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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

WWDC 2017 recap

I wanted to take a few moments to jot down a comparison between my wish list for this year’s WWDC and what was announced. Also, towards the end, some quick thoughts on the surprises that were announced.

Here are my wishes, in order from the previous post, and whether or not we got them.

  • Shared iCloud Photo Libraries. Nope. It doesn’t appear so. I think if they had finished this they would have announced it.
  • iCloud data Family sharing. Yes! And, they gave us 2TB for the price of 1TB. So, a very good update here.
  • An all-new Mac App Store. Kinda? While they didn’t show this off, Phil Schiller did hint at it during John Gruber’s live interview with him and Hair Force One.
  • App Store demos. Nope. While the new iOS App Store looks very nice (and it getting great reviews all over the web) it didn’t include this.
  • App slimming. Not sure. I’ll wait for the public betas of iOS and macOS to determine if they’ve done any work in this area.
  • More Camera app filters. Yes! While the camera app may not have more filters built-in, the Photos app has tons of updates in this area. I’ll take it.
  • Apple Prime. Nope.
  • Rename iCloud Photo Library? Nope. But, not a big deal.
  • Apple Watch Series 3. Nope. Not yet. And the watchOS updates that were featured were lackluster. But, I think they were holding back for the event they’ll have in the fall.
  • Apple Photos improvements. Yes. Tons. I’ll wait until I get my hands on it to do a direct comparison with my wishes.
  • More iOS Extensions. Nope. I didn’t see much in this area mentioned, but I think they made up for it with the drag/drop features.
  • Siri. Nope. Read Manton’s post on this. He wrote what I was thinking.
  • Apple Maps accuracy updates. Nope. Not a single mention about Apple Maps that I saw. So, again, I’ll have to wait and see with the betas.

My last minute wish that I threw in was for driving mode. And that is a huge yes!

If we’re keeping score that’s like 8 nopes, 1 kinda, and 4 yeses. Which doesn’t seem like a good score but somehow I was very impressed with WWDC overall. I think we’re in for a great year of software updates coming from Apple.

Now, onto some of the surprises.

  • HomePod. While not a total surprise HomePod looks interesting. As a piece of hardware I really like it. As a device that allows you to access Siri I’m less excited because of how poor Siri is still. For example: Ask Siri “how far is New York City” compared to “Driving directions to New York City”. How can’t Siri answer the first question if it can answer the second? I refuse to believe that Apple isn’t staying up late nights to bolster Siri’s offering so hopefully we’ll see a massive improvement in Siri within calendar 2017 or 2018.
  • iMac Pro. What an incredible computer! My first Mac was an iMac and I bought Eliza an iMac somewhat recently. I really love all-in-one computers I just prefer to have a notebook myself due to working remotely, at work, in coffee shops, at a client’s, etc. If I were to buy a desktop computer for myself the iMac Pro would be it.
  • Macbook updates. I got my new Macbook Pro with Touchbar somewhat recently. But, these updates aren’t enough to make me regret my upgrade. They look solid though.
  • ARKit. As I’ve already noted, this will be huge.
  • New iPads Pro. The updates to the iPad (both software and hardware) are very, very good. Makes me wish I needed to upgrade.
  • iPad iOS features. Though it appears some of these could come to iPhone (or, perhaps the 10-year anniversary iPhone) – these features are amazing like drag and drop and the dock, etc. Pretty cool.

There are of course many things I haven’t mentioned but ll-in-all a solid week of Apple updates.

One last thing; recently Tim Cook has been quoted as saying that Apple is focused on autonomous driving (which we knew) but that they are focused on it as a category rather than a feature. Apple finds autonomy as an interesting area moreso than simply self-driving. I’m very interested to see how this idea manifests itself in future products.

Back to Apple, again

Each year WWDC week gives us new and updated Apple software that is easier to use and more tightly integrated. As a result, each year I find myself wishing that I used Apple software exclusively instead of using third-party applications.

