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WWDC wish list – 4 years later

Time flies, eh? WWDC 2021 is just about upon us, and so much has changed. For one, this will be the second consecutive remote WWDC, a format that I have found refreshing, especially for the keynotes. I don’t miss waiting in line and scrambling to find a seat, and WWDC sessions haven’t been especially good for live questions anyway. About the only part of the WWDC conference that I miss is the developer lab program.

But it isn’t just the format of WWDC that is different, WWDC is less and less the hardware announcement venue now, though I predict we’ll see an M1 iMac Pro or at least a larger format more powerful iMac, and maybe even the new Mac Pro with the M1 chip. Apple has gotten so good at rolling out its hardware announcements on its own schedule, that it didn’t even wait for WWDC to debut the latest iPads, and it rolled out the new M1 MacBooks without waiting as well. Building their own silicon is really going to allow them to release new products without worrying about the timing of Intel generations, conferences, etc. If this first wave of products is any indication, there will be some very powerful hardware coming out soon.

MacOS and iOS as platforms have gone through their own changes. Swift is prime-time now — few people starting a new app would choose Objective-C at this point, and the new ecosystem has SwiftUI as well as Combine. Apple also has a solution for cross-platform app development. We now have Face ID, crazy amounts of support for AR and Machine Learning, more security features, and more powerful and open cameras. There is increasingly a gap between the power of the newest hardware and the ability of the software development community to harness it in new ways. The engine underneath has gotten better and better, but where are the roads?

As I write this, final arguments are finishing in the Epic Games lawsuit against Apple. Epic thinks that the terms that it accepts on Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo app stores shouldn’t apply to mobile devices, for some reason. Any decision here is likely going to have impact on consumers, and I can’t imagine it will be positive. Apple’s ecosystem is no worse than others, and a lot better about customer privacy and security, at least in theory. They still need to get better at policing bad actors in the App Store, however. Third party App Stores won’t necessarily improve the customer experience. Most will be branded to narrow content for their owners, like an Epic store, or a Disney store. A broad app store on the platform has to have a substantial critical mass of content to make it.

I’ve been fairly out of the loop on what is likely to be announced at WWDC for iOS or Mac OS. We’ve seen machine learning creep its way more and more into iOS and Apple’s applications — the iPad text recognition is really good, and the Camera app is getting weirdly smart. But what access to these new technologies will really birth a new generation of apps and get them to capture the imagination of consumers?

Taking a look back at my wish list from 4 years ago, many of the things I wanted have not happened, though Apple has had to evolve its Developer Program somewhat even before the pandemic. That week of sending 1000 Apple engineers to SF for a week to talk with 5000 developers was always exclusive of many devs, even before the ticket lottery. I’m hearing that Apple is starting to host Developer labs in other cities, and has some specific outreach to some groups of developers in their local offices. It’s good to see that they are taking it seriously.

Apple TV and TVos have improved, but still lack automation or a screensaver app mode. There’s still not a super-affordable Apple TV option. But look at how many apps are available now that weren’t 4 years ago, and Apple TV+ has had some pretty good programming.

I don’t have really any wish list for this year, except perhaps a cheaper Apple TV, which isn’t likely to be in the cards given the most recent announcements. I’m hoping there’s a power-user version of the M1 iMac, or an M2 iMac, but it doesn’t have to be a iMac Pro. I’m hoping they announce big improvements to their Pro tools to really show off the new hardware, and demo at least one app on desktop or mobile which actually *needs* the hardware improvements they’ve been rolling out.

iOS development iPhone Mobile News

Mobile Links for week ending April 5, 2014

An analysis of apps in the Apple App store by price, ratings, etc. Some interesting insights, including that 60% of the apps in the app store have no ratings.

WWDC 2014 tickets will be offered via a lottery You have until 10am PDT April 7 to register for a chance to attend, and people will be notified that evening. Given the limited size of the conference, which has maxed out at 5000 attendees to maintain a 5 attendees-per-Apple-engineer ratio, this is my first chance to go in years.

This analysis of Apple’s Arm processor micro architecture suggests that there is a lot of untapped power that iOS apps aren’t using yet.

This new tool provides a quick way to generate code to animate iOS transitions.

