Apple WWDC: There's no way iOS and macOS will fully merge as one

But try running these iThing apps now on your Mac

macOS Mojave
macOS Mojave dark theme for redesigned Mac App Store

Apple held its annual developer prep rally in San Jose, California, on Monday to discuss additions and improvements to its software but not its hardware.

"Today is all about software," said CEO Tim Cook in his opening remarks.

And about using less of it, as Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering, suggested.

"Some apps demand more of our attention that we even realize," he explained as he introduced Screen Time, an iOS software usage management app, and enhancements to Notifications and Do Not Disturb that aim to provide Apple device users with ways to limit obsessive screen staring.

Google beat Apple to the product-abstinence punch with a similar offering, referred to as Digital Wellbeing, at its developer conference last month.

The 2018 edition of Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference was expected to be a relatively low-key affair, thanks to a supposed focus on quality and performance in the wake of software bugs, CPU throttling and keyboard reliability complaints.

Every few years, Apple prioritizes quality over features, as it did in 2009 with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and in 2015 for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 El Capitan. And again that seems to be the case again.

And despite the lack of hardware announcements – sorry, no augmented reality goggles – and incremental improvements to iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, Apple did resolve a related long-standing question: will iOS and macOS merge? Of course, they share common libraries and frameworks and other low-level components, but will they eventually merge into one operating system?

"No," declared Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering. "Of course not."

But that said

But late next year, developers will be able to craft apps that work on both iOS and macOS.

Apple plans to make a subset of its iOS UIKit API available on macOS, which means that iOS apps that observe specific ways of implementing trackpad and mouse input, app window stoplight icons, window resizing, scroll bars, copy and paste, and drag and drop will work on macOS.

Apple is testing the transition with four of its own iOS apps – News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home – that will appear this fall in the next macOS release, dubbed Mojave.

In an unusual turn, the introductory video showed evidence of humor from an organization that usually focuses on serious superlatives. It presented the annual pilgrimage of developers to WWDC as an animal migration documentary, narrated by someone who sounded like David Attenborough.

Cook then took a moment to supply the expected effusiveness. He celebrated the App Store payout of $100 billion to developers by saying, "This is beyond remarkable."

Ten years since its introduction, the App Store, he said, is "the most incredible app marketplace that the world has ever seen."

Federighi arrived to try more subdued delivery. "Our next big release is, you guessed it, iOS 12," he said. And if novel features are relatively few, existing ones should work better.

"For iOS 12 we're doubling down on performance," he said, noting that optimizations in the mobile OS would make even the older iPhone 6 Plus launch apps 40 per cent faster.

No AR goggles but...

The forthcoming free mobile operating system revision features ARKit 2, an update to Apple's augmented reality SDK. The expanded API set includes support for improved face tracing, more realistic rendering, 3D object detection and shared, persistent experiences.

Martin Sanders, direct of innovation at Lego, appeared briefly to introduce a demonstration of ARKit scene sharing in which two people viewed the same real Lego model, adorned with AR menus and graphics, from different viewpoints. The persistence feature means users can return to find the scene in the state they left it.

To complement its AR improvements, Apple is introducing a new open file format for AR scene description called usdz that will make it easier to create and share AR assets with content creation apps and AR viewing apps.

Abhay Parasnis, EVP and CTO of Adobe, took a moment to note that Adobe plans to support the usdz file format in its Creative Cloud apps. In other words, Photoshop will become more useful for authoring AR graphics.

The Photos app got a For You tab to push Memories and iCloud Shared Album images. The app has been made more proactive with a sharing suggestions feature, to advise users to share images with family and friends. It also now includes search suggestions to help find photos by events, people, and other associated data.

"In iOS 12, search now starts working for you even before you start typing with search suggestions," said Federighi.

Siri has become more proactive too. As if inspired by the Microsoft Clippy experience, Siri will now suggest actions based on past patterns, urging Apple device users to order coffee if they regularly do so at a specific time and place.

But such advice could actually be helpful, because Apple is exposing Siri to users through the Siri Shortcuts app and to developers through the Siri Shortcuts API. Those using iOS 12 will be able to assign a voice command to launch a Shortcut.

For example, a user of the Kayak travel app could set a voice command to direct Siri to present a travel reservation made with the app on screen.

And with the Shortcuts app, users can tie a series of actions to a single voice command.

Get with the group

iOS 12 will include Group Facetime, allowing up to 32 people to chat via video at once. Integrated with Messenger, users will be able to convert group chats into group video calls.

More Animoji animations were unveiled – ghost, koala, tiger and T-Rex. And in keeping with modern mores of self-documentation, we have a new term, Memoji. It's an animated emoji that users can model to look as they do (or as they would like to appear), a process not unlike the Nintendo Wii avatar creation process for Mii characters.

A variety of iOS apps received updates – iBooks got a facelift and name change, to Apple Books. Similar redesigns were visited upon Apple's News, Stocks and Voice Memos apps. Also, CarPlay will now display info from third-party navigation apps alongside other music, messaging, calling and automaker app data.

For both iOS and macOS, Apple's Safari browser implements what the company is calling Intelligent Tracking Prevention. The browser will now solicit users for permission to display "Like" and "Share" buttons, which ad-focused companies use to gather data.

Apple has also taken steps to genericize how the browser presents information about itself to make it harder to create digital fingerprints of users' systems, which advertisers use for tracking.

On a related privacy note, Apple opened its Health Records API to developers, allowing the possibility of creating more health-oriented apps.

macOS 10.14 Mojave departs from the mountain theme of the past several years to celebrate California's desert. It might also be taken as a nod to the scarcity of features – for example, the deprecation of OpenGL in favor of Apple's Metal graphics API.

Perhaps the most appreciated may be Dark Mode, a way to view macOS menus and certain apps (including Xcode) in a dark design theme.

Odds and sods

Changes to the Desktop and Finder will make it easier to organize files into Stacks.

And there's a redesigned Mac App Store. A Discover tab will showcase new and updated apps while Create, Work, Play and Develop tabs will provide some discovery channels, alongside traditional app categories.

Beyond the addition of previously mentioned iOS apps to the macOS arsenal – Group Facetime, News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home – and the Safari privacy tweaks, macOS Mojave will extend permission requirements to attempts to access the Mac camera and mic, as well as to Mail and Message data.

Federighi also touched on Create ML, an application designed to let people train machine learning models without being a machine learning expert. Using Metal, GPU acceleration and the Core ML 2 framework, model training time and processing time can be cut down considerably.

Updates for tvOS and watchOS were previewed as well. For the former, the most notable new feature is zero sign-on authentication: Apple TV will detect the user’s broadband network and automatically sign in to all the supported apps tied to a service provider subscription. iOS 12 will allow users to AutoFill passwords for tvOS apps too.

Meanwhile, watchOS promises Activity Competitions, Auto-Workout Detection, new workout types and running features, and Walkie-Talkie, a way to communicate to other watchOS users by voice via cellular or Wi-Fi.

In addition, Apple has ported its Podcasts app to watchOS and tweaked Siri to predict actions and suggest relevant data after recognized events such as workouts or Maps usage.

Developers can get access to most of Apple's in-progress code today. Beta program participants should get access later this month while regular folks can expect official releases in the fall, which usually means September or October. ®

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