El Capitan, iOS 9 and watchOS

I woke up Monday morning hoping for a relatively short WWDC keynote. I was scheduled to work at my day job at 3PM and my best chance was for Apple to have pulled the Apple TV because it wasn’t ready, not because the event was jam-packed with announcements. I was able to watch most it live — up until about the midpoint of the watchOS 2 segment — but the lengthiness of the event was foreshadowed for me by John Gruber on Twitter. In the end, Apple delivered a keynote bursting at the seams with the entire show clocking in near 2.5 hours.

I wasn’t able to finish watching the keynote until Tuesday afternoon when I got out of work. But while I watched the keynote I did what has become tradition for me — take quick notes during and polish it up afterwards. In past years I’ve always taken paper notes, but I decided to try taking them directly in the WordPress compose window in hopes of speeding up the process — it’s worked out well so far.

OS X El Capitan

Firstly, I believe Mark Gurman and John Gruber called the name El Capitan on The Talk Show last week. And, I really like it. Apple’s move from big cats could have taken them in numerous directions, but I’m happy they came to the naming system they did. Simply calling it “El Cap” is going to feel just as comfortable as the name “Yosemite” by the time it ships this fall.

As many of us hoped, Apple focused on performance and stability over large, user-facing features in El Cap. They’re bringing updates like pinned websites in Safari, improved window management, audio muting and finding features in Safari tabs, Spotlight advancements, and more. But, you’re not going to find anything as groundbreaking as OS X releases of yore.

Apple worked to improve OS X’s performance with El Capitan which allowed for — among other imorovements —1.4x faster app launching, 2x faster app switching, and 4x faster PDF opening in Preview. This will be a welcomed change for every Mac user and especially anyone with an aging machine — any software advancement that can improve the lifespan of a computer is alright in my book.

Apple has also brought Metal to the Mac which will give developers powerful tools for building more efficient games and high-end, computationally-hungry applications.

El Capitan really feels like the Snow Leopard release we’ve all been waiting for. I waited months to install Yosemite, but I doubt I’ll do that this year. As I get older I put more of a focus on stability and performance over new features and design changes. I can’t say I’ll be installing it day one, but I imagine I’ll have it running on all of my Macs shortly after release. El Cap is exactly the kind of software I get excited about these days.

El Capitan is available to developers today and Apple is again releasing a public beta in July with the final release being made available to everyone this fall.

iOS 9

I’d consider the landmark feature in iOS 9 to be what Apple’s calling “Proactive Assistant.” It’s basically Apple’s answer to Google Now with one key difference — the majority of the work is being done on your device not the server. And for anything that does require Apple’s servers, it’s completely anonymized. That means it’s not associated with your Apple ID or any of Apple’s other services.

What Proactive Assistant actually does is pretty neat. Your iPhone can learn your habits and do things like offer up Now Playing when you plug in headphones, automatically add calendar events from incoming email, and offer suggestions for the identity of unknown incoming calls based on information in your email.

And then there’s the advancements to Siri which also fall under the Proactive Assistant umbrella. Siri is now contextually aware, so you can voice commands such as “remind me of this when I get home” while viewing a webpage and when you get home the reminder will link you to the webpage you were viewing. This was one of the big features announced for Android M at Google I/O. But given the rate of adoption of Android, I expect more people will be using Siri for this sort of interaction than there will be Android handset owners using it this year.

The last Proactive Assistant feature is iOS 9’s new search functionality which returns to its old home — left of the first home screen. It offers suggestions of who you might want to contact, apps you might want to launch, locations near you, and the latest news. Apple seems to be dropping the name Spotlight from iOS’s search functionality which I find a bit odd. Spotlight is such a strong brand in my mind and I don’t understand why they’d get rid of it

But, the biggest change to search from a developer standpoint is the new API which will allow users to search for content within third-party applications. And, the results even deep link to that content within the app so there’s no need to hunt for it once you know what app it resides in.

The proof is in the pudding when it comes to how useful all of this proactive, contextually aware functionality is — it all depends on how accurate it is when used in the real world. I have high hopes for it though, especially the ability to search within applications. If I could use it to search through my Instapaper queue, RSS feeds, email, and Twitter all at the same time I could find myself using it on a daily basis.

Apple announced a few new features in the applications we’ve already come to expect in iOS — Passbook is being renamed “Wallet;” Notes now features a formatting bar to add checklists, photos, and drawings to your notes; and Maps will feature transit directions starting in select cities. I know a lot of people who are really excited about the addition of transit directions, but I don’t live in a city where that’s necessary. I do think though, that I’ll probably start using Notes. Currently, I hand draw checklists for the week in Paper to help me keep track of my new writing schedule. Notes will likely replace this, admittedly pretty janky system. But, I doubt it’ll ever make me part with the best notes app for iOS.

There is one major new app in iOS 9, though — News. Apple is killing Newsstand and replacing it with a brand new Flipboard-style app that allows you to subscribe to publications and read them in a beautifully designed format.

