5 Apple innovations that weren’t in the WWDC keynote… but change everything
There was plenty to see during the live-streamed keynote event at Apple’s WWDC conference on 8 June, with lots of new features coming to iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 El Capitan. Including the name “El Capitan”. Try saying that without a telenovela villain accent. Go on, try.
Anyway, although Tim Cook and his adjutants packed a lot in, they couldn’t highlight everything. Here’s a handful of key points you may have missed. Click to the end for a bonus roundup of lesser innovations.
1. Enhanced security
Apple software boss and Oxford Shirt model Craig Federighi briefly let slip that two-factor authentication would be added to iCloud. Umm, okay, but it already has two-factor authentication. You’d be amazed – amazed we tell you – how many tech news outlets didn’t seem to know that. Maybe he should just have re-announced everything from last year’s keynote.
Presumably he meant authentication would be stronger, or more industry-standard, or compulsory, or whatever. In any case, it’s just one of the security enhancements on the way.
Notably, the four-digit passcode to unlock an iPhone or iPad will now be six. That means a million possible combinations, up from 10,000. You can already set a much longer passphrase if you choose, or none at all, but most people stick with the default, so this raises the bar for unlocking devices without the user’s consent.
As a further safeguard, the Find My iPhone (or iPad) app, previously downloadable, is built into iOS 9, encouraging every user to activate the ability to trace and remotely erase their devices.
This is all useful in protecting against theft and identity theft, but Tim Cook has made clear that Apple supports users’ privacy from all-comers, including law enforcement. Last time we checked with the Metropolitan Police, the equipment they routinely use to capture data from seized iPhones couldn’t crack even a four-digit passcode, but equipment gets better all the time. This change puts locked devices further out of reach.
Ultimately, you can still be coerced to give up your password. But as far as possible, Apple is making a massive point of ensuring your data stays within your control.
2. Unified system font
It wasn’t announced, but it was visible in the screenshots during the presentation – and if you didn’t notice, go to the bottom of Apple class. The company’s epic struggle to make user interface text both beautiful and legible goes back to the launch of the first iPod in 2001. And it’s a tale of two warring partners, like Charlize Theron and that bloke who always has a thing over his face in films.
The iPod’s basic monochrome LCD used the same Chicago font as the original 1984 Macintosh, rather than the contemporary Mac OS’s Charcoal. Through various switches (Espy Sans, Lucida Grande, Iggy Azalea Light – are you concentrating?), the mobile and desktop OSes stayed out of sync until OS X moved in 2014 to Helvetica Neue, matching iOS 7 and 8.
At last, all of Apple’s UIs were typographically aligned! The only problem was that they were aligned using a typeface that experts had pointed out was unsuitable for screen use.
Apple’s theory seems to have been that its new Retina displays made the old arguments about font legibility obsolete. Nope. When it came to creating the UI for the tiny Apple Watch screen, there was no hiding the fact that Helvetica just wouldn’t look crisp enough. So Apple commissioned a brand-new font, San Francisco, with squarer letterforms.
And now, even though it means radically changing the Mac’s visuals twice in two years, San Francisco is coming to both iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 El Capitan. Apple has cemented its commitment by producing a matching Chinese font, PingFang, in a full range of weights – a major undertaking.
(The name PingFang, punningly, means “square”, as in square metre. It’s also the name of a district in Harbin city, Heilongjiang province, giving it the requisite geographical reference. Awkwardly, the location is best known as the site of a WWII biological warfare unit.)
In China, a market Apple has been keen for years to expand into, users are already complaining that PingFang is hard to read on non-Retina screens. At this point, though, Apple will surely stick with it and let the display hardware catch up.
Inevitably, the increased visual similarity between the three OSes – OS X, iOS and now watchOS – will provoke a flurry of new “Will Apple make a unified OS?” posts. No, it won’t.
3. Move to iOS
Omitted from the keynote was the new “Move to iOS” app, which comes in two editions, one for iOS and the other for – gasp – Android, Google’s rival mobile operating system. It’s aimed at Android users who, having seen Eddy Cue dancing at WWDC, have finally accepted that they won’t be cool until they switch to Apple.
“Just download the Move to iOS app to wirelessly switch from your Android device to your new iOS device,” says Apple’s blurb. “It securely transfers your contacts, message history, camera photos and videos, web bookmarks, mail accounts, calendars, wallpaper, and DRM-free songs and books. And it will help you rebuild your app library, too.”
For Android users, moving this stuff across even to a new Android phone isn’t always as simple as it ought to be. The idea of shovelling it all into iOS and then – thanks to Apple’s seamless Restore from Backup function – never having to worry about it again could be a real enticement.
Apple hasn’t focused so much on converting users from rival platforms since its Get a Mac Campaign tailed off six years ago, perhaps feeling it looked like it was trying too hard. As the smartphone market reaches saturation, active wooing of Android users makes a lot of sense. And every switcher is a swing back towards numeric as well as brand dominance for Apple.
