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Norton Andreev

My take on WWDC20

WWDC has been one of my favourite events for many years now. It is always exciting to see what changes and new features are coming to all of the platforms. WWDC is a place where developers can find out more about what Apple provides in order to support them, including all the advances in Swift, improvements in Xcode, changes to the APIs, as well as new frameworks, such as SwiftUI. I had started following WWDC before having much of a programming experience, but now these events are even more important for me. This article is not intended to detail all of the new things announced, but rather my opinion about what I found to be the most intriguing.

To start off with, I wanted to briefly discuss the new format of the event, which was needed because of the current situation and the social-distancing laws. As this is the first time the event was pre-recorded, I was not sure what to expect. Of course, it is Apple, so you know it will be well-made, but I was curious about the way they were going to deliver the presentation. If I have to be honest, I enjoyed it more that the live events from the past years. It was concise and entertaining - providing viewers with all of the useful information about the updates, without any part of it being boring or giving the feeling that it is out of place. I also loved the way Apple showed us around the Apple Park. The engineering sessions were also much better with the new format. Obviously, when it is pre-recorded, you have much more opportunities to be creative. Thumbs up for the whole team that was responsible for the show this year. I definitely hope that the September even will be delivered in the same way. You can watch the keynote on the Apple's website or YouTube.

macOS Big Sur

As expected, Apple announced the transition from Intel to custom-made ARM processors, currently referred to as "Apple Silicone". I'm really looking forward to the first Macs that will use this architecture - we still do not know things, such as how much more powerful they will be, compared to the current offerings from Intel. The new processors are meant to be more energy efficient as well, so it is expected that the future MacBook lineup will have improved battery life.

As the transition to Apple Silicone was rumoured to be announced at the event this year from multiple reliable leakers, I was almost certain they will introduce a new user interface for macOS, as well as that the version will be bumped to 11. As I follow the latest UI/UX trends, I had an idea what a possible redesign of macOS might look like. I am very happy that all of the things I expected in regard to macOS materialised and macOS Big Sur was announced. I am not sure if I am a fan of the name (even Apple made a typo and wrote "Bug Sur" on the marketing email they sent to the developers), but I am in love with the landmark.

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Apple says that Big Sur is the "biggest design upgrade since the Introduction of Mac OS X". It is much more modern compared to its predecessors, yet so familiar. OS X Yosemite brought a major overhaul of the Mac experience back in 2014, followed by the 2018's release of Mojave that introduced the Dark Mode to the Mac. Redesigning any app can be tricky, let alone an operating system, used by so many users. What got me interested in Software Engineering and User Experience Design was the nicely designed user interfaces of different software products which I was encountering when I started using a personal computer. I have always welcomed user interface changes to products I have been using. Nevertheless, I know that not everybody is so keen on having things changed as much. For example, older people usually find it harder getting used to new things. Pro users, who have been using complex software products for years, can also get annoyed even by the tiniest change made to their workflow. Generally, backlash from some group of users is expected initially. However, I am much more interested in seeing how people will feel about it in a few months' time, when they have gotten used to it. I think Apple has managed to do a great job with the redesign of the macOS. Just looking at the new UI boosts my creativity and makes me want to achieve more while using my Mac. 

macOS Big Sur includes redesigned icons, new materials, an updated palette of colours, all-new Control Center, new Widgets experience and more. When iOS 11 was released, it introduced the new floating Dock design for the iPads. Ever since then, I have wanted macOS' dock to look in the same way and it finally does in Big Sur. System sounds are changed and they sound great. Sidebars have been made full height. There are also new glyphs across the system. Another interesting change further contributes to the colourful experience of Big Sur - every app can have its own accent colour which is now used as a highlight colour as well. This makes apps feel more personalised.


Apart from the new design, Big Sur introduces changes to some of the stock apps - the most important one for me being Safari. Apple says that Safari 14 is the "biggest update to Safari since its original launch in 2003". I have been using Safari as my preferred browser for 5 years now, and, although it is sometimes tricky to develop for, I think it outperforms other browsers when it comes to speed, simplicity and efficiency. Apple claims that the new version provides industry-leading speed and loads frequently visited sites an average of 50 percent faster than Chrome. Power efficiency has been improved as well and Safari now offers "up to 3 hours more streaming videos compared to Chrome and Firefox" on battery, and "up to 1 hour more browsing compared to Chrome and Firefox". The new version also features faster JavaScript engine.

Safari in Big Sur comes with many other tweaks as well — more tabs are showed at once, favicons are displayed by default and users can quickly preview pages by hovering over the tabs. 

