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Was This The Worst WWDC Keynote Ever?

June 3, 2019

The WWDC keynote for 2019 is in the books, as Tim Cook and company showed off iOS 13, iPad OS, Watch OS 6, new tvOS, MacOS Catalina, and the new Mac Pro.

It was a jam packed event to be sure, but was there really anything of importance announced? It’s usually easy to find the big highlights of an Apple keynote to make it easily digestible to average viewers. The WWDC 2019 Keynote was lacking any real highlights, and even the laundry list of changes is filled with such minor adjustments, that they’re barely worth acknowledging. Once again, Apple focused on refining what they already have, or transitioning existing features to other platforms. It’s worth noting that Apple has some mature operating systems, and they have culled the low hanging fruit of additional features and problem fixes, but with that said they’re not actively looking to add anything new.

Innovation is difficult, and Apple will always be first and foremost a hardware company. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to see some attempts at innovative software features. This WWDC Keynote offered the least amount of changes across the board than any since the App Store was introduced in 2008. Just going through the chronological order of the keynote, we begin with recapping Apple’s March event with no further details on Apple TV+ beyond a trailer of a single show (it does look good though). We were given no new details on pricing, bundles, number of shows, or really anything to answer the concern of competitiveness with Disney+, Netflix, Disney controlled Hulu, etc. Apple is now offering multi-user support on the Apple TV, which sadly isn’t coming to any other Apple products. Speaking of support, tvOS will work with the Xbox One and PS4 controllers, which should definitely help with Apple Arcade this fall. Oh yeah, there are under the sea wallpapers and live show/film previews in the background of the home screen. Apple seems clueless on how to improve Apple TV, beyond content, and it’s showing.

WatchOS 6 had the usual additions including new watch faces, stock apps, and activity and health improvements that we get every year. Honestly, watchOS may have had the best feature set highlighted by allowing developers to create independent apps that don’t need a companion iPhone app, which includes the streaming audio API. With that said, Apple decided to put the App Store on the Apple Watch, and touted discoverability and app descriptions for a screen that fits on your watch. It’s nice to directly download apps on your Watch, but they will be specific searched apps that will probably take longer than just opening the Watch app on the iPhone. The activity trends over time, decibel level tracking, and menstrual cycle tracking are quality health additions. On the flip side, Apple added in haptic chimes at the top of the hour allowing your grandmother’s bird chirping clock to gain new life on the Apple Watch. Like macOS last year, the Apple Watch gets three new stock apps, Audiobooks, Voice Memos, and Calculator, which many have found third party alternatives to by now.

Then, there’s iOS 13 which will always be the most watched portion due to the install base of iOS devices. Craig Federighi went rapid fire through a number of features that all don’t really change day to day usability of your iPhone. It’s always lovely when Apple declares things like “30% faster”, “up to twice as fast”, etc, and yet does anyone really notice the time it takes for apps to launch? Dark mode comes from macOS Mojave to iOS, and some users have been calling for it, but you really need 100% developer adoption for its best appeal, and that never happens. One of my favorite parts of any Keynote is when Apple tells us how cool it is when they offer something that has been around for years else where, and this time it was music lyrics show in real time during playback, wow. The stock apps of course got attention with Mail’s desktop formatting controls, Notes new gallery view, Safari’s website specific options, and Reminders overhaul to try to do their best impersonation of better third party apps. Apple also keeps working on apps to incorporate more of Google Maps features, I see you Look Around, aka Street View. The camera app has improved portrait mode with adjustable lighting, and the photos app has a new way to highlight your memories, which seems to be a feature every year.

You know Apple is having a tough time with new features when they spend time on past announced features that are rarely used. For 2019, we got to hear about HomeKit, which is losing accessory support, Memoji, that aren’t used much after creation, and Siri Shortcuts, which Apple has now made a stock app because people weren’t downloading it from the App Store. Through it all, the biggest announcement of iOS 13, was that iPad support has branched off into the all new iPadOS. The iPadOS announcement definitely had intrigue with more Mac inspired features including Spaces, app expose, and Finder style file management. In iOS 12, the multi-window view is more trouble than its worth to activate, but it does look like the app switcher within a given window should help. Apple has also done away with some adapters allowing direct connection of USB drives, SD cards, and cameras thanks to the USB-C port on the latest iPads. There are also new three finger swipe gestures to cut, copy, and paste as well as enhanced selecting and scrubbing through text, though the demo certainly showed the old code base causing problems. Safari will have desktop class browsing to access the full WordPress and Google Docs as well as a download manager, but no word on if these will be developer APIs. Apple is finally treating the iPad as a different platform, and that was definitely the best news of the keynote.

Once we got to the the Mac, the keynote grinded to a halt with 30 minutes discussing every single spec detail and feature set of Apple’s most niche offering. Welcome the new $6,000 Mac Pro and accompanying $5,000 display with optional $1,000 stand and $200 mount. It’s great to see Apple catering to their Pro consumers with a beastly device, but the market is so small, it really shouldn’t have taken up a half hour with every single detail you could muster, especially coming off the heels of a press release for Apple’s most popular Mac, the MacBook Pro. I’m surprised the audience didn’t fall asleep, as that’s not a developer machine, but luckily the audience was awake enough to boo at the pricing of the stand. As the Mac Pro portion dragged on, you knew that meant there wasn’t much for macOS. We did get the new California name, macOS Catalina, but that’s about all that was relevant. Apple now includes third party app Duet Display as a stock ability to make your iPad a second screen. The other changes include more iOS connections including Find My, Screen Time, a new Photos experience, redesigned Reminders app, and gallery view in Notes. The Voice Control accessibility is an absolutely incredible inclusion to the operating system, but when it’s the third item that Apple discusses, you know there’s not much.

The Mac portion was also home to the end of iTunes, in other words turning one Mac app into three iOS apps. Credit to Craig for offering some humor in this portion, but the announcement itself is inconsequential. The Mac essentially now has the iOS versions of Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV apps with a sidebar added in. It is nice that you can sync your iOS device right within Finder, but it seems many people haven’t synced to their computers in years. To finalize the developer specific portion of the keynote, the big announcement was Project Catalyst so more iOS apps can come to the Mac, because that’s really what your powerful computing platform needed. Apple also showed ARKit 3 with Mojang offering a ton of dead air, as well as a new Swift UI with a number of seemingly accessible drag and drop features that were actually “components built earlier” by the dev team.

That is quite an extensive round up of the WWDC 2019 Keynote, and I’m still not sure what the big takeaway was. The Keynote offered nothing exciting, or really all that practical for the general audience. It was tough to watch at times, and it was mostly a constant reminder that Apple doesn’t know how to innovate or is too afraid to take risks, leaving a bland and boring slate of operating systems for the next year. This was the worst WWDC Keynote since the App Store opened in 2008, and I can’t say one thing to be excited for this fall.