would not draw the eye. The grey is close enough to white that anything white would not have sufficient contrast, so the illumination effect is also no longer present. Cell content no longer reacts in tandem. The whole interaction is a lot more lifeless. Rather than the UI egging the user on to complete the tap action, today’s iOS drearily yawns and says “okay, if you must”.
This is just one of the laundry list of things that people railed against in 2013. Criticism died down as people acquiesced to what was given to them. Many critics, myself included, accepted the iOS 7 design as a rush job and thought that Apple would obviously catch their breath and ‘fix it’ over the next couple of OS versions. I don’t think anyone at the time expected us to still be stuck with these missteps six years later.
When you do Apple Pay at a brick-and-mortar store, the phone actually doesn’t do very much. The phone simply communicates a token which relates back to the card on file. It’s the merchant terminal that is connected to a server and sends off the transaction. This is why Apple Pay can be performed on a watch or phone with no network connectivity.
With a standalone NFC tag, it’s the sticker that is offline and inert and the phone does the heavy lifting of making the transaction and sending it to a server to be processed. I think what is happening here, essentially, is scanning the sticker with your device triggers an Apple Pay on-the-web transaction in the background. For the user, it’s convenient not to have needed to visit a website, download an app or otherwise login beforehand.
The same result could be achieved with a special-format QR code that encodes the payment data but that would add friction like needing to position the code in the camera frame — and would preclude the watch altogether.
What wasn’t clear is whether the NFC stickers are proprietary and will only work with Apple devices or if this is all based on some kind of industry standard. I assume it is the latter, though, as Jennifer Bailey showed the stickers bearing the generic contactless logo and not Apple Pay branding.