My WWDC 2017 Wish List

WWDC Keynote is tomorrow.  Keen to see what gets announced.  I’m always a bit perplexed at announcements of things like Apple Music at these events, since they don’t really put money in developers’ pockets.   Hardware announcements are somewhat more relevant, though not always.  However, the ecosystem is important, and Apple has opened up so much of it lately, which gives developers new venues (tvOS, iMessage), and helps Apple increase their services revenue.  That’s what I want to hear about, along with more information on what is possible with Apple’s tools and SDK.

Stuff I’d like to see:

  1. An expansion of tvOS to include a class of screensaver apps — I have app ideas that would work better as screensavers than apps that the user explicitly launches.  If you want Apple TV to be a hub, then you need to support it as such with features like alarms that wake it up and launch specific apps, the ability to designate apps as a screensaver.  I’d like my Apple TV to launch in the morning, perhaps playing an Apple Music playlist, or an app I’ve purchased that shows weather, traffic, or other stuff.
  2. Apple’s developer support really needs further expansion — I’d like to see more developer outreach via the Apple Store locations around the world. WWDC is inaccessible to most, so using the stores to help developers would be a big win, and help developers network and raise the level of software produced.  
  3. iOS for iPad really needs more features that focus on making tablet apps.  Split screen mode and picture in picture are great starts,  but I’d like to see some more really well thought out interfaces like the original Split Screen View Controller.  In particular, I think there’s a need for more dashboard-type apps on the tablet.   The big killer tablet app is still waiting to be released.
  4. Apple’s position has always been that apps should be so intuitive that the user can easily figure them out without a lot of special prompting or help.  This made sense in the early days, but now so many people use their mobile devices (especially tablets) to run fairly complex applications.  I’d like to see an on-boarding library added to iOS that implements tutorials, tool tips, etc. in a consistent way rather than having each developer cook up their own.
  5. I’d like to see some explicit support in Xcode for setting up and using test environments, staging environments, etc.  Every development house ends up implementing this in weird ways, and many of them end up leaving back doors in their code that could compromise user security.
  6. Xcode has a few application templates for setting up certain application types — I’d like to see more of them.
  7. I’d like to see an API for the services that comprise iTunes, especially the store, and a business model that would incentivize people to build specialty storefronts around the iTunes Store content.  For example, a movie store app for people who love horror films, or a jazz-focused app. This would be a great way to monetize an iBook or Newsstand app, as well as other types of apps.
  8. If you’re going to announce an Alexa type device,  can you make it one with a FaceTime camera that can be swiveled, so I can have a conversation with friends while working in the kitchen?  Or at least support FaceTime audio.   
  9. I want to be able to rent a video from my iPhone or Apple Watch and have it downloaded to my Apple TV while I’m at work or driving home.  I’d also like to be able to access these APIs as a developer, this would be great for workout apps, among other things.
  10. I’d really like some control over video rentals — my local network sometimes is too congested for streaming, so I’d like to be able to download some content.  There’s lots of storage on the AppleTV, but I have no idea how it’s used, or even if it is used.  Apple thinks that you shouldn’t have to care where the movie is, but in reality, not everyone has great consistent broadband, especially if you live in a city with a lot of apartments that can tax WiFi spectrum and Cable or telco bandwidth.
  11. I think it’s time for Apple to open up APIs for how iCloud photo sharing works — I find it hard to understand which photos from which devices I should be able to see where.  They should fix their own apps, but someone would make a lot of money on an app that makes this easy for users.
  12. I’d like to see more discussion of innovative apps and what’s under the hood.  Part of Apple’s role in WWDC is to show people what is possible with their SDK, and they could go farther towards that end.

 

Digesting the new Apple Announcements

Was on my way back from Burning Man when the latest Apple announcements came out. The iPad Pro plus Apple Pencil combination looks like it will give Wacom some heartburn. The larger form factor of the iPad Pro combined with the 3D touch should enable some new forms of interaction; it will be interesting to see what developers do with this, but it’s going to take a while before the ecosystem gets comfortable.

Same goes with WatchOS 2.0 and the new tvOS. That’s a lot of stuff for devs to embrace, especially when they are scrambling to prepare for the iOS 9 release. I know I have a lot of woodshedding to do, including an update to iBuddha for iOS 8 compatibility, and perhaps an iBuddha for Apple Watch.

I don’t think the expansion of the ecosystem is a bad thing at all, and it’s likely to weed out a lot of casual hobbyist developers. The companies most able to take advantage of this explosion of alternatives will be bigger companies, but that also creates an opportunity for someone to provide smaller developers with tools for building apps that can run appropriately across all the platforms. Games are going to go crazy on the new Apple TV, especially if you can handoff from your iPhone or iPod. These announcements are the fruit of the Handoff work that was done in Yosemite; Apple is playing a long game, and it’s not obvious how any one move is supposed to stack up.

More when I’ve had a chance to digest the announcements further and look at docs on the new OS offerings.

Apple Watch: after the try-on

Well, it doesn’t smell like burning feathers.

A lot has been written about how the Apple Store has set up their try-on appointments. They have a nice case showing all the models with non-working samples. They have very nice stations with a watch you can touch, and an iPad showing explanations of the different programs and modes, it was possible to figure out about 90% of how the watch works in a few minutes. Your actual try-on appointment is done at a special table, where they have drawers full of actual watches (though they are not free-range, they are running a demo loop) next to one of the stations you can use to interact. A sales person pulls out the models you are interested in and puts them on you, adjusting the bands if necessary.

