"Android fragmentation is turning devices into a toxic hellstew of vulnerabilities."
— Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, ZDNet
This is the second half of my notes on Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, this time focusing on what's coming down the pipe in iOS 8. And something else entirely, which was an unexpected surprise.
To start things off, Apple CEO Tim Cook was back on stage to drop some rather startling statistics on iOS update adoption vs. Android update adoption...
89% of iPhone users are on the latest version of iOS. A mere 9% of Android users are using the latest version of that mobile OS. For developers, this is a pretty big deal. If you are counting on new OS features for the functionality of your app, you have to be assured that your users have a version of the OS which has those features. From the looks of things, Android developers are going to be very slow to implement new stuff in their apps, because the vast majority of their users are on some older version where they are unsupported. Add to that the heinous fragmentation of the Android OEM variants, and Apple has made a very good case for developers to choose iOS as their platform of choice.
After Tim Cook's intro, Craig Federighi comes back to show everybody what end-user features and improvements we can expect with the next update.
One area where iOS has always been pretty horrible is dealing with interruptions. Get an alert, and you have to dump out of whatever you're doing to deal with it. iOS 8 takes a big leap forward by allowing you to handle common interruptions (like text messages and calendar alerts) without leaving the app you're in...
This is very cool, but it would be pretty useless if it were restricted to Apple-only interrupts. Fortunately, interactive notifications are available to 3rd-party apps, which is fantastic for people like me who communicate primarily through Facebook Messenger or other non-Apple services. What remains to be seen is how far the interactivity goes. Can developers customize the controls available to best fit their apps? Or does Apple limit interactivity to internal iOS buttons and text fields? Time will tell.
Taking a page from Windows Phone 8, iOS 8 now has some people-centric additions... like being able to access frequent and recent contacts on the app-switcher page. A terrific use of some wasted space...
Unfortunately, the usefulness of this feature is hampered by Apple deciding how you can interact with these people. Right now you can text, call, or Facetime with them... but there's no option for Facebook messaging or a slew of other 3rd-party apps that people use to keep in touch with the people in their lives. So, ultimately, a step in the right direction... but not a very big one.
Next up was a beautiful new grouped tabs interface for Safari on the iPad...
I do three things on my iPad... 1) Watch movies when I travel... 2) Read comic books... and 3) Surf the internet. The area in most need of improvement is Safari for web browsing, and it's nice to know that Apple is at least trying to make it a better experience.
One of the most exciting pieces of news at the keynote was Apple's announcement of an improved keyboard... now with predictive text. As you type, words appear above the keyboard where iOS is trying to guess what you're typing. Kind of like what happens now as words appear above your input cursor while you type... except now you get more than just one word, which should be a lot more productive. iOS doesn't stop there though... it also tries to predict words you'll use in response to emails based on the content and whom the email is from! The keyboard learns context, and tries to be smart about how it assists you...
As if all that weren't enough... Apple is now going to allow you to install alternative keyboards! This means terrific technology like Swype, which allows you to slide your finger from letter to letter in a word... and Fleksy which has an amazing word-guessing algorithm and cool gesture controls... can be installed and used system-wide. This is fantastic news, because now users can test keyboards and find the one that will allow them to type the fastest.
And then, AT LONG LAST, Apple has finally given some love to their texting app, "Messages." I don't know what the heck took so long, but now we can finally manage users on group messages... and even dump out of a conversation if you want. If that's too extreme, you can put a thread on "do not disturb" so it won't keep buzzing your phone. Even better, iOS 8 has even more ways to communicate... allowing you to share your location, and even add voice memos and quick videos...
Now if Apple would only get off their ass and give the same attention to VOICE CALLS. I mean, come on... PC call center software has been around for decades which allows you to do simple things like record custom voicemail messages and selectively route callers... why in the hell is iPhone so far behind in this? It IS, after all, primarily a PHONE, isn't it? Oh well, I suppose I should be thrilled that we at least get to block a caller from calling again... how long did we have to wait for that?
And then we have HealthKit... Apple's portal to managing all your health apps...
The ultimate promise of the idea is that one day you will be able to monitor various aspects of your health (like blood pressure and the like) which can automatically be transmitted and monitored by your automated analysis software and you doctor. If there's a problem detected, your doctor's office can then contact you to get it sorted out. It's a fantastic idea. In theory. In reality, I wonder how many doctor's offices are going to implement this stuff any time soon. I also wonder when we're going to get Apple's "iWatch" which will have health monitoring and syncing that makes HealthKit actually useful. Who knows.
From there we moved on to photo storage (in iCloud, of course) and the idea of Apple's "Smart Adjustment" technology which gives you the ability to perform comprehensive edits that are smart enough to do a lot of "behind the scenes" work to give you much better photos with little effort...