Forgive me, but I’m about to quote an entire post that I wrote in June 2014 as to the pros and cons of using as much Apple software and services as possible. Stick around, though, because at the end I’ll fill you in on how I’m feeling today and what I’m doing to use more Apple software and services.

There are hundreds of thousands of third-party apps that you can use on your computer, phone, and tablet. Some of them are amazingly good and far better in a number of ways than what ships with these devices by default.

By using third-party apps, however, you sometimes give up a level of seamless integration between all of your apps in how they share data and function across multiple devices.

Using the default apps — whether they’re built by Microsoft, or Apple, or Google — you can end up losing some of the personality, the extra niche features, and the one-on-one support that you get from third-party app developers.

So, there are pros and cons to making the choice between using an app that was built by the makers of the device and or operating system or by choosing to buy a third-party alternative.

Over the last several years I’ve acquired a stockpile of third-party apps on all three of my devices. I’ve been using third-party apps for everything, even the most basic of tasks like email and calendaring and listening to music. While most of these apps are extremely good, and I had no trouble paying for them, I’ve been missing that seamless integration. I’d get into work and I couldn’t pick up where I’ve left off listening to music or a podcast episode in the car. My mail clients on Mac and iPhone don’t know how to work together (in my case, Airmail and Mailbox respectively). And so on.

So I’ve decided to double down on Apple apps and services. I want that seamless integration back. I want my mail box to look the same across all devices, I want to see my podcast subscriptions on my Mac be exactly the same as on my iPhone, and I want all of my photos in one spot, etc.

OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 seems like a huge step forward to making it even easier for third-party apps to work better together across both operating systems and all devices. So perhaps this issue will get easier and easier to manage in the future. But today, I’d like to manage and learn less apps and get more work done.

I started to make the transition back to Apple late last week and over the last few days I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the progress Apple has made on their apps. It has been like an entirely new experience.

This week Apple announced macOS High Sierra and iOS 11. And, again, it is a big step forward. So I found myself preparing for these updates in the fall by moving away from third-party services and using more Apple products and services.

This week alone I’ve put more data on iCloud (so it was nice to see the storage bump), I’ve moved from Simplenote to Notes, moved back to Safari from Chrome, subscribed to Apple Music’s family plan and ditched Spotify.

When I made this adjustment in 2014 I didn’t do a good job of following up with how it all worked. So I’m making a mark in my calendar to do so two weeks after macOS and iOS ship this fall.

I’m waiting to write a full comparison of my WWDC wish list to what is being announced by Apple because as WWDC week continues more news leaks out. Suffice to say more and more of my list is getting checked off as the week goes by.

I reviewed my WWDC wish list this morning and I think it is exactly what I want. The Siri Speaker that works like a Sonos has my interest piqued though. Let’s see what happens.

WWDC 2017 wish list

It has been an exciting year for developers so far. Facebook is making the camera a platform, Microsoft is making cloud computation happen with two clicks of a mouse, and Google is doing everything that everyone else is doing plus a billion more things.

WWDC is next week. So what are my wishes? Since I use Apple products far more than Facebook, Microsoft, or Google products, I tend to want more specific things from WWDC.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