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Safari 14 comes with more customisation options — there is a new start page with various of sections, as well as an option for adding a custom background. Extensions are coming to Safari and, although I do not use browser extensions, I know that many people do. Furthermore, Firefox and Chrome extensions can be converted to a Safari extension quite easily, which is beneficial for both developers and users. Safari can now detect and translate entire webpages with a single click. Some other new features are a redesigned Web Inspector, WebP image format support, as well as experimental support of HTTP/3. VP9 decoding is finally supported, so users can enjoy 4K HDR videos in YouTube.

Privacy has been a priority for Apple for the past few years and Safari is getting better and better in this aspect with every release. Safari 14 features new Privacy Report which shows how Safari protects browsing activity across the web. Of course, extensions permissions are per-website, so that an extension cannot access more than it needs to. Finally, the Password Manager has been updated and now shows which saved passwords have been compromised in a data breach.

Another big update in macOS Big Sur is to the Messages app. The app has always been lacking behind its iOS version, but this seems to be finally over. Messages on macOS now supports all features supported on iOS, including pinning conversations, inline replies, mentions, access to trending images and GIFs, Memoji, messages effects, better search and more.

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Maps has also received lots of refinements. Arguably, the most important one being the new, more details maps coming to more countries later this year. Apple has released the new Maps across the US in the past few months and the amount of details is insane. It is good to know that more people will be able to benefit from Apple's effort to improve the maps experience. One of the major new features in Maps this year is Guides — curated recommendations for places to eat, shop and explore cities around the world. Cycling routes and EV routing are now available in Maps. It is nice to see that Apple is working hard in promoting alternative ways of getting around. Some countries, such as the UK, have already announced big plans to improve cycling infrastructure and I hope more will follow. Some of the other new features in Maps are Congestion zones and License plate restrictions (limited to China).

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I have been using the Beta of macOS Big Sur for a month now and I am very pleased with it. It is a very big update, so it is expected that things still need polishing, but, in general, I have not encountered major issues so far. More than half of the bug reports I submitted for beta 1 were addressed in the next beta release and I am sure that Big Sur will be the best macOS release by the time of its public release this Fall. Once it is released, Apple promises faster software updates, so that everybody can benefit from the latest advances in the operating system. There are many other smaller changes in macOS Big Sur, including updates to Apple Arcade, battery usage history, sharing third-party app subscriptions, face recognition for video cameras and doorbells, new search experience in Apple Music and improved Spotlight performance. You can read more about macOS Big Sur and watch a design video on the Apple's website which also contains a detailed list with all the new features.


iOS 14

iOS 13 was a major update that brought lots of changes to the iPhone and the iPad experience. While the most anticipated one was the Dark Mode, there were so many tweaks made across the system and the APIs. Possibly because of that, together with the software engineering practices Apple follows, iOS 13 was a troublesome release for many users. Personally, apart from issues with iCloud, I have not experienced many others, but I am also not using lots of apps and not playing any games. Usually, every year, Apple is boasting about the customer leading satisfaction with iOS just before the announcement of the next iOS update. This year, they did not do that, and I can see why.

As expected, iOS 14 is more like a maintenance update to iOS 13. Few months ago, a report from an insider suggested that Apple is rethinking the way new products are developed and tested, in order to ensure better quality. We cannot verify this claim, however, it seems that everybody has the same opinion - iOS 14 is better than iOS 13 from day one. Everything seems faster, smoother and more polished.

iOS 14 comes with the new Widgets experience also found on macOS Big Sur. Widgets have been completely redesigned and look beautiful. They come in three sizes and can be placed on the Home Screen, right next to the installed apps. This change, possibly being the biggest in iOS 14, is also widely discussed on the Web. Widgets have always been available on Android, so comparisons are inevitable. While many people are accusing Apple of "copying" the feature from Android, I think that what matters more is the way Apple has implemented it. Something that I have noticed in all discussions about the Widgets is that they always end with the question - "Are Widgets useful?" - and the answer, in most cases, seems to be "No". I have been using iOS 14 since the first beta, which was released a month ago, and have tried pinning some widgets on the Home Screen. I did not like any of the configurations I could come up with, so decided not to use them. I just could not see what I am gaining from them - especially as I have Apple Watch and can already see things like the weather forecast with a glance. Widgets also seem to be the most broken feature in the current betas of iOS 14, so this might be another reason why they seem to be not as useful at the moment. On the bright side, Apple provides developers with a new API, called WidgetKit, which allows developers to create a single widget that works on iOS, iPadOS and macOS.

Another big change to iOS 14 is the App Library. Now, all installed apps are categorised into a single view. By default, new apps go directly to the App Library, instead of the Home Screen pages, so users can only have the apps they use the most on the Home Screen and hide the others. Home Screen pages can now be hidden. The App Library features two special categories - "Suggestions", which shows suggested apps based on time or location, and "Recently Added", which contains the latest apps downloaded from the App Store. I can see how this feature will be useful for people who use more apps, but I am not sure how much of a difference it makes for me.


