As we get close to an event like this year’s WWDC, I always feel it’s useless to make predictions – if you’re right, it’s often because news has leaked and, if you’re wrong, your bad predictions are still very much in the air. I’d rather talk about what I’d like to see at such an event, both as a user of Apple products and as an analyst of the market. Here then, is my wish list for this year’s WWDC.
Context from Past WWDCs
I’ve just gone back and looked at the last three years’ WWDCs and what was announced and how. Here’s a quick summary of how the keynote time was spent:
There are several things you can see here:
- Tim Cook’s introductory remarks have shortened from 17 minutes in 2013 to just 5 minutes last year, as the sheer volume of other announcements has grown
- Time spent on OS X has also collapsed. Though it was fairly consistent at roughly half an hour in 2013 and 2014, it got just 18 minutes of stage time in 2015
- For all that people seem to speculate every year about new hardware at WWDC, it hasn’t actually had any meaningful stage time since 2013, when new MacBook Airs, the cylindrical Mac Pro, and updates to Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme were announced on stage in a 12 minute segment
- iOS takes the lion’s share of time, at 45 minutes in 2013 and roughly an hour in 2014 and 2015
- In 2015, two new topics – watchOS and Apple Music – took up over 40 minutes between them, which contributed to the squeeze on the introduction and OS X
It’s also worth noting the content of each of those segments. In 2013 and especially in 2014, there was a very long list of new features and enhancements for both OS X and iOS, as well as fairly significant overhauls of the look and feel of the two platforms. That led to complaints Apple had focused too much on new gimmicks and shiny things and not enough on basic performance. As such, 2015 saw something of a toning down of the new in favor of what was pitched as performance and stability improvements, along with a smaller number of feature enhancements.
My Wish List for this Year
On that basis, here’s my wish list for this year:
- Don’t spend time on watchOS – I’d rather see Apple focus on WatchOS 3 in the fall, when they’ll have new hardware. As I wrote in my one year anniversary piece on the Watch, more than anything else it needs more powerful innards and, until it has that, there’s little sense in a new numerical release. Better to announce new hardware in September with a launch later, along with WatchOS 3. Though WatchOS got just 18 minutes last time around, it’s time Apple doesn’t really have to spend with everything else it needs to cover. Last year’s keynote suffered from feeling rushed and also ran over by about 20 minutes compared to its usual two hour run time and things need to be eliminated to avoid that this year.
- Make Siri and Spotlight a major focus in the iOS segment – as I mentioned, iOS usually takes up about half the keynote. I’ve no doubt there will be other new useful features and functions, but what I want to see is some real emphasis on Siri, Spotlight, and the associated functionality. There’s been a strong narrative recently of Apple falling behind in AI and Apple needs to come out strongly and demonstrate why it isn’t true. That means showing off better performance, both in terms of voice recognition and natural language processing, but also in the range of things Siri can do. That, in turn, means opening up the platform to third party app developers. This isn’t just something that can be switched on – it requires careful thinking about how human beings will interact naturally with the variety of apps they have on their phones but I’m convinced Apple can make it work. Apple also needs to demonstrate how its recent acquisitions have paid off in improving Siri.
- Demonstrate iMessage as a platform – the other big thing I’d like to see around iOS (though it also applies to OS X) is in turning iMessage into a platform. I’ve written quite a bit over the past year about the potential for iMessage as more than just a messaging app, including peer-to-peer payments, a conversational UI for Siri, a platform for third-party bots, and more. I think it’s time Apple turns this on for its developers. The best part of this is it won’t involve a huge new platform developers need to develop for a la watchOS or tvOS. Many developers are already working on the foundations for such a product and, if Apple designs it right, iMessage should be an easy extension to those efforts.
- Apple Pay in the browser – I want to see Apple leverage Handoff and TouchID to enable Apple Pay in the browser, not just in iOS but in OS X as well. I’m still using PayPal and credit cards regularly to buy things online. I’d much rather use Apple Pay in those cases, as a more secure and easier to use alternative.
- Fix Apple Music and iTunes – I’m not as down on Apple Music and iTunes as some others but even I can see they have their flaws. The simplest fix on OS X would appear to be separating the purchase, consumption, and syncing features into at least two, if not three, separate apps. With many people now syncing their devices with iCloud rather than a computer, the syncing element could easily be removed from iTunes and put in its own separate application. I think the store as a whole could also be separated out, much in the way the App Store already is, leaving iTunes as purely a consumption app. You could even argue for separate consumption apps as in iOS, one for videos, and another for music. This fragmentation is familiar already from iOS, and would allow each app to be much simpler and more focused on one or two use cases. I’m not as convinced that separation is the answer on iOS, where having your owned music and Apple Music side by side is a feature not a bug, both for me and for others, according to surveys I’ve conducted. But an easier UI is a must here too.
- Deepen the uniqueness of padOS – I made a case a while back for treating the iPad Pro version (or perhaps all iPad versions) of iOS as its own fork of the OS which would free it up to be optimized for the form factor, including the Smart Keyboard and Pencil. I think the current version of iOS is a great starting point for what the iPad is becoming but it needs to be designed explicitly for devices of that size and, with its unique accessories, tying it to the iPhone just doesn’t make sense anymore. I’d love to see more emphasis from Apple on making iOS on the iPad shine in its own right.
- Focus the tvOS segment on gaming – Apple TV is a great product in many respects, although a number of apps still feel like they’re not optimized for the new interface. Apple has made some big improvements in the first few point releases in terms of both bug fixes and user interface tweaks which make it a great device for watching TV. But the limitations on games using only third party controllers are stifling the platform and these limitations need to be removed. Apple should announce a lifting of these restrictions and other improvements aimed at stimulating great games for the Apple TV.
- One More Thing – I suspect this is pretty much a minority cause, but I’d love it if Apple’s iWork apps on iOS featured proper integration with Dropbox. It’s one of the biggest peeves I have when using the iPad Pro for work. I use both iWork and Dropbox just fine on the Mac but can’t do so in the same way in iOS. Microsoft Office already offers this integration and there’s partial integration with Dropbox in iWork already, so I can’t imagine it would take much to fix this.
Will I get all of this? I very much doubt it. I suspect Apple will do much of this eventually, but I’m not convinced it will all come this year. In particular, I suspect we will see watchOS debut at WWDC and, as a result of that and the other ground Apple has to cover, I suspect we’ll see either another rushed or over-long keynote. But I’m hoping that at least some of my wishes do come true this year. For the rest, there’s always next year!