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WWDC 2017 Aftermath: The Most Important Announcements

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That was quite the keynote, don't you think? Nobody knew what to expect, due to the absence of rumors or leaks. But I think I speak for many Apple developers when I say that it was a great keynote.

What surprised me most was the fast pace. It was clear that Apple had a lot to announce to developers and the press. Let's take a look at the most important announcements. 

tvOS and watchOS

Apple spent the first few minutes of the keynote discussing tvOS 11 and watchOS 4. The changes introduced in tvOS 11 are minor. The most important announcement was Amazon finally bringing Amazon Prime Video to Apple TV. While this is great for consumers, it’s not what you and I are most interested in when we watch a WWDC keynote.

The changes coming to watchOS 4 are more interesting. The fourth major release of watchOS is a minor update that primarily focuses on refining the operating system. The focus is on speed and reliability. But it also introduces a few new features, such as a watch face powered by Siri, several new fitness features, and better support for Apple Music.

watchOS 4 has better support for Siri and Apple Music

Third-party applications now have direct access to Core Bluetooth, which means it’s no longer necessary for your Apple Watch to be paired with your iPhone to communicate with Bluetooth devices. This is going to be very useful for devices with embedded sensors. Apple also announced new background modes for applications and person-to-person payments with Apple Pay.

macOS

The next major release of macOS is named High Sierra. Many of us watching the keynote thought Craig Federighi was cracking a joke. But he wasn’t. As with previous releases (Lion and Mountain Lion, Yosemite and El Capitan), the name suggests that with High Sierra, Apple is focused on improving the operating system under the hood. And that's exactly what they've done.

The next major release of macOS is named High Sierra

High Sierra introduces a range of changes and improvements, including the Apple File System (APFS), proper support for virtual reality (VR), and support for external graphical processing. While it’s unclear how big the latter is going to be, Apple also announced an External Graphics Development Kit for developers who want to experiment with this technology. External graphical processing is supported by any Mac with a Thunderbolt 3 connection.

Apples External Graphics Development Kit

Virtual reality and graphics processing were important areas of focus during the keynote. Apple announced Metal 2 for graphics acceleration, Core ML (Machine Learning), and an improved and faster Safari with increased privacy.

But Apple didn’t only announce software. The company also presented updates to its notebook and desktop lineup, including the introduction of the rumored iMac Pro, the most powerful Mac the company has ever shipped.

iMac Pro

This powerhouse is due for December, but what the company revealed during the keynote looks very, very promising. Did I mention it comes in space gray, including mouse and keyboard?

iOS

Apple’s flagship operating system received most of the attention. The announcements were even a bit overwhelming. The most important announcements related to iPad. The company not only announced a new version of its popular iPad Pro with a brand new 10.5” display, it also showed off several features that take multitasking on iPad to the next level. Drag and drop was probably the most compelling. This is going to be a game changer for users who rely heavily on getting work done on their iPad.

Drag and Drop on iOS 11

Apple also introduced Finder for iOS. Sorry. I mean Files for iOS. Let’s be honest, Files looks and feels very much like Finder on macOS. But it’s better in several ways. Because Files is backed by Apple’s iCloud services, features like synchronization of favorites are built in.

The Dock on iPad is now more powerful and can be used to switch quickly between applications and to interact with other applications. It even includes a section that predicts which applications you might use next.

iPad Dock

Interesting to developers are the introduction of ARKit and Core ML, also available on macOS. Apple is a big proponent of augmented reality and, with ARKit, it hands developers the tools and resources to bring augmented reality to third-party applications.

Augmented reality isn’t new, but it’s hard to implement and get right. ARKit aims to solve many common obstacles developers face, allowing them to focus on building features instead of toiling with technical challenges.

Like many other technology companies, Apple strongly believes in the future of machine learning. The Core ML framework provides developers with the tools to integrate machine learning into their applications. For many developers, this is a whole new world that opens up. It could take many third-party applications from good to great if implemented smartly.

App Store

It’s clear Apple is listening to the feedback of its customers and its developer community. The company is committed to making the App Store better, and it does this in iOS 11 by overhauling the design of its App Store.

It no longer looks like the App Store you've known for the past nine years. On iOS 11, it feels more like a high-end store or a magazine, featuring high-quality products. It’s too early to tell what impact this change is going to have for companies and developers, but it sure looks promising.