4. Built-in apps can be switched off
Nobody mentioned that iCloud Drive, which lets you store documents on Apple’s servers and access them from different apps or the OS X Finder, now has its own Finder-like app. Like a whole bunch of other default apps, it’s installed as part of iOS 9. Unlike them, it has a switch in Settings that lets you choose whether or not its icon appears on your homescreen.
We first saw this switch in the Apple Watch app, where it lets you decide which of the Watch-supporting apps installed on your iPhone will also appear on your wrist. On the iPhone itself (and the iPad), it seems like a game-changer.
Imagine being able to turn off the stupid Stocks app, the Compass (hello, you’ve got a Maps app now and we’re not doing our Duke of Edinburgh award?), Newsstand… oh no, wait, Newsstand is already gone. Or Weather or Calculator after you’ve installed better alternatives. Or Health, which contains no meaningful data. Or the Apple Watch app, because you don’t even have a bloody Apple Watch!
That would be good. As far as we can tell, you still can’t turn those off in the current beta of iOS 9, but iCloud Drive’s magic switch gives us hope. It won’t stop pointless apps using valuable megabytes of your device’s storage, but at least it could stop them cluttering your homescreen.
5. Beats 1 is free
WWDC’s big “one more thing” was Apple Music. Some developers were offended that it took up so much of the keynote. The rest of us were offended by Drake rambling interminably about it with the panache of a local authority compliance training session.
Apple Music, the reincarnation of Beats Music, is a subscription-based streaming service that gives you access to most of the iTunes catalogue for $9.99 a month, or $14.99 for a family (UK pricing has yet to be confirmed). But you could have blinked and missed that. The focus was on Beats 1, a new internet radio station fronted by Zane Lowe, who Apple poached from BBC Radio 1. And what perhaps didn’t need to be said about Beats 1, but is important, is that it’s free to listen to.
Does the world really need another internet radio station? Many people have already dismissed Beats 1 as a gimmick and Apple Music as just another streaming service. But in fact, Beats 1 could be what makes Apple Music work.
Remember how the iPod, a product that basically did the same things as other MP3 players, began Apple’s ascendance to universality. It started with recognition and shared experience. Other music players existed, but Apple making a music player was news. Then, because it was in the media and had a cool name, “iPod” became a synonym for “music player”.
If you had an iPod, you got a little flash of validation every time you saw the word, and you had something in common with other people who had one. It was a positive thing to have in common, because Apple was a cool brand, and the iPod looked cooler than other music players, and worked a little better.
Music-streaming services already have a leading name, after a bit of a jostle: Spotify. But Spotify doesn’t say anything about your taste. It’s just a way of getting all the music. Beats 1 avoids that generic blankness by offering a designed experience. It’s the iPod of internet radio. And because it’s free, you can share the experience of it with everyone.
During the WWDC keynote, Spotify’s founder and CEO Daniel Ek tweeted just two words: “Oh ok.” This was probably intended to convey insouciance. It looked more like complacency. Later, symbolically, he deleted the tweet. What kind of a word is Spotify, anyway? What was Spotify again?
5 more changes you didn’t hear on stage
1. Shift mode fixed
After getting the Shift key wrong repeatedly, Apple has now taken up a widely offered suggestion and made the characters on the iOS keyboard lower case-when Shift is off, so that you can see the difference unambiguously. Swapping all the labels at once could be criticised as a big cognitive load, but most of us did learn at an early age to see “A” and “a” as equivalent.
2. Load your own iOS apps
iOS users can only install Apple-approved apps. In iOS 9, you’ll also be able to load your own apps, created on your Mac with Apple’s free Xcode development environment, without a paid developer subscription or enterprise setup. You still can’t sell apps or easily give them to your friends, but it’s a step forward for anyone who wants to dabble with code.
3. Track your periods
Craig Federighi didn’t quite announce this when he coyly referred to “reproductive health” features. As @selenalarson tweeted: “Hey Apple, please explain what ‘reproductive health’ you track, it’s okay to say MENSTRUATION on stage.” It’s about time that item was added to the Health app, but new keys also include the self-explanatory HKMetadataKeySexualActivityProtectionUsed. It’s good that Apple stresses privacy.
4. Full browser view in apps
When you see a web browser inside an app – for example, when you tap a link in a social media app and it shows you the page – this will now behave just like Safari, supporting advanced features such as AutoFill and Reader view. It’s one of various innovations to make content within apps and online all feel like part of the same experience.
5. App censorship
You wouldn’t expect an announcement when things stay the same, but sometimes it’s significant. There’s still no sign of a rewrite of Apple’s daft App Store developer guidelines. You can’t address a diverse global market yet pretend everyone will “just know” what content is and isn’t appropriate. And when apps include newspapers and magazines, plus the new Apple News format, arbitrary censorship based on “looking out for the kids” doesn’t sit well with Tim Cook’s current champion-of-liberty stance.