With Amazon’s new Fire TV and a rumored new offering from Google soon, this may very well be the year that iOS apps move to the Apple TV. The LA Times compares the current crop of TV boxes here.

Clearly the streaming media race is heating up: Amazon is rumored to be going after Spotify with a new streaming subscription service soon.

Speaking of Spotify, their newest version on iOS is beautifully designed, and very in-line with the iOS 7 aesthetic, with a content-forward look-and-feel. I haven’t had time to completely explore it, but really like what I see so far.

Microsoft has announced Cortana, their answer to Siri and Google Now. While the reference to the character from Halo probably resonates with the Xbox crowd, it seems like an obscure choice to pick for an already underdog mobile platform. I had no idea who Cortana was myself, having never played Halo. The interesting thing about the feature is that it’s powered by Bing — this may be the time for Bing to actually shine, the Bing team has some great technology that has been largely ignored, but maybe mobile is the right venue.

Blog iOS development

WWDC 2012 Sell-Out – sign of platform health, or symptom of bigger issues?

It’s very disappointing that the WWDC announcement occurred the way it did. So far, my developer’s account still hasn’t even received an official announcement from Apple, and being on the West Coast, the conference was sold out before I woke up.

This is more of a problem for Apple than just a few disappointed developers in California, though. Lack of reliable information about iOS slows the adoption of new features, and the biggest value of WWDC is the hands-on labs. While user uptake of 5.0 is very high (over 80% of the install base), developers need time and information to absorb new features. The iOS announcements at WWDC are also largely under NDA, leaving developers no way to share information until the official release.

The model of holding one conference close to Cupertino and driving 1000 engineers to Moscone for a week is not sufficiently scalable for today’s developer demand. In the past, Apple has done some road shows where they send people to major cities to talk up their new technologies, but even that is an unreasonable amount of scarcity. The development forums and Apple’s current paid support structure are very hard to search and navigate, and the forums are very light on things like submission policies, acceptance, etc. The large media company I’m currently working for has dedicated Developer Relations support, and even they have issues getting answers; you can imagine what it’s like for smaller developers who don’t.

I think it’s high time for Apple to build and staff permanent dedicated Developer Relations Centers in key cities. These should be staffed with working software engineers (not just evangelists) who can provide detailed help with tools, libraries, and policies, and escalate tougher problems to Cupertino. These places could also be a great focal point for training classes and other services to developers.

Another way they could mitigate the information gap might be to provide developer services at key Apple Stores, with features like a regular schedule of talks, a showcase of apps developed by local developers, and a Developer’s Genius Bar to help navigate questions about the HIGs, content standards, and other policies. More importantly, it gives Apple a much better way to listen to the community and prioritize new features and policies. This is a very low-cost and low-risk way for Apple to do developer outreach.


Waiting for Steve

Headed to the WWDC keynote line shortly. Even this year, when there appears to be no large hardware announcement lined up, nobody is taking chances. Macrumors reported 30 people in line 11pm last night.

The WWDC hall makes it obvious what the focus is this year: Lion plus iOS plus iCloud. With emphasis on the plus, I suspect. Much speculation abounds about all of these, but from the conference schedule so far, there seems to be a push to unify interfaces between iOS and Lion above and beyond what we’ve been told so far. Things that used to be presented on separate tracks, like UI design, etc. now are joint iOS/Lion sessions.

The Mac App Store already seems to be pulling developers from iPhone into iOS proper now, so it looks like they are dissolving the walls between the platforms. One dead giveaway is that they appear to be changing the UI layout system to something that will be much more resolution-independent.

There are some 32 sessions scheduled that are TBA, which means they are about stuff that will be announced in the keynote. Some of those sessions are scheduled to be given more than once due to room capacity and scheduling conflicts.

Stuff I’m hoping for:

  • a killer update to Apple’s HTML5 authoring tools — iAd Composer and Dashcode have a lot already, let’s get them unified into something that will really kill Flash.
  • a framework for syncing apps between mobile devices, desktop, etc. using the cloud.
  • Apps on Apple TV.
  • Better notifications on iOS 5, along with some sort of home-screen capability

Anyway, off to brave the cold.