Something people have requested for quite a while is a compact caller interface. The new compact UI is available for phone, FaceTime and third-party VoIP calls, as well as Siri. iOS 14 now supports Picture In Picture, with its window being resizable and draggable to any corner of the screen.


App Clips is a new way for users to discover a part of an app when needed. For example, a cafeteria might be offering an app which includes the option to collect club points with each purchase. With App Clips, the user will be able to get the club points collection feature only, that is instantly available at the tilt, without having to download the full application. There are some limitations for the developers when designing App Clips experiences, such as that the total size of an App Clip cannot exceed 10MB in order to ensure fast loading. A company can offer multiple App Clips. I think that this feature is indeed innovative and will look forward to seeing how many and which business will make use of it.


The Music app has been constantly receiving updates and is even better in iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur. There is a new "Listen Now" tab which features multiple new sections, as well as dynamic playlists artworks. The Library view has received some updates as well with glyphs being added to the different sections. The Now Playing view has also been updated. Music now saves the current progress when force-closing the app. I have been experiencing a bug on iOS 13 and macOS Catalina which would prevent iCloud Music Library from syncing properly between devices. I am happy to report that this has now been resolved.

Messages, Maps and Safari get all of the features that I have written about in the section about macOS Big Sur. Memoji features more hairstyles, new headwear styles, more age options, as well as revamped facial and muscle structure for more expressivity. There is a new Translate app with Conversation Mode and on-device translation. The Home app has been updated with a new visual summary of the accessories status, suggested automations when adding a new accessory, and dynamic suggestions in the Control Center. CarPlay now supports more app categories. There is now battery notifications for AirPods, as well as Spatial Audio for AirPods Pro. Apple suggests that "you can now shoot photos up to 90% faster", although the Camera app is one of the few things I am having issues with. A welcome development is the addition of a search field when using the emoji keyboard. You can read more about iOS 14 on the Apple's website which also contains a detailed list with all the new features.

iOS 14 comes with many Privacy-related enhancements. Apart from the Privacy Report in Safari, iOS 14 will now let you know when an app is accessing the camera, the microphone or the clipboard. Many apps, including LinkedIn, TikTok and dating apps, have already been caught tracking users and stealing data by inappropriately accessing the clipboard. One of the things I would love to see in iOS is the option to give access to the clipboard on a per-app basis. iOS now lets users to choose the photos to be accessible by a given app, instead of being forced to give access to the whole image library. Similar change is also made to Contacts. When sharing location, an app can either be provided with a precise or an approximate location. Developers will be required to submit information about their privacy practices, including data collected and used to track users across companies, which will be displayed in the App Store. Furthermore, iOS will now generate a random MAC address when connecting to a WiFi network, so that devices cannot be tracked based on their physical address.

iOS 14 is compatible with iPhone 6s and newer which means that iPhones are currently getting 5 years of software updates support - much longer than what the competition offers.


iPadOS 14

Last year, Apple renamed the iOS version for the iPad to iPadOS in order to "recognise the platform in a special way". Many people, including me, were expecting that this would mean a divergence from iOS. Unfortunately, iPadOS is still iOS and the change was purely for marketing purposes. Hardware-wise, the iPad is a very powerful device. Apple is currently providing the developers with the opportunity to get Developer Transition Kit (DTK) which runs macOS Big Sur and is powered by the chip which is used in the 2020 iPad Pro. This just shows how powerful the iPad is and how wasted its potential is. It really looks to me as if Apple is using the iPad as an experimental platform for developing a world-class desktop chip that will eventually power the Macs. Do not get me wrong, I love the iPad, but it is still limited to performing basic tasks, such as writing emails, watching videos or browsing the web.

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iPadOS 14 receives all of the iOS 14 changes with some additional ones, designed specifically for iPad. I think that the new compact design for incoming calls and Siri interactions make lots of sense on the iPad. Search has been rebuilt from the ground up and is now much more like Spotlight on Mac - it features a new compact design, can be invoked from anywhere and shows results from apps, contacts and files. It allows users to type the first few characters and already have an app or a website focused and ready to be launched. Web searches are more powerful with more relevant suggestions than before.

iPadOS 14 includes a redesigned Sidebar which allows for features once buried deep in an app to be easily accessible. The best examples of apps that showcase the Sidebar's power probably would be Music, Photos and Files, although it is also available in other apps, such as Notes and Calendar. The Sidebar is customisable - items can be rearranged, added or deleted. It also supports drag and drop. Toolbars have been streamlined and new pull-down menus provide easier access to the app controls. There have been many small tweaks made in order to improve the overall iPad experience. For example, you can now rename files and folders in the Files app in place, rather than in a modal.


