Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) has kicked off and as much as many in the market would have liked to see the tech giant lift the lid on a slew of devices -- iWatch, iTV -- that was always a long shot.
The focus instead is on software, iOS 8 and the services platforms (healthcare, home automation), which makes a lot of sense given that’s the one area where Apple can showcase its prowess. WWDC isn’t the place to launch hardware; it’s the perfect opportunity for Apple to reveal the latest toolkit it's giving to its dedicated developer base.
Along the way Apple has also managed to pick up a few cues from its rivals to tweak its mobile and Mac operating systems (iOS an OS X).
HealthKit, HomeKit and the quest for platforms
It’s a smorgasbord for the developers when it comes to APIs, with the introduction of HealthKit and HomeKit garnering most of the attention. However there’s also Metal, a new graphics technology that maximises the performance of the A7 chip, and Swift, a new programming language that Apple reckons blows the socks off Objective C.
Health and home are two important pivot points for Apple and once again, after letting its rivals have a stab at the segments first (Samsung with digital health and Google with Nest), Apple is now ready to let loose its legion of developers on its 800 million iOS device ecosystem.
As the full potential of the healthcare space comes to light, Apple is hoping that it may be the first to crack the code with regards to a comprehensive monitoring, tracking and potentially diagnostic platform. Healthcare will be an integral part of iOS 8, with the new Heath app designed to collate and present all of the biometric data collected by the iPhone, third-party apps, and possibly the iWatch when it finally sees the light of day.
While the HealthKit platform is Apple’s attempt to leverage the vast web of iOS devices and put all health data together under one roof, HomeKit gives us a glimpse of how Apple views the smart home/home automation market.
Rather than buy out and integrate an outfit like Nest, Apple’s strategy is to give the hardware side of things a miss and focus on platform and interface.
HomeKit delivers a common protocol, secure pairing and the ability to easily control devices throughout the house, including integration with Siri.
Australian mobile app developer b2cloud’s director Luke Smorgon says that Apple looks like it's intent on creating the backbone and a common language for developers to populate its platforms.
“They are looking to make a centralised platform rather than have control over every single hardware product maker.”
Rather than control the makers, Apple wants to control a platform where all can join in and play. The same could apply to health, where Apple seems reluctant to build devices, opting to build platforms instead.
With regards to Swift, it’s a brand new language and is unlikely to usurp the primacy of Objective C in a hurry, but Smorgon says this is another example of Apple’s foresight in the development and tools space.
“It’s early days but with Swift Apple is trying to future-proof its toolkit and stay on top of what developers want.”
Yosemite the 'future of OS X'
On the desktop front, Apple has unveiled Yosemite, calling it the “future of OS X”.
Apple has tweaked the design, with the notification centre and Safari both getting a subtle makeover. The cosmetic changes are classic Apple but don’t let the beautifully crafted icons and the translucent elements, revealing additional content on the app window, distract you.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of Yosemite is the continuity feature that’s designed to finally let a user to link up iOS devices with the Mac as one unified interface. This convergence impetus is already apparent in Apple’s rivals but while it’s been a work in progress for the likes of Microsoft, Apple presumably believes it’s got the formula right.
“We engineer our platforms, services and devices together, so we are able to create a seamless experience for our users across all our products that’s unparalleled in the industry,” Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said at the event. “It’s something only Apple can deliver.”
The Continuity feature makes the Mac and iOS device perfect companions, with one picking up where the other has left off, thanks to the Handoff feature.
Apple has also given iCloud a substantial tweak, finally allowing users to store and sync any type of file, not just the ones designed for the iCloud, and also on non-Apple devices. That’s pretty much how Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive operate, so Apple has finally brought the cloud storage side of things to parity.
Then there’s a related service called Mail Drop, which allows easier transfer of large-size file attachments in email. Apple has also lowered the cost of using iCloud Drive in the US. In addition to the free 5GB, Apple is selling 20GB for 99 cents per month, and 200GB for $US3.99 per month.
The developer preview of Yosemite is now available to Mac Developer Program members and Apple is introducing the OS X Beta Program to give a select few customers early access to Yosemite and submit their feedback.
Smartphones, tablets and even wearable gadgets might be the currency of the device ecosystem but it’s the software that matters, and Apple will be hoping that iOS 8 will have all the bells and whistles needed to wow developers -- although at this point, nothing Apple does can recreate the buzz of years past.
But Apple is now firmly about iteration, not innovation, and its reactive approach to upgrading its operating systems highlights a recognition that it can’t just play in its sandbox anymore. If building a reliable, long-term platform is Apple’s key intention then it has certainly provided enough to whet the appetite of its army of enthusiastic developers.