Next week is Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference and, along with the rest of the Tech.pinions crew, I’ll be watching the announcements closely. At this late stage, it makes little sense to try to predict what we’ll see next week – there are a number of credible reports out there about at least some aspects of what’s on tap and we’ll know the rest soon enough.
Instead, here are some of the things I’m looking for as both a user of Apple’s products and services and as an industry observer who wants to see the companies in this space keep pushing those products and services forward. I’ve done similar exercises twice in the past, in 2014 and 2016, in case you’d like to see how those turned out.
Allow iOS to Continue to Evolve to Meet Disparate Needs
I’ve called in the past for the creation of a “padOS” – a variant of iOS focused on either iPads in general or the iPad Pro specifically. The naming and separation is largely symbolic and whether or not Apple does it is less important than that it allows iOS to continue to evolve separately in its iPhone and iPad versions. Apple’s current big push around the iPad is positioning it as a fully-fledged computer that can be used for advanced productivity tasks. That means both its role and the way it functions has to evolve separately from those of the iPhone. The iPad needs to support more sophisticated multitasking, a different home screen layout, and more advanced apps than the iPhone. Apple needs to set apart the iPad version of iOS more clearly for developers so they catch Apple’s vision and believe they can create not just great experiences but great business models around apps on the iPad.
The challenge for Apple is it has to allow iOS on the iPad to evolve in such a way it doesn’t break the core value propositions of focus and simplicity which have always characterized the OS and the devices it runs on. It would be easy to say Apple should simply either port macOS to an iPad form factor or make a touchscreen Mac, but neither would be the right solution. Apple has to strike a careful balancing act between enhancing the power and functionality of the iPad without making it seem less like an iPad.
When it comes to the iPhone, I want to see what Apple can do in augmented reality, which has already been a theme in all three of the previous big developer conferences this year. With dual cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus and arguably the most used cameras in the world, Apple is in a unique position to do interesting things with AR in the native camera app. That’s still where many of us take our pictures, even if they’re subsequently exported to social media apps for sharing. So Apple has a lot of power to combine software and hardware optimization to provide interesting overlays on photos and videos and open those capabilities up to developers. I would guess this might start with lenses and filters but there’s so much more developers could invent and create, given the right tools.
Siri needs to Evolve Faster
Siri was a major focus last year but not necessarily in the ways I’d hoped or expected. Siri extensions were a great new feature and were complemented by extensions across Maps and iMessage. But Apple did relatively little to move Siri forward as a standalone voice assistant, touting relatively few advances in voice recognition, natural language processing, or its own ability to serve up more relevant responses to queries it properly recognizes and processes. I’d like to see Siri as a voice assistant become better at recognizing and understanding what I’m saying and more consistently serving up relevant responses. Apple has acquired a number of companies over recent years which should help with this and I’m hoping we’ll see some big advances this year, including more conversational and contextual understanding.
In the context of Siri, I’d love to see a home speaker from Apple that would compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices, specifically the Home, have grown on me over the past few months as I’ve had one in my home but, as someone who’s fairly heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, I’ve found them frustrating. I’ve had to use other music services, messaging platforms, reminder apps and so on with these devices and, while I’ve made that transition, in some cases I’ve simply found those devices less useful as a result. An Apple speaker that would combine Siri, Apple Music, AirPlay, Reminders, iMessage, and more would be a huge advance for me and, I would imagine, for tens of millions of others. I think others have been reluctant to trust Amazon or Google with their personal data or have suspected these devices were really Trojan Horses for selling more goods or ads and, therefore, resisted them.
But Siri in that device has to be really good because the bar Amazon and Google have set in the home speaker space is high, at least in terms of voice recognition. Siri has so far always been somewhat constrained by the devices which contained it, none of which were designed first and foremost for fantastic voice recognition. A home speaker would remove that excuse. Amazon and Google have shown us what can be done in a dedicated device with mic arrays designed for far-field voice recognition and Apple now has to show it can match them and, ideally, exceed them in other areas such as ecosystem integration and audio quality.
macOS needs to Continue to Integrate and Differentiate
One of the key themes of recent years when it comes to what is now macOS is integration with iOS, whether in the form of features like Continuity and Handoff which directly integrate with other devices, or whether it’s in the form of user interface conventions, apps, and so on which now exist across Apple’s portfolio. But as Apple pushes the iPad Pro towards becoming a more powerful computer, it can’t simply leave the Mac and macOS where it is – it needs to establish a distinct identity and purpose for them in contrast to the iPad Pro. That means continuing to push the boundaries of what the Mac can do that an iPad can’t and demonstrating what it can do uniquely well because of the OS, the power of the hardware, and so on.
Beyond that increased differentiation, there’s still a role for integration and borrowing concepts and user interfaces from iOS. Nowhere is that truer than in iTunes. That software began life as a way to organize and then later, sync music to iPods, but it has become so much more since. Every time I fire up iTunes on my Mac, I have to first navigate to the right broad section – Apps, Music, Movies, TV Shows, or Books – and then to either a store or library mode (or more in the case of Music). There’s simply too much going on in that app and it needs to be broken out into separate apps for Music, Video, and syncing, at the very least (possibly even with a separate store for all of the above) to focus those content apps. That would streamline consumption, make the apps less confusing and easier to use, and make people more willing to use services like Apple Music on their Macs.
tvOS needs a Clear Focus
Ever since Apple launched the fourth generation Apple TV, it’s had a dual role as both a video consumption device and a sort of low-powered gaming console. That’s caused some confusion among video-centric users who in some cases don’t see why they have to spend significantly more on an Apple TV relative to comparable Roku devices (not to mention much cheaper Chromecasts) but it has also left gamers a little frustrated that the Apple TV doesn’t do more. Apple needs to decide how serious it is about gaming and build the Apple TV hardware and tvOS to match. It either needs to shift more clearly towards the casual gaming that’s always been the hallmark of iOS, or power up both the hardware and software to enable something more like what people are used to from consoles.
But it also needs to continue to improve the TV viewing experience. I actually like the TV app Apple introduced last year quite a bit – it consolidates my viewing in a number of apps like Hulu, CBS, and Apple’s own TV and Movies apps and shows me the next episodes or available movies in each. But it’s still glitchy and incomplete – Netflix is the obvious standout on the app side but it also frequently misses episodes I’ve watched (or ones I haven’t) and serves up the wrong episode next in the queue. The concept is good but the execution needs polish. And I really need a way to separate the stuff my kids watch from the stuff I watch. Too often, the first part of my queue is made up of half-watched cartoons rather than what I want to watch next. Some combination of profiles and/or time of day smartness could solve that problem pretty easily.
watchOS needs to Figure Out the App Model
Last year’s WWDC and the fall hardware launch felt like a narrowing of focus for the Apple Watch around health and fitness. I think that was smart and reflected the fact apps on the Watch really haven’t taken off, despite several tweaks to the model. I would expect to see continued enhancements to the health and fitness features on the Watch, possibly including sleep tracking and, ideally, including the ability for third party Watch bands to incorporate more advanced sensors and feed data back to the Watch itself, though that may have to wait until the fall. Apple still needs to figure out what the role of apps is on the Watch and how to make them easier and more compelling to use.
There’s probably more I could add here but that seems to be plenty to go on with. I’m optimistic I’ll get at least some of what I’m looking for next week and I’m certain there will be things I haven’t thought of but which turn out to be great additions too. One thing is certain: with more ground than ever to cover, Apple’s going to have a tough time getting through everything in one two-hour keynote. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some more announcements either before Monday or in later sessions.