Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), previously known for scintillating product and service introductions, is losing some punch. As the company struggles to sustain iPhone and iPad sales that, for some period, made it the most valuable company in the world, the focus of the keynote for its 27th conference (held June 13 - 17 in San Francisco) targeted updating its primary platforms: iOS, macOS, WatchOS and tvOS. No new hardware platforms were announced.
Maybe it's unfair to expect Apple to regularly announce revolutionary, business-impacting products and upgrades — that's a tall order for any company. But after developing that reputation with such product introductions as the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, Apple's proving it, too, possesses limits.
Announcements at day one of WWDC 2016
Apple announced iOS 10, the next version of its popular mobile platform to be introduced in the fall of 2016 (which is when a new iPhone is expected). Apple touted a multitude of new features, 10 to be specific, at WWDC 2016.
Other new capabilities in iOS 10 include easier access to the Camera and Widgets, QuickType improvements that better enable leveraging context to answer messages and schedule appointments, an all-new design for Maps with easy to access controls and a more proactive experience, and a new integrated VoIP API. The new VoIP capabilities may prove most promising for business users, especially considering the integration can be leveraged with third-party apps such as Cisco's Spark to elevate mobility in the enterprise by enabling receiving calls to a user's work number on a personal iPhone.
iCloud Drive now holds 10 billion customer documents; as such, iCloud Drive is being extended to the Mac Desktop within macOS and will make users' Mac Desktops available on their iOS devices.
Optimized Storage is a macOS improvement that will make room for new files by storing older files in iCloud. macOS will also be smarter about removing files that will not be needed again, including fonts you're not using, inactive downloads, persistent logs, state dump logs, redundant mail data, Safari web caches, and similar items.
Apple announced version 3 of watchOS, which includes optimizations such as a faster application response. The watch will begin keeping favorite apps in memory, making background updates and refreshing information before you look, making it more responsive.
Apple's also made it easier to browse watch apps using the side button. There are other subtle tweaks, including making the interface more familiar by incorporating iOS's swipe-from-bottom gesture to enable opening Control Center. While these are elegant improvements, these aren't significant business-impacting innovations.
Apple believes the future of tvOS is apps, of which there are now over 6,000 for the platform. These apps significantly expand entertainment options, and the updated version will provide a single sign-on feature enabling users to log in to all their network apps using their Apple ID, but such improvements possess limited impact within most business offices.
The announcement that Apple is changing the name of its Mac operating system from OS X to macOS should catch no one by surprise. The company has, for years, been working to better integrate its mobile and desktop platforms and showed some of its hand when naming its watch (watchOS) and TV (tvOS) platforms.
The first release will be called macOS Sierra and will be introduced in the fall of 2016. The focus of macOS is continuity, iCloud enhancements, and Mac user experience tweaks, according to the keynote.
A new Auto Unlock feature will enable a watchOS user's Apple Watch to securely unlock his or her Mac without having to type a password, while a new Universal Clipboard is a continuity feature that will enable users to copy text from their iPhone and paste it in using a Mac.
Siri is also coming to the Mac with macOS Sierra. The voice-activation feature will simplify interacting with the OS for many users, but I'm skeptical how helpful Siri will ultimately prove in business offices, especially cubicle farm environments where ambient noise and other conversations might make using the feature more difficult.
All these improvements are subtle yet elegant changes that make using various Apple products easier. And that's why WWDC continues generating fanfare and coverage.
Business users may want to shift their expectations for future WWDC events and, instead of anticipating revolutionary announcements, hope for consistent improvements that make a variety of integrated Apple products more efficient to use.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.