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What Apple's WWDC announcements reveal about products to come

If you were looking for the iPhone 6 or some revolutionary new product like the iWatch, WWDC was probably a disappointment. To the casual observer (and even some not-so-casual ones), Apple’s big show may seem to have produced very little of consequence, with nary a reason to step foot in an Apple Store, let alone take out your credit card.

But to savvy Apple watchers, it was a wellspring of potential. Along with a pair of significant updates to OS X and iOS, Apple unleashed a slew of tools for app makers, opening up exciting new avenues for iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps. And though there might not have been any actual hardware announcements to speak of, the technologies unleashed at WWDC have clearly positioned Apple for a torrent of exciting new products—some perhaps even due this fall.

More pixels, less problems

We’ve been hearing that the iPhone 6 will have a larger screen since before the launch of the 5s, but even if you don’t trust the mounting evidence, Apple dropped a few hints of its own at WWDC. The most obvious one is right in the Xcode 6 beta, which includes a new simulation option for “Resizable iPhone.” But perhaps even more foretelling is the way we interact with apps and menus in iOS 8.

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The radial menus demonstrated in iOS 8's version of Messages suggests a larger-screen iPhone could be in the works.

Apple has long touted one-handed operation as one of the iPhone’s greatest strengths, and iOS 8 is teeming with subtle navigational enhancements that suggest the same will be true when the display grows: Interactive notifications give us defined spaces to respond without needing to switch our grip; extensions let us work in various apps while avoiding multiple trips to the multitasking carousel; and Mail’s new triage options and drafts management dramatically cut down on the number of taps and amount of scrolling we need to do. Even Messages’s new radial recording menus push the controls toward the edge of the screen, making it natural to operate with one hand and limiting our thumb calisthenics.

Look but don’t touch

Back when Steve Jobs unveiled iCloud at WWDC 2011, he declared he was demoting the Mac to “just be a device.” Yosemite finally solidifies that vision, and while it may have taken its share of design cues from iOS, Apple made it clear that OS X isn’t going the way of Windows 8 anytime soon. Features like Handoff and Instant Hotspot create a tighter relationship between all of our devices, but nothing about Yosemite gives the sense that Apple is considering a touch-screen iMac.

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The Mac may have been demoted to just another device, but WWDC showed that it's on equal footing with the iPhone and iPad.

Retina displays, however, are another story. Along with a curious line of code that references a whopping 6400 x 3600 resolution, Yosemite’s lighter, flatter interface and thinner fonts are clearly built to look best on the sharpest of screens. They might not all make it in before 2015, but it shouldn’t be long before visual pixels are obsolete across all of Apple’s displays.

Wear oh wear?

iWatch rumors have been around long enough for Samsung to release two generations of Galaxy Gears, but it suddenly seems like an Apple wearable device is closer than ever. Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac published an exhaustive report examining how the technologies in iOS 8 and Yosemite could be used in a scaled-down iOS interface, and much of it mirrors our own observations—like how the Health app ties in nicely with the iWatch’s presumed new fitness sensors and how Notification Center widgets could work on a tiny screen.

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iOS 8's Health app would seem to cry out for an accessory that can help monitor these vital stats.

Moreover, several of the technologies that Apple’s Craig Federighi demoed at WWDC could speed third-party developers on their way to creating software for a wearable device. For example, the introduction of Extensibility makes it easier for developers to share code between different versions of the same app. Likewise, cross-app communication could allow an app on an iOS device to talk to a companion app on a wearable device. And, of course, the aforementioned resizable screen option in the iOS Simulator makes it feasible to actually test software for a smaller-screen device.

Security guard

Apple has always taken security seriously, but iOS 8 ups the ante considerably, taking on location trackers with randomized MAC addresses and adding heavy layers of encryption for enterprise users. And beyond the system-level safeguards, Apple has opened up Touch ID to developers, allowing third-party apps to better protect our data and safely integrate it with the sites that request it.

With iOS 8, Apple's opening up Touch ID for use by third-party apps, so the technology may finally be destined for iPads, too.

So it only seems natural that Apple’s fancy fingerprint scanner would make its way into new iPads later this year. The 5s was something of a beta run for Touch ID, with speed and accuracy gradually improving in each iOS 7 update. Now that it has an API, Apple is signaling that Touch ID is ready for prime time, and it will no doubt be a central feature across all of this year’s iOS devices.

Surprise factor

But above all, if there’s one thing we can take away from WWDC, it’s that Apple can still keep a secret. From Swift to Handoff, Quick Type to iCloud Drive, Apple truly kept us on the edge of our seats during the keynote, even without any hardware announcements to grab the headlines. Throughout the entirety of the fun, lively presentation, Cook and Federighi seemed to revel in the reaction of the crowd in a way not seen since Steve Jobs himself controlled the slide clicker.

But it wasn’t just about what we saw on the stage. WWDC returned an air of mystery and excitement to Apple that had been missing from some more recent events; now that it has manufacturing plants all over the world, Apple can’t possibly keep everything under wraps, but Cook proved he is serious about doubling down on the secrets that matter.

And it’s a pretty good bet that he’ll pull a couple more out of his hat before the year is up.

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