watchOS 3, tvOS 10, and macOS Sierra

I spent Monday afternoon sitting on my couch with Tweetbot on my iPhone, Ulysses on my iPad, and Apple’s WWDC keynote playing on the Apple TV. I took notes during the event, kept track of my exceptionally busy Twitter timeline, published bits of commentary myself, and enjoyed the show.

There was a lot to take in with this one. It’s no wonder Apple decided to announce their App Store changes last week — there really wasn’t enough room for them in the keynote. I typically try to fit my thoughts into a single feature article that encompasses the entire keynote, but with so many little software announcements, its taking longer to digest this year. It’s amazing how much more there is to talk about when four platforms get refreshed all at once.

Today, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on watchOS 3, tvOS 10, and macOS Sierra. My current plan is to tackle iOS 10 later this week or early next week. For whatever reason, Apple’s iOS announcements have been the most difficult for me to unpack — potentially because of their placement in the keynote.

watchOS

As I mentioned when I linked to Apple’s watchOS 3 preview page, there was only one thing I wanted for the Apple Watch — improved efficiency — and it looks like we got it. Granted, its hard to say how much of an impact this will have in real world use, but Apple’s on-stage demos were impressive. If apps launch as fast as Apple claims they do, it’ll be a huge win for third-party developers.

Apple also announced new watch faces, improvements and optimizations for wheelchair users, HomeKit support, more detailed workouts, and SOS. But there are four features I wanted to highlight specifically:

  • The Dock: Using the side button to open a quick app launcher seems like a more appropriate use for the hardware button.From what I can tell, the Dock appears to have completely replaced glances on watchOS. Glances is a feature I was interested in, and used regularly when I first purchased the Watch, but I don’t even know the last time I actually used one.
  • Activity Sharing: This is the next logical progression for the Apple Watch as a fitness tracker. All other fitness bands (that I know of) have this feature and I’m glad Apple’s finally adding it. Now I just need more of my friends to own one.
  • Breathe App: I’ve been mildly curious about deep breathing exercises for a couple years, but I’ve never actually tried it. I’ll probably start when watchOS 3 is released this fall.
  • Messages Improvements: This was my biggest pain point when using the Apple Watch — I mentioned it specifically in my WWDC wishlist piece. But it looks like Apple has made some serious optimizations to this process. There’s no need to tap the reply button first, reply options are immediately available. And I’m in love with Scribble — the new text input feature that lets you draw characters to type. This will make responding much easier when the pre-canned messages don’t quite fit.

tvOS

Not too many groundbreaking announcements for the Apple TV, all of it feels like logical next steps rather than revolutionary new features. I know a lot of Apple TV users that would have been happy with Apple only announcing single sign-on. This isn’t a feature that will have an impact on how I use tvOS, though. I haven’t had a cable subscription in over a decade and don’t plan on ever looking back. But this is a really big deal for Apple TV owners who have yet to cut the cord.

The new Apple TV Remote app is interesting to me. I don’t expect I’ll use it and that’s mostly because it’s functionality is limited to what the Siri Remote is capable of. That’s great for some users, but I was hoping that Apple would include a tvOS App Store in the app which allowed users to download and share links to applications from their iOS device. Although, they could be laying the groundwork for this to be added in the future — as evident by the new automatic downloads feature, which will download new apps to your Apple TV, if one is available, when it is first downloaded to your iPhone or iPad.

There was, of course, some enhancements to Siri — search for specific topics, combine multiple criteria, search YouTube, and control HomeKit devices — all great, but nothing major. I was happy to see a dark mode, though, which will become my new default when I install the update.

macOS

I was lukewarm on the idea of renaming OS X when it was first rumored a few months ago, but it quickly grew on me. I’m someone who prefers uniformity and OS X was the sole outlier. I’m glad they made the change.

Using Sierra as the California location felt appropriate with Siri being the marquee feature of the update. Adding Siri to macOS has been a long time coming. The feature was first introduced to the iPhone in 2011 and it’s taken nearly five years to come to the Mac. But the implementation looks good. There’s some Mac-specific features — like interacting with files and drag and drop from the results. And it seems like the kind of feature that could really improve a Mac users productivity — like being able to add a calendar event or reminder without leaving the app you’re working in.

Many of the new features in macOS Sierra seem to be the result of greater collaboration between the teams within Apple. The ability to use Apple Pay for online transactions — using your Watch or iPhone’s Touch ID sensor to authenticate — automatic macOS login when you’re wearing your Watch, and Universal Clipboard wouldn’t be possible if software teams weren’t working together on it. This is the kind of platform integrations that Apple’s always been good at, but they’ve really stepped it up over the past couple years.

In contrast, I find it rather odd that the Mac gets picture-in-picture support before tvOS does. I completely understand the appeal of the feature on macOS and I’m sure many users will find it invaluable, but why not build it for tvOS first? I would argue that the Apple TV’s single-tasking nature prevents most users from regularly using more than a handful of apps.

Overall, macOS Sierra looks like a solid release. I don’t expect I’ll use many of the new features, though. At this point, iOS is my primary operating system and its not even close. All I really need from macOS is the ability to run Transmission, iTunes, and Photos. As long as it can still do that, I’ll be happy.