Every June, developers from around the world (Solsties included) gather in San Jose to see how the world’s most innovative company plans to change the lives of its billions of users and developers in the upcoming year. Coming into this week’s World Wide Developer Conference, all eyes were on the future of Apple's software — think iOS, OS X, and WatchOS — and developer tools, including Xcode and Swift libraries.
Similar to Google’s developer conference last month, Apple emphasized physical and digital wellness as well as doubling down on security and privacy. Focusing on user health and safety is a no-brainer for Apple, and will continue to build goodwill with users across the globe.
The human side of technology aside, Apple also focused on allowing developers to take advantage of its vast ecosystem. Always looking towards what’s next, the tech giant will release new tools to change the augmented reality (AR), machine learning (ML), and digital assistant landscapes.
Taking a page out of Monday’s keynote, here’s our take on Apple’s vision of the future.
1) AR will actually be a reality sooner rather than later
A year ago, we were introduced to ARKit, Apple’s first foray into the world of AR. In the last 12 months few apps have impressed as much as Apple may have hoped, but the AR space has found traction in gaming and … visualizing sharks in your living room. Yesterday Apple made its vision for the future of AR clear by introducing ARKit 2.0.
The biggest addition in 2.0 is shared environments, which allow us to experience augmented realities with our friends. Plus, developers can give multiple users access to the same reality at the same time, opening the door for more multiplayer games and observer experiences. This serves a natural extension to the experiences we've seen in the past year, and something that opens up exciting new opportunities for this technology.
In collaboration with Pixar and Adobe, Apple also introduced USDZ, a new standard file format for representing 3D scenes, assets, and animations. Getting buy-in from these big names shows that Apple is serious about being a leader in the space. There were even demonstrations of USDZ files being shared through iMessage and embedded in web content, further exemplifying how commonplace Apple expects AR experiences to become in the near future.
2) ML will be accessible to all
As the ML hype train keeps chugging along, actual development efforts are still often met with a high barrier to entry. Models are often large, slow to train, and difficult to customize or extend. Apple is addressing all three of these hurdles with the introduction of Core ML 2.0 and Create ML.
Through techniques called batch prediction and quantization, Apple says it has improved model performance by up to 30 percent and achieved up to a 75 percent reduction in model sizes. Together, these updates will provide a better experience on Apples devices and make AI easier to use.
More consistent, smaller models solve a piece of the puzzle, but how about training and extending models? Create ML — Apple's new GPU-accelerated model training SDK — helps solve that time-consuming and challenging piece of ML. Developers will no longer need to use a completely separate workflow and toolkit to train or extend machine learning models. All that work can now be done right on a Mac using Xcode and other native tools which are optimized and tuned for Apple's hardware. Simply drag a training set into a Playground, and Create ML will output a trained model you can drop straight into your Core ML-enabled projects.
3) Siri will finally become a virtual assistant worth having
Despite being in more pockets than its competitors, Siri has long-trailed it’s distant cousins Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in terms of being an accurate and useful virtual assistant. Earlier this year, a report was released explaining exactly how the Siri integration has fallen short over the last seven years. On Monday, however, Apple opened the door for its developer community to help right the ship and turn Siri into an assistant worth using.
Here's how: Apple is adding an "Add to Siri" option within apps, allowing developers to integrate directly with Apple's digital assistant. Users will be able to trigger your app's actions using custom voice commands, making it easier than ever to take advantage of everything your app offers.
It also plans to take new custom integrations one step further by introducing Shortcuts, which allows users to have Siri automate several sequential steps — all triggered by one simple voice command. For example, when you leave work for your nightly commute, simply saying, “Hey Siri, start commute” could share your ETA with your roommate, set your home thermostat to your preferred temperature, calculate and display the fastest route home, and play your favorite radio station.
4) Your identity will be in good hands
In the last few months, we’ve seen a few major headlines regarding privacy and security. Apple — whose ecosystem has always been more closed down than its competitors — doubled down on this topic by introducing new privacy-focused features and functionality in its operating systems.
iOS 12 will introduce a new password creation and management feature, in which Apple will try to help you create strong passwords by default. It'll also audit your managed passwords to see if you're reusing passwords across different sites. If you are, you'll be redirected to a vendor's site to reset your password with something stronger. These passwords are also stored in your iCloud keychain, so you can be sure to easily access them across all your Apple devices.
Apple is also extending protections to the microphone and camera APIs (users will need to explicitly authorize apps to access those features).
5) The single OS experience will come . . . kind of
It’s been long-rumored that Apple will merge its desktop and mobile operating systems. On Monday, we got an update on whether this is will happen from Craig Federighi, Senior VP of Software. Craig answered this question with a keynote animation (that is now a beloved gif).
OS X and iOS will remain separate operating systems. Apple did, however, reveal that it’s working on unifying some of the underlying architecture, with the ultimate goal of allowing iOS apps to run on OS X and ensuring a consistent experience across devices, even if the dream of a single OS seems to be over.
In macOS Mojave, we’ll be getting the News, Stocks, and Voice Memos apps on the desktop for the first time (these three apps are the first to use this newly unified architecture). Apple did share that the apps were completely rewritten, so it’s unclear how easy it will be for developers to get their unmodified apps running on the desktop. This technology isn’t ready for prime time, but it will be an exciting space to watch over the next year — Apple is expected to release a developer preview in 2019.
Aside from sharing its ideas of the future, Apple did share a number of near-term, customer-focused announcements. Memeoji, the next iteration of last year’s Animoji, Walkie-Talkie on the Apple Watch, and FaceTime group chatting have gotten a lot of buzz on Twitter from Apple enthusiasts, and developers everywhere have rejoiced about dark-themes in the new OS X and Xcode.
Even for the world’s largest company, keeping up with constant change in technology means defining your own vision of the future. One thing's certain: Apple’s view of what's next is well underway and will continue to fuel the innovation that has defined the company since its inception.
We’re hosting our annual digital innovation summit — themed “Being Human” — June 21 in Chicago. For more information and to register, visit solsticefwd.com.