What Apple didn't announce at WWDC
In which Dan Moren ponders what Apple declined to reveal, and handicaps our chances of seeing it anytime soon.
The WWDC keynote has come and gone, and along with it the inevitable adrenaline rush of new products, followed by the let-down as we come to grips with all the products that Apple didn’t show off.
Of course, it’s impossible for the folks at Cupertino to announce everything that’s been rumored—there simply isn’t enough time in the day, for one thing. But as the dust settles, I found myself thinking about a few things that either didn’t make the cut, or perhaps still aren’t even on Apple’s agenda.
Siri on the Mac
A reader emailed to ask why OS X El Capitan still didn’t have any support for Siri, and I have to admit I’ve been wondering that myself. After my experiences with the Amazon Echo, I’ve been hoping for a Siri that is always-on, able to take my voice requests no matter where I am in the house. The Mac seemed like a perfect fit.
But as Apple said, El Capitan has been focused around two areas: experience and performance. My guess is that not only does Siri not fit in those categories, but that Apple hasn’t quite figured out how it wants Siri on the Mac to work. For example, though it wouldn’t take much to have a Mac always listening for a “Hey Siri” prompt, Macs lack the seven-microphone array that makes Echo’s voice recognition so impressive.
However, I think that we’re seeing the first hints of Siri on the Mac, thanks to the inclusion of natural-language search via Spotlight in OS X. Over on iOS 9, Siri has become more than just a pretty voice; Apple says the technology “powers” the intelligent search options that it showed off during the keynote, as well as the proactive capabilities that let iOS figure out what information you might want. Some of those features have made their way to El Capitan as well, though not under the rubric of “Siri.” But that could mean we’re one step closer to getting a voice-based assistant on our Macs as well.
A new Apple TV
By late last week, we were already being told not to expect either a new Apple subscription video service or a revamped Apple TV set-top box at WWDC. While the lack of the former didn’t surprise me—those content deals take a long time to iron out—I was disappointed that the latter didn’t come to pass.
In particular, there was no mention of a long-awaited Apple TV SDK that would allow third-party developers to build apps for the box. This is increasingly strange, especially for a company as app-happy as Apple. The second-generation Apple TV debuted in 2010, and its third-party “apps” are still limited to the blessed few channels that mysteriously appear from time to time. The Apple Watch, by comparison, launched with strong support for apps running on the iPhone and now, just six weeks after its release, is already preparing for native apps.
There are already some breadcrumbs that suggest that an Apple TV SDK isn’t too far off, and it can’t come soon enough, but a new set-top box is at the top of my list. In recent months I’ve switched much of my video consumption to the Fire TV, thanks to its support for services like Plex, its snappy performance, and features like voice search. In the meantime, my second-generation Apple TV has not only become stagnant—it didn’t qualify for the latest significant software update—but in some cases has actually gotten less capable, as when Google killed YouTube’s old API.
Nice as the Fire TV is, I’m eagerly anticipating a new Apple TV that will push Amazon’s offering off its current living-room throne.
iPhone lock screen complications
Perhaps the best feature of the Apple Watch is its complications, which present useful information at a glance, all with no interaction from the user whatsoever. In watchOS 2, Apple’s making those even more powerful by allowing third-party developers to have their own apps supply those complications on the watchface. But I’d been hoping for a lateral move where Apple might also allow a similar feature on the iOS lock screen.
While the lock screen on iOS has improved in recent years, it still falls far short of its potential. Right now it acts mainly as a clearing house for notifications, when it could be providing much more contextual information. I’d love, for example, to be able to pull out my phone and see the current weather conditions without doing anything more than bringing up the screen.
But I think an improved lock screen might still be on its way, based on two things. First, the aforementioned introduction of third-party complications in watchOS 2, which provides a precedent for this kind of glanceable information, and second, those same proactive features that Apple showed off for iOS 9. Having the capability to anticipate the information you need would seem to hand-in-hand with having that information easily accessible on your phone or tablet, without having to bring up a specific screen.
Much of that can, of course, be done with notifications on iOS, but the current notification scheme has plenty of limitations. It can be annoying to set up and maintain for developers, they only display in very limited ways, and they can very quickly turn into a barrage for the user who doesn’t carefully manage them. Complications, by comparison, offer a very constrained format that present a fast but passive way of getting pertinent information.
The future is yet to come
Let it not be said that I’m unthankful for all the great new features and products that Apple did announce during this year’s keynote. I’m glad to see the company address the iPad’s vision problem, interested in whether Apple Music will finally convince me to pay for a streaming service, and intrigued to try iOS 9’s many new features. But Apple’s playing chess, not checkers, and it’s always fun to try and decipher where the company’s current moves position it for the future. Even if we have to wait until WWDC 2016 for the payoff.