Though some have complained that the UI breaks in some strange ways from iOS 8, the UI wasn’t particularly alien, and for anyone who has owned a few digital watches, it’s comparatively easy to set and configure compared to some.

As a watch, it’s not as heavy or clunky looking as some digital watches I’ve owned. The difference in size and weight between the 38mm and 42mm is fairly subtle in person. The fit and finish of the watch are excellent, and the elastomer band on the Sport Watch is very comfortable. The Stainless Steel watch is a bit heavier, but again very comparable to other watches, and has a look and feel of great precision. The link bracelet is very impressive, the Apple salesman was able to size the bracelet to my wrist in seconds due to the removable links. I think it’s unlikely you’d be disappointed with the watch as a piece of jewelry.

The software looks pretty good, it runs pretty quickly, though I suspect your mileage will vary outside of wifi. Maps can take a few seconds to load, but you know, you’re waiting for them to come down from space and all. The display looks great, and there are so many watch face variations to choose from. The fitness monitoring functions are attractive and look like they will add to my already exhausting bag of personal monitoring tricks.

The only thing this very choreographed sales presentation didn’t communicate to me was how the watch works for one particular function, which is wearing it on your wrist and seeing what time it is. Nobody at the Apple store has an actual working watch yet, though that should change when they are released next week. I’m hoping I can replace my Nike FuelBand with this device, so this is no small matter for me. So, I’ll wait a bit longer and research whether there will be a Nike app for the watch as well.

Since the watch now has shipping dates into June or July, there’s no hurry to act. Also, the sales force at the Apple Store are fairly new at this, the experience was quite good, but the sales folks don’t have as much information as they could, they really couldn’t answer some of my more specific questions about the fitness features (for example, does the Watch have an M8 chip, so it can count stairs climbed? I live in a ti-level, and would like to get that information before my next iPhone upgrade…), and none of them have actually used the real watch themselves. Might as well wait until they actually ship and someone can actually show you the real watch in action.

The demo watches, though, had smooth animations, the Digital Crown response is instantaneous and smooth, and most of the apps or Glances on the watch launched instantly, with the exception of Maps. The final released Watch OS software is supposed to have improved performance, so I’m not concerned about that. I’m more concerned about whether I will get the opportunity to see how the watch works when you want to check the time.

This is my biggest concern, the timepiece use case. Right now, it takes up to 3 button presses of the Nike FuelBand to see the time, depending on the mode it was in last, and that can take a few seconds of attention. I often grab my phone from my pocket instead to check the time rather than go through that. So, if the ‘raise your wrist to check the time, and it just turns on’ function really works as advertised, I’m probably in. The other functionality of the watch is mostly an add-on for me.

Seeing and holding the models in person, I have to say that the Apple Watch Sport is much less of a compromise than the cost would suggest. It looks great, the build quality is just as good as the other models, and the lower price takes the edge off of any ‘version 1.0’ jitters you might have.

So, the likelihood that I’ll end up getting one is fairly high, but I can wait another week for the real watch to come out before ordering. Anyway you slice it, it’s more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need’ purchase.

Back to the Nike Fuelband

My replacement Nike FuelBand arrived a week or two ago; it’s the Nike Fuelband SE. The packaging and the device look exactly like the first model of Fuelband, so I was a bit confused at first, but once you plug the device in, it’s a big difference.

For one thing, the display animations are much faster, requiring less time to check your progress or see what time it is. The most important change in the user experience, though, is the data sync. In the first version of the fuel band you had to press and hold the button (you know, that button that always broke for me on four different fuel bands) in order to sync. It would then link via Bluetooth to your phone and update the app with your progress. It did this very slickly and seamlessly in early versions in the app, but later versions were kind of wonky with this feature.

With the new model of the FuelBand, they do it the way it should have been done in the first place. Launching the *app* will just automatically sync up with the band and get the progress. Much more intuitive, and it seems to work much more reliably as well. It should also put a lot less stress on the button — I’m hoping the new model has a more reliable button mechanism to begin with, but I also will use it less as a result of this change, which is good thinking on their part. The FuelBand works best as a ‘put on and forget’ device.

Nike must be feeling the competition from other fitness trackers, or perhaps the upcoming Apple Watch — the Fuelband SE now is $99 for the stock models, and there are a couple of glitzier-looking colors that run $149.

iOS Messaging improvements subtle but powerful.

This article about the iOS8 Message app has a lot of great insight about how one can improve a commonly-used feature , and the importance of attention to detail. The genius of this change is that they added an amazing amount of power, but what the user sees is not so different from iOS7 that they would get lost.

The only downside is that the change isn’t easy to discover for everyone. Tap and hold is pretty common now — he points out that many messaging apps like WhatsApp have it, and it’s something that Pinterest uses as well — but it’s not always clear in an interface what things support it.

These instantly sent pieces of media are also ephemeral. You have to explicitly ask to save them, or they self-destruct after 2 minutes.

tl;dr – if you tap and hold on the microphone or camera icon in your iMessage screen, you can send voice or pictures or video without launching another app. They’ve also made tapping on the camera icon show you the most recently taken photos so you can send them without searching. Easy-to-miss, but smart changes.