  • Shared iCloud Photo Libraries. There are a few ways that Apple could do this. The simplest, in my opinion, is for me to allow access to my iCloud Photo Library to anyone in my iCloud Family Plan. All photos taken from all family members in the same library. Perhaps somehow filtered by device or person. That’s it.
  • iCloud data Family sharing. I buy 1TB for me and 50GB for Eliza. I’d like to purchase 1 set of storage for both of us and be able to share the space allotment. Not only to save the $1 per month but also to combine the accounts.
  • An all-new Mac App Store. The app store app on macOS feels incredibly dated and fragile. It doesn’t seem to work nearly as well as its iOS counterpart. This part of the OS should be rock solid and perform very well. But there are little idiosyncrasies (like how the progress bars look weird when downloading, or how the fonts look…).
  • App Store demos. If Schiller is serious about bolstering the App Stores I think it is time to bring true demos to both App Stores. I don’t have a silver bullet model (7 days, 14 days, 30 days, etc.) but I do believe this is achievable and would be a boon for app developers.
  • App slimming. Apple announced something about this a few WWDCs ago I think. And I believe it is on the developers of the apps to make their apps as small as possible. However, I think Apple can lend a hand to the most popular apps (Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Messenger, SnapChat, Instagram, etc.) and ask that they somehow combine frameworks or resources in order to shrink their apps considerably. Just think, every megabyte Apple can help slim from those apps would be hundreds of terabytes of data usage saved.
  • More Camera app filters. I use the Camera app a lot. Even with the numerous camera apps available (which I’ve likely bought dozens of and installed even more of over the last decade of having an iPhone) I usually gravitate to the camera that I can swipe to from my Lock Screen. Once and a while I’ll use a filter. Either in editing or even in shooting. Its fun. I’d like to see more added. Like, 50 more with me being able to select my top 12 somehow.
  • Apple Prime. Amazon Prime comes with a slew of things; music, movies, photo storage, free shipping, etc. etc. I’d like a one-payment Apple bundle that would give me iCloud space, iCloud Photo Library, Apple Music, Apple TV (or whatever their TV service will be if it ever happens), etc. Some “prime” membership per year that I can be all-in on Apple stuff.
  • Rename iCloud Photo Library? Perhaps it should just be called Apple Photos. If every app simply had an iCloud switch that allowed you to store / sync its data with iCloud we wouldn’t need separate names for things. The apps simply can have an iCloud feature.
  • Apple Watch Series 3. I’ve said since the beginning that the first Apple Watch I’d buy would likely be the Series 3. (Actually, I begged Apple not to make a watch at all. But, since they did, the first one I’d likely buy might be the next version.) My wish list for series 3 would be slimmer (less tall), no phone needed at all for it to function (network-connected with no additional plan), much, much faster, and easier to update/install apps. Essentially, a stand-alone device rather than an iPhone accessory.
  • Apple Photos improvements. Only a few of my wishes from May 2016 have been addressed. I would like to see Apple Photos get substantially better this year. However, Apple seems to improve things much slower than they used to. (Remember the iPad 1 to iPad 2 jump? I wish we saw more of that speed from Apple)
  • More iOS Extensions. Perhaps Apple’s purchase of Workflow won’t bear fruit so quickly, but I’d like a lot more Extensions in iOS. I often find myself limited in what I can do with a file on iOS. I think it should be much more powerful to send files from app-to-app or to a service or run a routine on it, etc. I think we’ll see that in future iOS releases.
  • Siri. I’ve nearly given up on Siri. My WWDC 2016 wish list still has Siri items on it that haven’t been addressed. Still, if Siri was 5% better I’d take it.
  • Apple Maps accuracy updates. Apple Maps has improved a lot since its debut. Its design is far better than it was and its feature set has grown too. But, for me, its accuracy is still terrible. Google Maps gets me to the correct location every single time. I can’t remember when it hasn’t. Apple Maps routinely gives me the wrong location when I ask Siri for directions somewhere. Somewhere around 75% of the time. Three out of four. This is not an exaggeration. So, I do not use it. With each update to iOS I give it another try. Then I go back to Google Maps. I don’t think Apple Maps needs any new design, or any new features, it just needs to be accurate. Side note: I was in Philadelphia with Eliza recently and we relied on Google Maps for all transportation. It was excellent at getting us around via Uber, walking, and driving. It was perfect the entire time.

I’ll stay away from any hardware wishes as I don’t have any needs currently. I’m all set on the hardware front. Our iPhones, iPads, MacBook Pro, and iMac are all just fine the way they currently are. And, I don’t need an Apple Home (if they release one) because I have enough terrible Siri devices laying around the house.