It will be bundled with iOS 8 and be added to Yosemite in 2015. Which is great and all... but I have to wonder where this leaves Aperture, Apple's high-end photo editing and storage software. How will it be able to handle edits made in iPhoto on iPhones, iPads, and Macs? Will they integrate, or be a separate set? Will flattened edits in Aperture be saved out so that devices reading from your iCloud Photos can actually view them? All of this is up in the air. And since Apple won't comment on future software (natch) it's tough to tell if Aperture is even going to be around in 2015. This is very, very frustrating... but so typically Apple. I honestly don't expect them to tip their hand and tell people what's happening with Aperture... but it would at least be nice to know that it's still going to be around.
A surprise to no one, Siri is being updated...
I use Siri all the time, so naturally I am thrilled to have improvements to his/her functionality. What bums me out is how far behind the Mac version is to the iOS version, and no mention has been made as to whether or not any love is going to be spent improving the Macintosh side of things. I would hope so, because the crappy dictation functionality on the Mac is pathetic. Why Apple can't keep up with the iOS side of things is a complete mystery. Why can't you ask Siri questions on a Mac like you can on an iPhone? It makes -zero- sense. And yet here we are.
And here's where things start to get interesting.
Very interesting, if you're a developer.
First of all, Apple is going to finally allow permission-based data sharing between apps. Something that is long overdue and will makes for some incredible extended functionality possibilities. Sure, the functionality will be limited so as to keep data safe... but this is such a massive leap in the right direction that I find it hard to not get excited at the prospect.
Game developers will get up to a massive 10x speed bump in their apps thanks to a new technology called "Metal" which allows them to get closer to the raw power of the iPhone/iPad processor than ever before.
And, lastly, something that took everybody by surprise... a new development language called Swift that takes the best parts of past programming languages and marries them to modern programming concepts while leaving all the antiquated baggage behind...
Without being able to see it and play with it, there's no way I can really comment on how useful Swift might end up being. But it certainly sounds promising. And powerful. And easier to use. And smart. I can't wait to take a look.
And that was that.
No new hardware. No new AppleTV. No new iWatch.
Just some interesting new features and a promising new future for Mac developers. Which is what I guess we should expect from a Developer's conference.
So I guess I'll try not to be disappointed with the lack of new toys.
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I think a lot of photographers who use Macs (myself included) tend to use Lightroom these days so wouldn’t surprise me if Aperture isn’t around for much longer.
The iOS group messaging feature is one I’m most excited about. And the replying back to messages from the notification screen is another plus. Hope these new features will help fix some of the oddities of iOS 7.
To bad Tim “forgot” to tell you that Android features and functionality is more tried to Google Play Services, that 93% of all active Android devises are on the latest version of Google Play Service and that after releasing an update to Google Play Services (that updates in the background with no user interaction) it reaches full distribution within a week. Tim Cooks comment to this “UPS, I guess I forgot that part”
Developers still have to worry about fragmentation, because there are many core functions that have not been shunted to Google Play and probably never can be (the most important being low-level bugs and security problems). Not that this is a deal-breaker for developers… for example, rather than relying on core UI elements that may not exist I am often called upon to make my own. But even if that were not the case, severe fragmentation is always going to be problematic with the Android OS because many phone vendors customize the OS in ways you can’t anticipate. Take Amazon’s new “Fire” phone. Google Play Services don’t even exist there, and yet it’s technically an Android phone that can run Android apps… albeit modified ones from the Amazon App Store that require an app variant. Android phones in Asia have so much custom crap running on them that some of them can’t really be considered to be running Android OS at all… but they’re still Android phones and require yet another app variant. Bring on the toxic hell-stew. Google Play Services, while a godsend to end-users and helpful to independent developers at times (when they exist), is pretty much Google looking out for Google by making sure THEIR apps are under THEIR control, and remain independent of handset manufacturers.
What I find fascinating about Google Play Services is how all these Android users who bitch about iPhone being “closed” and how Apple is like Big Brother because they control your phone instead of you… have all rolled over and accepted something that is far more invasive, closed, and proprietary than anything you’ll find in an iPhone. Google Play Services have unprecedented control over your phone… allowing access, updates, and permissions that are completely outside the control of the end-user. And yet if you try to remove Google Play Services, all of your Google apps will break and features you rely on can be lost. What this ultimately means is that Google apps can literally do whatever they hell they want any time they want, often times without the user even knowing what’s happened. Most Android users will never care, but for those who bought into the idea of a “Don’t Be Evil Open Source Phone,” it’s game over. What good is an open source phone if it’s wrapped up in closed, proprietary services that break the phone when removed? It’s only a matter of time before Android OS is Google OS, and hand-set manufacturers will be forced to comply with what Google wants. Hell, it’s already happening.