WWDC’14 Expectations

WWDC’14 is a go. Many people are excited about what Apple has planned for the keynote this year. As the public headline of their developer conference, the keynote has always centered on iOS and OS X in recent memory. This seems to be the case this year too, judging from the leaks by Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac. The highlight of these rumors is a complete visual redesign of OS X 10.10, and the introduction of Healthbook: an aggregation platform for health data in iOS.

However, the overall feeling (pundit wishful thinking) is that Apple might have something else up its sleeve. In 2010 the iPhone 4 was unveiled, in 2012 the first retina MacBook Pro, and last year the new Mac Pro. With Tim Cook repeatedly promising new products this year, the tension is rising. Feasible candidates for an introduction at WWDC are the long-rumored 12 inch MacBook Air with a refreshed design and a retina display, a refreshed Mac Mini, and some kind of health accessory to go hand in hand with the Healthbook introduction.

I’m keeping my expectations low. I suspect it will only be about software updates to current products. Yet, I’m really looking forward to a shocking redesigned of OS X. On the iOS side, Apple will also want something to pitch during the keynote. Healthbook is indeed the most likely contender, as the iPhone already has a number of sensor readings and third party accessories that can be aggregated in the app. Furthermore, it’s obvious that the redesign that began with iOS 7 will be further refined in iOS 8.

A shortlist of things I would like to see in iOS:

  1. For the third year in a row: improved inter-app communication. This would enable to more easily chain together apps and construct more elaborate workflows. For instance, taking a picture with the Camera app, sending it off to one or two editing apps, and posting it on Instagram. This introduces many user-facing problems that need to be fixed though. Things like default applications and scaling share-with dialogs.
  2. Multi-user support on iPad. iOS could make use of fingerprint unlock to transparently support multiple home screen and app configurations. Development effort and iPad sales are at least two good reasons why Apple would never implement something like this.
  3. Apple Wallet Service. Use you AppleID and coupled credit card for online and retail payment. The iPhone would undoubtedly play a big role here.
  4. (a) Better way of doing browser tabs in Safari on iPad, (b) an overhaul of keyboard auto-correction (especially on iPhone), (c) focus on advancing iOS for iPad, (d) better ways to manage apps on the home screen, (e) AirDrop that works reliably, fast, and between Mac and iOS devices, (f) Siri in more languages (Dutch) and with app integration, (g) a fix for the app silo problem where documents (files) only exist within a particular app, unless you store them on DropBox.

I don’t want to venture a guess as to if and when iOS would adopt these features. It is clear Apple is again spread thin between finishing what they started and working on hot new products.

Setting Up Find My iPhone

With the release of iOS 4.2, Apple allows owners of iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4th gen, and iPad to use the Find My ‘iPhone’ feature of MobileMe for free. It does not work out-of-the-box however. You will have to set up tracking on each of your devices.

You start by creating a MobileMe account through the Mail, Contacts, Calendar section under Settings. If you do not own a MobileMe account, you will be able to register with your Apple ID account. After an email verification process, you will be able to activate Find My iPhone through the settings of the just created MobileMe account. It might take a while for the settings section to register the verification, close settings and try again after a while.

Turns out the Apple website has some more screenshots as well.

MobileMe account verification

Users vs. Designers: Who bites the bullet?

Marco Arment on Apple’s design philosophy:

In brief, [Apple’s] philosophy seems to be to ship only what’s great and leave out the rest. That’s why, instead of having a bad copy-and-paste implementation for the iPhone’s first two years, we just didn’t have one at all.

I believe this is an essential difference between the conscious Android and Apple user. Apple users have come to expect every feature to work just right — in the tightly controlled iPhone environment. They rely on Apple to weigh off every tradeoff, and make the hard decisions before releasing. Was it a long wait for copy/paste to first appear after two years? Hell yeah. A year down the road, it’s still a lot more elegant and easier to use than in Android’s Froyo release. While Android deals in feature count and manufacturers focus on hardware checklists. A bright spot on the horizon, or just a bad rumor: Google’s Android team will start focussing on usability in a next release.

I never make technology-buying decisions based on future promises, rumors, or potential. [..] I don’t buy things that are “getting better”, because they usually don’t. Whatever caused them to be lacking in their current release will usually prevent them from being great in future releases.

Let’s just hope they won’t hack it in now, and design it some time later.

One feature the iPhone has had to wait for is a multi-tasking UI. It’s too soon to say if it has really taken off, as developers are slowly pushing out multi-tasking versions of their applications. This doesn’t stop some (I shouldn’t even link to tabloid like this) from calling it a failure, just a few hours after it’s availability to the public. Seeing their arguments, it seems they don’t really get it. A failed multitasking implementation, in my book, behaves something like this:

“due to Android’s true multitasking, the battery life falls a little short. You may be able to eke out a little more longevity by utilizing apps like TasKiller [..] to quit processes you don’t want running, or the buggy-but-brilliant JuiceDefender app to cut back on data and screen usage. There’s a debate over TasKiller’s efficacy, and you don’t want to abuse its power in fear of killing off an important background task you actually want running, but I’ve found it helps me keep the phone on a little bit longer. If you don’t want to take such extreme measures, just make sure you actually quit apps when you’re done with them.”

Multi-tasking has failed if I have to start worrying about background apps draining my battery while it’s in my pocket. It’s the same reason why I like the Macbook’s safe-sleep feature so much. I don’t have to worry about it after I close the lid and put it in my bag. It goes to sleep and minimizes battery drain, until I need it again, in which case it’s fully usable in a matter of seconds. And it hasn’t failed me in over 4 years.

The only reason they deemed iOS4 multitasking horrible is because they weren’t using it in a typical multitasking scenario. Nobody multitasks actively between 20+ applications. Not on a desktop machine, and certainly not on a handheld. This only occurs when you’re taking the feature for a spin, before sensationally tearing it down in an article or post.

A realistic multitasking scenario might look something like this:

You’re one the road, working on an e-mail to a colleague, but you’re not really happy with the result just yet. You decide to take your mind of by playing some Tilt to Live. However, half-way through your attempt at a killer score, you get texted by a friend who needs the telephone number for that great mexican place. You know you don’t have it in your address book, so you launch the browser to look it up. You switch back to the text message, paste in the number and send it through. You switch back to your game, exactly where you left off, but fail miserably at breaking your record. You switch back to mail, finish off the reply and send it on its way.

This scenario required you to switch between 4 application. You start both the game, and the browser from the homescreen. Firstly, because you are starting a new task, and secondly, because you don’t remember having the browser nor the game open in the last few hours. You could go flicking through the task switch banner, with varying success of finding both apps open. Use both features for what they are meant for, and you should never have to worry about having to flick through 5 rows of tasks. Nor should you worry about manually closing apps.

The only reason Apple put this feature in, is as a faster alternative for killing frozen applications. Previously this required holding the lock button, followed by holding the home button for 10s. Relax on the micromanagement, the iPhone will kill applications for you when memory resources are getting scarce. It doesn’t expect you to start killing off applications manually to cope with the issues of its halfhearted implementation.