What Photos for OS X and iOS will be able to automatically detect in iOS 10

Alternate title: My hopes are low for object detection in the new Photos but I still have hope

Reddit user vista980622 dig some digital sleuthing and may have come up with the list of over 4,000 objects, memories, and facial expressions that Photos for iOS and OS X will be able to mine all on its own with Apple’s Advanced Computer Vision technology announced at WWDC. The user then wrote this about the landmark detection on Ev’s blog:

Additionally, you can search for various landmarks. For example, Photos can respond for search query of “Maho” (beach in Saint Martin), despite Photos is not programmed or trained to understand specific landmarks. Behind the scenes, Photos app first generates a generic categorization for the scene, “beach”, then searches through a built-in dictionary for all landmarks that has the name “beach” in its definition.

This is smart approach.

It reminds me of something Craig Federighi (Hair Force One to me) mentioned during John Gruber’s live Talk Show event during WWDC. There are a lot of ways to teach Apple’s Advanced Computer Vision system that do not need to involve sending your photos to them. They know what a beach or mountain or forest looks like. They have access to the location of the photo. And they have access to the world’s knowledge via the web. Combining those things they can find a huge amount of information in your photos that can be used to discover them without ever needing to look at the photos themselves.

In my wish list for Photos for OS X, iOS, and iCloud Photo Library I mentioned that I wanted to be able to search for objects. I wrote:

Sort of related to the auto-generated albums above, I’d love to be able to search for “red” or “lake” or “tree” and get results. Google is killing Apple at this. And it just makes so much sense. The more the application does for you the less classification you have to do manually. I tag my photos with things like “cat” or “ants” or “beetle” or “snake” because I want to be able to search for these things later. And adding my own layer of taxonomy on top of my library should always be an option … but for objects that are easily identifiable these days (like lakes or cats) it just makes sense.

It appears I’ll be getting that. I noticed a lot of object and animal specific terms in the list that vista980622 shared. One stood out; “arachnid”. I hope, and am pretty sure I will be able to, still search by “spider” though it isn’t listed. Which brings us to the discoverability of these types of searches. I hope Apple doesn’t only provide a search box but that they also suggest searches or create pseudo-albums for you.

For example, Google Photos creates albums (sort of) by simply giving you a way to find those objects in your library without searching for them. They aren’t albums so much as links to search results that look like albums. I hope Apple builds in a discovery mechanism too. And it’d be great if it were based on what I took photos of the most.

Looking through my Library it’d be easy to see that I take a lot of photos of lakes and rivers (kayaking), bees, barns, and buildings. I also visit a lot of wineries and breweries. It’d be nice if Apple simply had “pseudo albums” or saved searches at the ready for me for all of these things. And then they could throw in a few for fun like cats, pink, beach, panoselfie.

One tidbit about the assumed facial expression detection in Photos… They seem to be using this to create memories. Who wants memories of a bunch of angry people? So I’m guessing that if they want to make a bunch of happy memories for people they needed to go beyond just detecting the people in the photos but also what mood they were in.

OK, one more tidbit about face detection. I’m skeptical that this will be any good. But I hope I’m wrong.

Currently there are two kinds of face detection. The first involves determining that there is a face in the photo. You’ll see iOS’s camera app doing this live while you’re shooting. A yellow box will surround people or objects in a photo to get a good focal length to make sure your subject(s) are in focus. That is face detection that simply says “we think this is a face”. Then there is face detection that involves determining the actual person in the photo. Photos for OS X has this currently… though it needs to be improved a lot. Like, a real lot. Check out this example from this weekend:

Photos OS X Face Detection Error Fail

You can click the image to zoom in a bit.

On the left, my friend Matt (who has a face). On the right, a vending machine (which does not have a face).

Photos for OS X believes that the vending machine is a face. This is technology that Apple has been mucking around with for at least 8 years as it was debuted in iPhoto in 2009. It didn’t suggest any names for the face (it rarely does, which I’ve covered here), but it doesn’t even see Matt’s face.

