The rumors were that WWDC 2018 would be light on hardware. No iPad, iMac or smart speaker as there had been in last year’s DubDub, which had been the exception to the rule. This is an event for developers which looks beyond to the wider world, unlike Apple’s traditional fall event which is aimed purely at customers.
After a short video narrated by Stephen Fry in full David Attenborough wildlife documentary mode, which managed to balance cutting wit with gentle fondness, CEO Tim Cook took the stage.
And he nailed it down so we all knew for sure: ‘Today is all about software’. You could almost hear the sighs of journalists who’d been banking on a new iPhone SE, an iPad Pro with Face ID or even, for the love of Pete, a Siri-powered Beats speaker. What, no ‘one more thing’ in the shape of a new MacBook Air?
This was a long keynote, though there were plenty of jokes and lighter moments to keep our interest.
And Apple, though it’s often intensely secretive, is also utterly transparent. So, if you were in any doubt of the importance of iPhone and iPad to the company, you need look no further than the fact that Apple talked about iOS 12 for over an hour – around half the entire keynote.
Performance, we were told by Craig Federighi, who had a busy role at the presentation to say the least, was key. Over and over he explained how iOS 12 would focus on making things faster and more reliable, including for older devices like the iPhone 6 Plus which would see apps open up to 40% faster and the camera would launch up to 70% quicker, helping you not to miss that Kodak moment.
Again and again, it was made clear that Apple wanted to serve long-time customers with older devices as well as new users. So, this is the ‘No iPhone Left Behind’ update with every gadget capable of running iOS 11 being ready to rock iOS 12 when it arrives.
By the way, this inclusivity did not extend to Apple Watch users who are still toting their first-generation timepieces launched all the way back in April 2015, though still available to buy just 20 months ago. Those Watches won’t see the joy of watchOS 5, sadly.
Even that change, though, seems to show every part of Apple oaring in the same direction: towards a solid, reliable experience with minimal bugs and no battery-throttling or hidden activities scandals bubbling up. Apple was reasonably upfront that it couldn’t deliver the experience it wanted with the first Watch’s hardware.
Emphasis on privacy was paramount, too. Apple spent time towards the end of the keynote discussing how it was building on the features from last year which prevented cross-site tracking, to make adverts follow you around less.
The new Mac software goes further. On sites where there are Like or Share buttons from social networks, it’s possible you can be tracked, even if you don’t click on the buttons. Now, with Intelligent Tracking Prevention, it helps block social media ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ buttons and comment widgets from tracking users without permission.
Apple knows how to put on a show. Interspersed between more detailed and serious facts on screen were eye-catching moments. One presenter conducted a whole demo on an exercise bike, without missing a single breath or breaking sweat and still hitting every note perfectly.
And then there were new Animoji, as irresistible as ever, especially the Ghost and the Koala.
The Memoji creation demo was flawless.
Federighi launched Group FaceTime with a group call to other people from the FaceTime team, some with Animoji cartoon heads on (and did you spot the staffer who had album art on the wall behind him with Federighi in full-on pop hero mode?).
All hosted in front of a ridiculously wide colourful rear projection screen, dotted with hundreds of app icons.
None of which would matter if the products, software or hardware, or the company’s core values weren’t any good. But they are. And Apple’s direction seems as constant as the North Star. Apple is far from perfect and it makes mistakes. But it seems sincerely to want to make awesome products and serve its customers better.
That, at least, is the message it was promoting at WWDC.
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