The App Store received a design overhaul

The new design features a Today tab, putting one application in the spotlight. It probably won’t surprise you that games have a special spot in Apple's new App Store. It also features how-to articles, teaching customers more about new applications, and Apple also touts that search has improved substantially.

The redesigned product pages are crisp and clean. Developers can now add a subtitle to their product page, which will hopefully get rid of applications that have names stuffed with keywords—that's most likely Apple’s goal with this addition.

Customers can purchase in-app purchases from the product page of an application. You no longer need to search an application for its in-app purchases.

Hardware

Hardware announcements are for developers almost as important as software announcements. This year's keynote was packed with new hardware.

iPad Pro

The introduction of a brand new iPad Pro shows Apple’s commitment to continuing to invest in what they believe to be the next generation of computing devices. The company firmly believes most people no longer need a notebook or a desktop to get work done.

The new iPad Pro sports an improved 10.5" Retina display, increasing the surface area by 20% compared to the previous 9.7" model. The 12.9" model sticks around and also sports the improved display. The iPad Pro is brighter, displays an even wider range of colors, and is less reflective. Both devices are powered by the A10X Fusion chip, bringing even more power to these mobile powerhouses.

Apples New iPad Pro

But the iPad Pro truly shines if combined with Apple’s flagship operating system, iOS 11. As I mentioned earlier, the next release introduces several major improvements to multitasking—such as drag and drop between applications, an improved Dock, and the Files application.

Apple Pencil is the cherry on the cake. The operating system now has wider support for Apple Pencil. For example, Apple's Notes application has improved its support for Apple Pencil, and handwritten notes are now searchable thanks to the integration of machine learning.

Mac

Apple received quite a bit of flak after the introduction of the new MacBook Pro late last year, especially from its professional customers. But it seems Apple has been hard at work to make sure its professional user base knows the company hasn’t forgotten about the Mac.

Earlier this year, Apple revealed that it’s working hard on the next generation Mac Pro, and during yesterday’s keynote, the company announced significant updates to its iMac and notebook line.

The company's popular iMac line is finally ready for virtual reality. A demo by John Knoll got rid of any doubt we might have. But the company didn’t only introduce updates; it also announced a new model of the iMac, the iMac Pro. This powerhouse is due for December and, if Apple delivers on its promise, it’s going to be the most powerful Mac the company has ever shipped.

HomePod

The last announcement of the company was the introduction of a brand new product, HomePod: a powerful speaker that directly competes with companies like Sonos. But Apple also takes on Google, Microsoft, and Amazon through HomePod's Siri integration. That's right. You can talk to this speaker.

HomePod

HomePod is planned for a December release in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. But what’s different about HomePod? How does it differ from Sonos? And what sets it apart from Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa? According to Apple, it combines amazing sound with smarts—adding intelligence to a powerful speaker.

It shouldn’t surprise you that it looks very nice and will fit nicely in your living room. It’s powered by the company’s A8 chip and sports a collection of tweeters, several microphones, and a woofer. While it looks promising, Apple still has a lot of work before it's ready for prime time. And that includes making Siri as good and reliable as the virtual assistants of the company's competition.

Xcode and Swift

You may be wondering why I haven't mentioned Xcode or Swift. While the developer tools usually receive little attention during the keynote, it's clear Apple has been hard at work on Xcode 9, the next major release of the company's IDE.

The source editor, for example, has been rebuilt in Swift from the ground up. Refactoring has always been a mediocre experience in Xcode. That's going to change with Xcode 9. The new toolchain is supposed to be fast, reliable, and intelligent. I can’t wait to try this out.

Xcode 9 adds improved support for Swift. If you've worked with Swift, then you understand that this isn't just a nice-to-have—it's essential. Problems with Swift support have been plaguing developers ever since the language was introduced several years ago. Apple promises that is a thing of the past.

The Next Major Release of Xcode

But Xcode 9 is more than a slew of updates and improvements. How does wireless debugging sound? It’s now possible to debug your iOS and tvOS devices over the network, Wi-Fi and wired. 

There’s so much to cover, and I’m only scratching the surface. Other nice additions are named colors in asset catalogs, support for HEIF images (a new format that reduces image size), a brand new Core ML editor, and, last but not least, the ability to run multiple simulators side by side.

Because Swift is open source, we already know what’s coming. The fourth major release of Swift includes an overhaul of the String structure, the Codable protocol for native encoding and decoding of types, better support for key paths, and much more.

We will be covering more about the WWDC announcements in the coming weeks. Make sure to watch the Platforms State of the Union. That should whet your appetite.

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