The five WWDC announcements that will have the greatest impact

Everyone’s talking about the Mac Pro, but these are the things that will really make a difference for a billion Apple users.

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Everybody’s talking about the Mac Pro and the Pro Display XDR, but at those sky-high prices, Apple’s going to be lucky to sell even a million of them. They’re very cool products for serious creative professionals, but they don’t mean anything at all for the vast majority of the billion-plus Apple users out there.

Some of the other things Apple announced will have much bigger consequences for you.

Privacy crackdown

Take the new privacy stuff in iOS 13. It’s not sexy, but it may drastically change the way popular apps operate.

Right now, many apps let you sign in using Google or Facebook. Which is convenient, but it also gives the app—and Google or Facebook—all sorts of data about you. Personal info you didn’t even know you were sharing.

The new Sign in with Apple feature gives you the same convenience, but protects your privacy because it doesn’t share any hidden personal details. It can even hide your email address behind a randomized fake forwarding address. Apple doesn’t get a bunch of tracking data from the app, and the app doesn’t get all sorts of personal info from Apple.

Apple’s even making an App Store policy that requires any app that allows single sign-on buttons (like the Google or Facebook ones) to also include Sign in with Apple.

apple wwdc sign in with apple Apple

All the convenience of single sign-on from social networks, with none of the tracking.

Plus, Apple’s cracking down on apps that scan nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth beacons to figure out your location, even though they didn’t ask for it.

These changes may sound kind of dry, but it means thousands of popular apps are going to have to find a way to make money other than gobbling up all your personal info without telling you about it. That could be huge.

Enter iPadOS

Another big change is the split of iOS and what Apple is now calling iPadOS. Obviously, the iPad has had features you don’t find on the iPhone for years. But as they’ve grown even further apart, Apple is recognizing the iPad’s unique capabilities with a name change.

apple wwdc ipados Apple

Yes, it’s still iOS with exclusive features, but the iPadOS name change indicates a clear and exciting vision.

Sure, iPadOS is iOS 13 with iPad exclusive features, just as iOS 12 had features on the iPad that weren’t on iPhone. It’s not a new code base or anything. The naming change is indicative of a change in the way Apple thinks about its tablets. It’s a vision statement, a declaration that Apple is actively growing the iPad into a product you can do “real work” with. As it lifts away the longstanding limitations of iOS, it no longer seems appropriate to call it iOS.

When you think about it, the writing was on the wall from the moment Apple replaced the Lightning port on the iPad Pro with a USB-C port. The iPad is no longer just a big iPhone (as the old slander goes) and that’s going to become even more apparent as iPadOS grows further from iOS over the next couple years.

Apple “gets” gaming?

Games are the most popular category in the iOS App Store, but Apple’s deliberate gaming moves have almost always fallen flat. Game Center is a bust. Macs still suffer from lots of systemic problems when it comes to playing games. The history of Apple trying to do gaming things is littered with failures.

I mean, we all know that a billion people play games on an iPhone, but core gamers don’t think of that as “real” gaming (whatever that means). And nobody really games on a Mac, right? The longstanding critique of Apple is that is simply doesn’t “get” gaming. Not game developers, and not gamers. It’s only because the iPhone is such a gigantic target market with fairly predictable hardware that game developers flock to it. 

At WWDC, Apple announced that the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad will officially support Xbox One and PS4 controllers. That completely changes the game—no pun intended—and means big things for the Apple Arcade service coming this fall.

wwdc controller support Apple

Big cheers from the audience as Tim Cook announced Xbox One S and PS4 controller support.

Developers can now make so-called “real games” for the service. The kind they’re used to making; the ones that rely on the controllers that tens of millions of core gamers use every day on their Xboxes and PlayStations. 

This is a complete capitulation by Apple! There has been no technical reason for Apple not to do this. Instead, it insisted on only supporting specially-licensed MFi controllers.

Why the sudden change? It’s all about Apple Arcade. The iPhone is such a huge business that Apple can have a “you need us more than we need you” attitude toward game development for it. But developers don’t need to sign on with Apple Arcade. If Apple’s going to have real premium content for this upcoming subscription service—which is clearly critical for getting it off the ground—it’s going to need to listen to traditional “core” game developers and gamers.

Supporting popular console controllers on its platforms is a clear indication that Apple’s attitude has changed, and it’s starting to listen to what developers and gamers actually want.

Certainly, Apple’s got further to go. Consumer-grade Macs should be better game machines, and that means better GPUs in base Mac models, better input and audio frameworks for game developers, and more effort put into optimizing the OS and drivers for games, specifically. But if Apple’s willing to effectively kill it’s MFi program for game controllers to support popular competing gaming products, anything is possible.

Apple Watch starts to break away

Apple’s making some big changes to watchOS, too. There’s the usual slate of new apps and watch faces, but there are even bigger changes to the way you get apps in the first place.

To date, the Apple Watch has been strictly an iPhone accessory. Every Apple Watch app needs an iPhone companion app, and you have to find and install those apps on your connected iPhone. With watchOS 6, you’ll be able to browse the App Store, buy, download, and run apps entirely on your Apple Watch.

watch os 6 ind apps Apple

Apps running on watchOS 6 won't need an iPhone to install.

Apple’s getting dangerously close to making it possible to buy and use an Apple Watch completely on its own. It’s not there yet: You still need an iPhone to use your Apple Watch with watchOS 6 (to set up your Apple ID and so on). But Apple is so close to making Apple Watch an entry point into the Apple ecosystem for millions people. The first Apple device they buy.

It’s not a bad idea for such a popular and coveted piece of tech.

iOS apps on Mac will be huge

Finally, maybe the biggest thing Apple announced at WWDC was Project Catalyst. This used to go by the code-name Marzipan, and is a set of tools that make it almost trivially easy for any developer with an iPad app to get it running on the Mac, with very little extra code.

Apple said developers they tested this with got their Mac apps up and running in as little as a day. It will take longer for a lot of devs, especially if they do extra work to make the Mac version more Mac-like, but it’s a huge start. It’s going to be outrageously popular and result in an explosion of Mac apps.

wwdc catalyst mac Apple

Apple promises that getting iPad apps running on the Mac is as easy as checking a box. But a bit more work is required to make it really fit.

Once there are tens of thousands of popular iPhone and iPad apps on the Mac, we could be looking at a real surge in Mac sales. After all, ten times as many people have an iPhone than a Mac. When they go to buy a computer one day, are they going to get the one that has all the exact same apps they love on their iPhone, or one where they have to start over with a new software library from scratch?

Making it super easy to convert iOS apps into Mac apps could result in the greatest selling point the Mac has had in a decade or more.

Of course, the world has mostly moved on from traditional computers. People have them, they use them at work and at home, but they don’t upgrade often. Catalyst isn’t going to change that and make laptops the Hot Thing in tech again. The world is still going to be all about those phones and tablets.

But it could, after a couple years, completely change our expectations for apps. We may start to expect any good app to follow us seamlessly from phone to tablet to laptop to desktop. That all starts with Apple taking the world’s most influential and robust mobile app development environment and bringing it to the Mac.

Now if only that Mac Pro was a few thousand dollars cheaper...

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