News is exactly what I was asking for when I wrote about the future of online publishing — an RSS reader that doesn’t look like an RSS reader. I think the key to it is the directory that users can search and browse in order to find the news sources they want. No need to copy and paste feed URLs, just search for the publication and subscribe. And, I like the addition of suggestions which offers you publications that you might be interested in based on the other sites that you follow.

I hope News ends up being a big deal, I’m already pumped about helping my fiancée get this setup on her iPhone so she can read Bon Appétit, Smart Classroom Management, and anything else she’s interested in. She’s asked me about RSS readers in the past, but nothing stuck for her because of the complicated setup and the difficulty in subscribing to new feeds. News seems like the perfect fit for her.

I’ve signed up to have Initial Charge included in News and hope it’ll make it in to the launch of the service. I’m already dreaming up new ways I can package my writing into a weekly publication, specifically for Apple News. And the simple fact that I’m thinking this way is why I think News will be successful — it gets writers excited about publishing again. I’m a little disappointed that the Apple News Format isn’t available yet, but we’ll have to settle for publishing content with our RSS feeds for now.

iPad

I absolutely love what Apple has done with the iPad in iOS 9. They’re finally adding incredible features that fit the iPad and help it feel distinctly different than other iOS devices. The biggest of which is true multi-tasking. Swipe in from the side and you’ll be able to view two apps at once. This will be a boon for writers like myself who like to reference their sources while Making the Clackity Noise. I can’t wait to have Tweetbot and Safari open at the same time while I’m consuming content or Sunstroke and Vesper open while I’m creating it.

Apple’s also added new text selection features to the iPad where you can swipe your fingers around the keyboard to move the cursor or select text. And now, the command+tab keyboard shortcut will function just as it does on the Mac when using a bluetooth keyboard with your iPad.

Between multi-tasking, the app switching shortcut, and the new text selection features, iOS 9 feels like it was built for writers. I’m really excited to pen many a long-form article on my iPad in iOS 9 — purchasing an iPad Air 2 reminded me of my love for writing and I hope iOS 9 will reaffirm it. I just hope that fancy new picture-in-picture playback option for video doesn’t keep me distracted too often.

There’s a slew of other new features in iOS 9 — improved battery life, low-power mode, ReplayKit, and wireless support for CarPlay — but the above are by far the most interesting. Apple has already released iOS 9 to developers and will be offering a public beta in July with a full release to the world this fall. I’ve signed up for the public beta — I’m over the moon about these new iPad features and want to start using them as soon as possible.

watchOS 2

The biggest new addition with watchOS 2 is clearly native, third-party applications. It will allow developers to run both the user interface and app logic on the Watch instead of having to run the app logic on the iPhone and communicate that information over bluetooth. This should allow for significant performance improvements for third-party apps — something that was a big sticking point in early reviews.

Apple’s also adding a ton of new features and small refinements to Apple Watch — three new watch faces, the ability to add more than 12 friends to your favorites circle, use multiple colors in a single drawing with Digital Touch, email replies, FaceTime audio, and more.

One of my favorite new additions is a feature they’re calling “Time Travel.” It lets you rotate the Digital Crown while viewing the watch face to adjust the time and display information in your complications that would be relevant at the selected time. So, you’ll see calendar events, weather information, etc. for the given time. And speaking of complications, Apple is now giving developers the ability to build their own. This happened a lot quicker than I expected it to — I figured we’d have to wait until watchOS 3.

Apple’s also added a nightstand mode which will display the time oriented properly with Apple Watch on its side. In this mode you can set an alarm and the Digital Crown and side button act as the snooze and off button respectively. I saw some talk on Twitter about horizontal docks and I wouldn’t be surprised if that became the default orientation for the majority of dock products on the market — it just makes sense.

There are also some enhancements to Siri who can now start workouts, display glances, and interact with HomeKit enabled devices. But truthfully, third-party apps is really the only thing anybody’s talking about with watchOS 2. I think Apple has introduced some useful new features, but its nothing compared to what developers are going to do when they’re able to release native apps to the world this fall.

Conclusion

I’ve decided to save my thoughts on Apple Music. I’ll be publishing that piece within the next few days or early next week depending on how much free time I have (I’m taking a four day weekend and doing some traveling, so Friday through Monday is likely going to be a productivity-free time for me). But spoiler alert, I think Apple would have been wise to either drastically reduce the amount of time spent on Apple Music or save it for the fall when they would traditionally announce music-based products (hopefully giving themselves more time to streamline the presentation).

With updates to all three of Apple’s major platforms being announced on the same day, I’m pretty happy with where they’re headed. I think it was important for them to tap on the brakes and focus on improving software stability and performance. I’d be really concerned if Tim Cook went on stage and announced major feature upgrades for all or most of their platforms. I always live in fear that they’re wearing themselves thin and software announcements like this help reassure me that they know when to take it slow — I don’t need major new features every year.

This is also the first OS X update that I’m really interested in upgrading to since their move to California location-based names. And I think that’s a good sign. It didn’t take much for them to turn me around, in fact it took an OS release with a relatively short list of new features and a focus on performance and stability to get me back on board as an early adopter.

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