There are some new features related to the Apple Pencil. Scribble allows writing by hand in any text field and have the iPad automatically convert it into typed text. There are new gestures when using the Pencil - text can be scratched to delete it or circled to select it. Most of the gestures used for typed text can now be used for handwriting in Notes. As mentioned before, Music is getting some exciting changes this year across all platforms. The redesigned Now Playing view in iPadOS 14 shows the lyrics right next to the album artwork. The Music app now has multi-window support, which I have been requesting for quite some time. Some of the other news features in iPadOS 14 that I am enjoying are the redesigned date and image pickers. You can read more about iPadOS 14 on the Apple's website which also contains a detailed list with all the new features.

To sum up, I believe that iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 will be a great release, as they focus on performance improvements, bug fixes and many small changes which, all taken together, provide better and more personalised experience. 


watchOS 7

I have been using Apple Watch since its introduction and I have owned all generations. I remember how excited I was when rumours started appearing about it, as well as when it was officially announced. It took Apple few years to improve the Watch experience - I still remember how slow the first edition was. Nowadays, the platform is much more mature and, to be honest, there has not been something groundbreaking added to it in the past few years. I feel like the redesign of the Watch, that was unveiled with the introduction of Series 4, was the last major update we saw to the Watch. As I use my Apple Watch mostly for notifications and some of the activity-related features, changes to watchOS rarely impress me.

As expected, watchOS 7 is a minor update and does not really bring anything major to the Watch. As each year, Apple has added few more new watch faces, which are now shareable via texting, emailing or posting a link on the web. There is also an option for to find new faces on the App Store. Faces can now have multiple complications from each app

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As rumours were suggesting, there is a new Sleep Mode coming with watchOS 7. Apple Watch is using the accelerometer to distinguish between sleeping and awake states. Sleep chart which shows the amount of sleep the user had in the past week has been added. Bedtime reminders and more waking-up sounds were made available to the Watch. The users can choose a silent haptic alarm over the traditional one. All of the sleep-related features are now part of the Health app on the iPhone, which provides an access to all of the data the Watch has gathered. Getting a good sleep is an important aspect of our wellbeing and it is understandable that Apple is adding sleep tracking features to the Watch. Unfortunately, I do not think the features available now are useful enough. Firstly, the Watch does not have good enough battery to last 24 hours. Having to charge the Watch before and after going to bed is disruptive (once a day is already frustrating enough). Secondly, I know what my sleep routine is like without the Watch recording it. I am wondering if something more could be done with the captured data. Maybe, in future, when battery life is improved and more sensors are added, sleep tracking functionality on the Watch will become better and will actually provide the user with something more insightful than just the hours they have slept for.

The Activity app has been renamed to Fitness (a change that I do not like) and four new workout types have been added - Dance, Functional Strength Training, Core Training, and Cooldown. The Watch can now detect when the wearer has started washing their hands and a 20-second countdown timer will appear. It is important to note that the feature is not enabled by default (at least not in the current betas). It is quite sad that we needed a pandemic so that people could learn they have to wash their hands. I was initially hoping to see the hand wash detection turned on by default in the final release of watchOS 7, however, after using it for a while, I found it more irritating than useful, as it will start the countdown even when I am doing other activities, such as having a shower. Users can also get a reminder within few minutes after arriving home to wash their hands, if they have not already. Some of the other changes included in watchOS 7 are updated complications for some of the native features (Camera Remote, Sleep and Shortcuts), Shortcuts app installed by default, the addition of cycling directions, further support for hearing health with headphone audio notifications, as well as on-device dictation. You can read more about watchOS 7 on the Apple's website.


CONCLUSION

In general, I am happy with the updates announced at WWDC20 with the most exciting being the transition to Apple Silicone and the redesign of macOS. iOS 14 will most probably be one of the most stable iOS releases, fixing many of the bugs introduced with iOS 13 and polishing the overall iPhone experience. The same goes for iPadOS 14, although I wish Apple had really separated it more from iOS and given it more advanced features. watchOS 7 seems like the most underwhelming update which is not surprising — watchOS is mature enough now and probably not much more can be achieved without significant improvements to the hardware. I have not discussed tvOS 14, as I do not own Apple TV. However, it seems like the major changes coming to the TV are the addition of multiuser support for gaming and support for more gaming controllers. Picture in Picture is also making its debut on the TV, as well as the addition of 4K video streaming support on platforms such as YouTube.

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Apart from the updates to all operating systems, Apple has announced new features for developers - SwiftUI 2 with the introduction of a new app lifecycle which replaces the app and scene delegates from iOS 13, Xcode 12 with new design for macOS Big Sur, better code completion and support of Swift 5.3, as well as improvements to the Catalyst technology. 

As usual, the new releases will be officially released in Fall. You can join the Apple Beta Software Program, if you want to try out the upcoming updates and provide feedback.

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