This year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was one of the biggest in recent years.
You know this year’s WWDC is a little special when, apart from new operating system updates, there is new hardware. The last time Apple announced new hardware at WWDC was way back in 2013.
As expected, all of Apple’s operating systems received varying degrees of updates. macOS and watchOS both received fairly minor updates, most of which were refinements and not thoroughly new. iOS, however, received a major update and a slew of new features, some of which could fundamentally change the way people use their iOS devices. It is not surprising at all that iOS got the most attention when you remember that the iPhone is Apple’s best-selling and most profitable product.
There are so many refinements and new features in iOS 11 that it is hard to find a place to start. But let’s begin with Siri, which has been criticized for being lackluster in comparison to rivals from the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. For a start, thanks to machine learning, Siri will now sound more natural and expressive and have more accurate pronunciation.
In addition, on-device learning will enable Siri to better understand and anticipate your needs. Beyond that, there’s also deeper integration with Apple Music. Siri will be able to translate in real-time too; from English to Chinese, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.
Perhaps most importantly, iOS 11 will bring huge updates for iPads. For example, an important new feature of iOS 11 for iPads is Drag and Drop, which allows users to move text, photos, and files, from one app to another. Speaking of moving files, there’s also a new Files app - which is essentially the iOS equivalent of the Finder app that Mac users have become so accustomed to - allowing users to browse and organize their files on their iPads.
And then there’s the new Dock, which now behaves a lot like the Dock on Macs. The new Dock can be invoked regardless of what app you are using, and users can easily drag to add or remove apps from it. Along with the improved Dock, iPad users on iOS 11 will also get a new App Switcher that shows a tiled view of apps that are opened.
The most important new hardware product of WWDC 2017 is arguably the HomePod, which is a smart speaker that tightly integrates Siri and Apple Music.
Unlike, say, Amazon’s Echo, Apple calls its HomePod a “musicologist” and it has a stronger focus on audio quality and music. The HomePod has a specially designed woofer and an array of 7 tweeters to produce spacious sound. It also has spatial awareness and can use digital signal processing to compensate for less than ideal audio qualities of the room.
The other two big hardware announcements were the iMac Pro and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. The iMac Pro is a workstation class iMac that packs serious hardware including multi-core Xeon processors, prodigious amounts of RAM, and powerful discrete graphics. On the other hand, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro replaces the older 9.7-inch model and comes with a faster processor, a more fluid display, and the same excellent camera system as the iPhone 7.
The focus is really on the iPad WWDC 2017 showed us that iOS 11 remains to be Apple’s focus insofar as new software and technologies are concerned, which, by extension, also means that the iPhone is still Apple’s most important product.
But if one looks closely, many of the new features of iOS 11 are actually geared toward the iPad, which tells us that Apple is not going to sit back and let the iPad fade away. Sales of iPads peaked in 2013 and have been on a decline ever since. If you cannot already tell, iOS 11 will make the iPad behave more like a traditional Mac computer.
The idea behind such a move is obviously to increase the iPad’s capability. But more crucially, it is also to get more people to accept the idea of an iPad as a primary device. This might sound absurd, but the fact is that the iPad is a powerful device that belies its form factor. Thanks to optimizations in iOS and the fact that processors designed by Apple power the iPads, apps on iPads run incredibly smoothly.
Furthermore, with over two million apps on the App Store, there’s almost bound to be something for whatever task you are thinking of putting your iPad to do. So the idea of an iPad as your primary device isn’t as farfetched or ridiculous as it sounds. But whether users around the world can warm up to this idea is an entirely different matter.
Only time will tell.