I’m sure that Apple’s new Photos for iOS and OS X will be better than what we currently have but I’ll wait and see before I get excited. Because so far they’ve yet to be great at this and Google and Facebook kill them at it.

I’m anxious to play with iOS 10 and macOS Sierra. But not anxious enough to install the betas on my hardware. So I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the fall.

Random subtle updates to Apple software

Apple could not possibly cover every update to iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS in their Keynote. So as the nerds have been picking through the trash in and around San Francisco they’ve been able to dig up several subtle changes that are worth noting.

Here are a few of them that I’ve found via Twitter and scouring the blogosphere. Some of them were mentioned in passing in the Keynote as well but I thought I’d highlight those too.

  • For developers, Apple made a variant of the San Francisco font called SF Mono. Yes!
  • Apple Maps can now find gas stations and restaurants along your route of travel. This will be enormously helpful.
  • macOS gives a tabbed interface to nearly every application out of the box without the developer needing to make an update. This will end up being a bigger deal than it may seem.
  • Creating sticker packs for iMessage requires no code. So expect a lot of sticker packs.
  • iMessage allows for read receipts to be sent, or not, on a per conversation basis.
  • iOS 10 allows you to remove default Apple apps (like Tips, Stocks, etc) from your Home Screen. It doesn’t delete the app, however.
  • The News app now allows you to subscribe to specific publications rather than only selecting them as possible sources. RSS reader?
  • iOS 10’s Phone application can make Skype (and, presumably in the future, Slack, Google Hangouts, etc.) a first-class citizen and add their call lists, voice mails, etc. to the Phone app. Think of how Facetime works now. It is built into Phone.
  • Apple Pay on the web will make paying for things incredibly easy. It would be possible for the worst shopping experiences ever to become one or two taps.
  • iOS 10 lets you edit Live Photos and even stabilize them (like Google Motion Stills).
  • Universal Clipboard (macOS, iOS) will allow you to copy text, images, or video from one device and paste them on another. The engineering to make this happen must be amazing yet the feature is completely invisible.
  • Picture-in-Picture on macOS. Right now I use a bookmarklet in Safari to force a YouTube video to pop-up and be in its own window. This way I can continue working or using Safari. Picture-in-Picture will allow me to do this, even in full screen apps.
  • tvOS’s Single Sign-on feature makes a 5 step process (or more) and makes it zero steps. No more going to CBS News’ website and typing in a 4 digit code to get access.
  • AppleTV will now support 4 game controllers, not just 2.

I’m sure more and more smaller, subtle things will come to light as Apple puts the finishing touches on these releases for the Fall.

Addendum: Mac Rumors has a few good ones. Notably, the Wake Alarm and Flashlight intensity settings.

Second addendum:

A few new tidbits emerged overnight. Partially due to John Gruber’s live The Talk Show with Hair Force One and Phil. Namely:

  • iOS 10 will support shooting and editing in RAW
  • And though some Apple apps can be removed (see above) they can’t be independently updated and will not be available in the App Store. Which is sort of a pity because that could have meant faster update cycles for most used apps.
  • Apple still loves the Mac App Store. Yeah, we’ll see.
  • Safari 10, in macOS Sierra, will turn all plugins (Flash, Quicktime, etc.) off by default.

Third addendum:

  • If you use an external keyboard on iOS one of the keyboard shortcuts you may use is “CMD+Tab” which lets you cycle through the apps you currently have open. In iOS 10 the Home Screen is now an option on that.

Fourth addendum (honestly, I could keep going and going):

Fifth addendum:

  • In iOS 10 a “magnifier” can be turned on. Let the Sherlock Holmes jokes run amok.

If you notice anything else, send me a tweet or an email or something.

WWDC murdered my wish list

In a good way.

