Apple WWDC19: All the Stuff That Matters to You

All the exciting highlights from the Keynote

Apple's Tim Cook at WWDC 2019

Whether you were sitting at your desk watching on your computer or sitting inside the cavernous Hall2 of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, following Apple’s Word Wide Developers Conference 2019 keynote probably felt like drinking from a firehose.

It’s a lot to digest in a very short period of time. As Apple CEO Tim Cook, and a parade of top-tier Apple executives cruised through five different platforms and one major hardware announcement, figuring out which changes matters to you at home, in the office, and on the road, isn’t easy.

Apple’s years-in-the-making Mac Pro reveal was exciting, but the nearly $6,000 system (not even including that remarkable Pro Display XDR) is for a relatively small set of high-end professional creators with very deep pockets. As is often the case, it’s a disparate collection of platform enhancements that will change your iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac experience.

Apple Takes the Sign-in Wheel

Throughout the two-hour, twenty-minute presentation, Cook and company repeatedly beat the privacy drum, reminding attendees that it cares more about your data and privacy than most other tech companies.

In this case, Apple starts from a position of strength. It doesn’t sell ads and, as a result, doesn’t need your data or demographic profile to drive ad targeting. In short, Apple doesn’t care about your data, though its systems will use it locally (often encrypted) to drive local system artificial intelligence and machine learning to help you. However, up to now, there was only so much Apple could do when it came to its third-party partners and how they use, for instance, your email address and location.

A preview of iOS 13 at WWDC 2019.

With iOS 13, which goes into public beta in July, Apple has a pair of impressive privacy updates that, while maintaining developers’ ability to build relationships with their customers, takes customers privacy to a whole new level.

Sign in with Apple, which, as the name suggests, lets you create an app ID through Apple’s iCloud sign-on system as opposed to the apps, means that you no longer have to give out your email to every single app you download, or, as is often the case, use your social media platform as a way to create an ID with the app or service.

App developers offer social sign on not as a way to access, say, your Facebook info, but because it’s a low-friction way of onboarding new users. The problem is that social and search platforms may not do as good a job managing your privacy and could use the extra information provided by the new app sign up as another way of targeting ads.

Sign in with Apple will basically create a disposable Apple email address for each service, which means you can block emails individually and, if you want, stop the app or service from using your address — one you never have to know (it’s basically unintelligible) — simply by removing that one email. This email also connects to your iPhone’s integrate biometric authentication systems: Face ID and Touch ID. Overall, it’s a smart, impactful update.

Secondarily, Apple will now give you crucial control over how Apps access your location. Typically, you turn on or turn off location services for an app, and it's not unusual to turn them on and forget. iOS 13 will let you activate location services per app on a temporary basis ("Allow just once"); they won't stay on unless you say so. In addition, iOS 13 will now block back-door tracking methods like using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacon triangulation.

Going Dark

I’m going to be honest with you; I struggle to understand the fascination with dark mode on various platforms. I grew up with the original, DOS-based computers, staring at glowing green text on a sea of black. It was not pretty. Still, when Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi announced iOS 13 Dark Mode, the roar in the convention hall was almost deafening.

Apple's Dark Mode, announced at WWDC 2019.

Dark Mode converts all Apple system and app screens from white backgrounds to black and the text from black to white. Dark Mode looks cool but can also help reduce eye fatigue; as a result, Apple added the ability to set a schedule for implementing Dark Mode at, say, bedtime. It also, potentially, extends battery life because the system lights up fewer pixels.

Apple’s done a bit more work than simply reversing some screens. There are tools for third-party app developers to 'dark mode' their own apps. In some cases, this will be easy since the app developers already have their own dark modes, and they simply need the right system call from Apple.

There will be more nuances in iOS 13 Dark Mode than you might realize. Essentially, it’s not all black and white. Since iOS is a layered system, where one screen often overlaps another, the screens can’t all, always be all black. So, the system will subtly lighten one screen as it moves so it’s distinct from the one appearing below it. Trust me, the best kind of programming is the stuff you barely notice.

iPad Gets Its Own OS

Apple finally codified the work it’s been doing to differentiate the iPad iOS experience from the one you get on the iPhone. Things like the dock and multitasking have made Apple’s iPads like a hybrid between the Mac and a mobile touch device. Now the iPad has its own OS, sort of. iPadOS is still built on the foundation of iOS 13, but as Apple has been doing for years, it adds a variety of tablet-specific features, all of which lean hard into productivity.

iPadOS, announced at WWDC 2019.

iPadOS 13 (yes, 13) optimizes apps to take advantage of — even on the iPad Mini — the larger screen. It also lets you pin a Today View in place, which shows you a tight synopsis of the day’s activities, but with a gesture, lets you scroll through the whole list.

Gestures and screen management make up the core of iPadOS changes. The current iPad iOS variation already offers split screen and even a slide-over third app screen, but now iPadOS can remember all the apps you’ve used in slide over and let you scroll through all of them. It will also, with App Exposé, let you view all instances of a single opened app, which means you can now have two instances of one app, like Microsoft Word or Notes, opened up, side-by-side.

iPadOS also updates Files, so they work a lot more like a file manager on a desktop system, opening zip files and, yes, even letting you mount a thumb drive and open it like an external hard drive.

With iPadOS, Apple’s iPad may be the first tablet to self-identify as a desktop for Web sites, which means Safari on iPadOS will automatically load full-blown desktop versions of websites.

Since all current versions of the iPad now support the Apple Pencil, iPadOS now adds gestures specific to the Bluetooth stylus, including one that lets you grab a screenshot by dragging the pencil tip in from the lower left-hand corner.

Watch This

Aside from some excellent new watch faces, there weren’t a lot of wholesale changes to your Apple Watch experience.

A preview of Apple WatchOS at WWDC.

The major updates range from impactful to simply useful (a calculator with a tip calculator is a highlight). I can’t think of another major hardware and software manufacturer that’s used such a public stage to introduce a Menstrual Cycle tracking app. It’s an important moment for more inclusive software development.

Remember the Mac

Poor MacOS Catalina, it got squeezed between the eye-popping Mac Pro and Mojang’s mind-bending “woman inside Minecraft” augmented reality demo. Still, there were a few important updates that stand to improve your Mac experience.

The most important of these is Voice Control. It’s by no means a new idea, but Apple’s video demonstration of how this will work for a quadriplegic was impressive and moving. Apple is smartly bringing this feature to iOS 13, as well.

Catalina also brings something called Sidecar, which lets you use your iPad (running iPadOS, I assume) to extend your Mac screen and control it through the iPad using the Apple Pencil.

Obviously, I’m only scratching the surface of All Apple introduced on Monday.

I didn’t even talk about the Photo app update in iOS 13 (it’s better organized and more active) or Maps’ new street view (activated by clicking a pair of binoculars) that honestly looks richer and smoother than Google’s Street View.

However, it’s also worth noting what Apple didn’t discuss. It spent almost no time on iMessage, aside from the ability to choose to share your real name and a photo of yourself through the system. It added Screen Time to the Mac but didn’t offer any specific news about updates for the iOS.

Plus, after introducing a number of battery management features in previous iOS updates, battery performance didn’t even warrant a keynote mention. This is, though, simply evidence that Apple itself only scratched the surface of all the changes you can expect across its OS updates. Apparently, iOS 13 includes an important battery optimization feature that can watch usage habits and use that information to manage battery recharge routines and, ultimately, extend battery life.

My point is, when you do start updating your own systems, you’ll probably be discovering new tools and features for months to come.

P.S. iTunes is dead. Send condolences to your iPod.