Yesterday I scrawled a few comments during the WWDC Keynote, and did 1 second reviews of the announcements on Snapchat, but I thought I’d jot down the tally of things I had hoped for against what was actually announced.

First, however, let me just say that the amount of work Apple showcased yesterday is just staggering. No doubt thousands and thousands of designers, engineers, operations, and more people made all of that possible. And watching the Keynote back this morning I’m left wondering if any of them have slept in the last year.

OK. Let’s start with the wish list:

  • “I hope Siri can do a lot more” – Yes.
  • Big changes to macOS – I think what I meant, and what we got, are different. However, what we got is pretty great. Some of the demos on the Apple web site are better than those that were shown on stage. And the “tabs everywhere” feature is bigger than it seems.
  • Displays? Nope. But I don’t really care, honestly.
  • Updates to tvOS? Yep. Big, big updates here. Looks like now is the time to buy an Apple TV.

So, pretty much everything I wished for.

Now, onto the things I wanted to see in Photos and iCloud Photo Library specifically. When I had written that post I separated the improvements that I hoped to see into two categories. I had a list for things I thought we’d definitely see and a list of things that I was skeptical that we’d see (due to the amount of work they are to do). Well, it turns out that I’ll be getting a lot of the things I thought were “pie in the sky” for Apple to release this year.

  • Facial recognition more liberal – Yes. I think we got this and much more with all of the Google Photos-like “advanced computer vision” features. I can’t wait to see how well this works. If it works as good or better than Google Photos it will be mind blowing to a lot of iOS users.
  • Sync Smart Albums – Unknown.
  • Auto-generated Albums (for things like water, etc.) – Yes.
  • Face tagging on iOS – Yes.
  • Map view – Yes.
  • Tagging on iOS – Unknown. (But I still hope)
  • Spotlight – Perhaps. But it appears I can search for photos with Siri. “Show me photos I took yesterday” So I’ll take it.

Many of the other things that I had hoped they’d improve are under-the-hood improvements so I’ll need to wait and see if I get them.

As I was watching yesterday’s WWDC Keynote I felt like Apple was reading my blog and simply checking off the boxes.

That was a strong WWDC Keynote. Huge leaps forward in software and services. A near impossible amount of work has been accomplished.

Well all of the Photos updates I wanted for iOS 10 look like they are happening. Wow.

macOS looks like a great update. Hair Force One continues to be Apple’s best presenter.

This tvOS update is also pretty great. Looks like it might be time to update.

This watchOS update is an incredible improvement. Apple must have a huge amount of resources on Watch.

MSFT’s E3 Xbox Keynote has had gallons and gallons of more blood in it than Apple’s WWDC Keynote will. Turning off E3 Keynote.

WWDC 2016 wish list

Wish lists have been swirling around these last few days and many of them are quite good. But none of them are mine. So here is my wish list, not my predictions, for what will be announced today at WWDC.

  • I hope Siri can do a lot more – I think we’re overdue on being able to say things like “Hey Siri, send the photo I just took to my wife.” Or “Hey Siri, open Spotify and play Jack White’s Blunderbuss.” Or “Hey Siri, find a note in Simplenote that I created on May 15th”. Or, even, “Hey Siri, show me all of the photos I’ve taken in Hawaii.”
  • I already wrote my list for Photos and iCloud Photo Library. Any updates to these apps and services whatsoever would be nice since I use them so much. One thing I left out of that post; slightly better video editing. I don’t need iMovie. But a few more video editing tools built into the Photos app would be nice.
  • I’m hoping for big, big changes in the new macOS (formerly Mac OS X). macOS is long overdue for a big update. I wouldn’t mind, even, if it sort of felt like a do-over.
  • My only wish for the much rumored Apple Displays is that they are affordable. But I won’t hold my breath.
  • Lastly, if there are some nice updates to tvOS I’ll pick up the new Apple TV.

Anything other than the above will be icing on the cake. I love Keynote days.