Apple’s WWDC22 Event
Jul 10, 2022 • Extra Ordinary • Apple Event
Writing this piece has taken quite a bit longer than my post-game analysis of prior events. Rather than watch the Keynote from my desk at home as I have for the last twelve years, I was flown to California, led onto the sprawling campus of Apple Park and invited to watch the Keynote in the audience of over a thousand developers in person.
This was all made possible by Cult of Mac. Leander Kahney very generously covered my plane ticket and stay in Sunnyvale. As the only Cult of Mac writer invited to the event, I had a special live blog with a play-by-play of how the event went down and published my full album of photos from the event.
Although iOS was born out of macOS (then called OS X), they significantly diverged over the years. Apple spent a great deal of time and effort in the mid 2010s reuniting the architecture between macOS, iOS and iPadOS.
The Mac renaissance, the totally painless transition from Intel to Apple silicon, the seamless way in which iPad apps can run on the Mac thanks to Catalyst and the breakneck pace at which Apple can introduce features that run identically across all of their major platforms are all thanks, in no small part, to this reunification effort. It was the underlying theme of WWDC last year and that theme continues this year.
If there were a theme for how this affects the user-facing features introduced this year, that would be the year of finally. It feels like Apple took the last year to knock down as many “I just wish that you could…” features all at once.
Let’s dive in.
Developers, developers, developers
The event starts with Tim Cook singing praises over Apple’s efforts to woo developers. Tim highlights the new Developer Center across from Apple Park, their initiatives to teach students around the world and the growing number of registered Apple developers.
One might assume this is a response to the developer community grumbling ever louder about the 15–30% cut Apple takes from all App Store revenue, the growing number of developers questioning whether the App Store needs to be the single source of apps on iPhone and the legal pressure Apple is facing from courts around the world — except for the fact that they start literally every WWDC Keynote like this.
Changes to iOS start with a radical new Lock Screen.
The backgrounds are smarter. You can have the globe, centered on your location with live cloud coverage; a full-screen animated weather background, like in the Weather app; intelligently-selected photos from your library, filtered in artistic styles with depth effects; and of course, a horrifying emoji kaleidoscope legibility nightmare. They are a great deal of fun to play around with and customize before I ultimately go back to my plain black background.
Notifications now scroll up from the bottom of the screen instead of from the top. Putting notifications on the bottom is simple ergonomics; phones are getting big. By default, they are also on the bottom of the screen so you can see more of the wallpaper. I won’t be using this feature — I immediately changed it to show all notifications, but I appreciate the sentiment on behalf of people who use photo backgrounds (i.e. most people).
In tune with reusing code across platforms, you can populate the Lock Screen with the same complications you can add to Apple Watch. Confusingly, these are called Widgets, even though they’re closely related to Complications, but they are not related whatsoever to the Widgets of the Home Screen. For developers who already have a Watch app with Complications, creating Widgets for the new Lock Screen will be trivial. Other developers might go the other way, seeing the demand and creating a Watch app they had no prior plans for. It’s a win-win for users.
Other people have made this observation, but it seems that these Lock Screen widgets are an example of an iOS software feature laying the groundwork for a new iPhone hardware feature, a phenomenon I’ve documented before. These Widgets are speculated to appear in the always-on display of the iPhone 14 Pro.
Live Activities are a very smart solution to a common problem: push notifications can only push. For activities like tracking a sports game, ordering food delivery or waiting for a ride-sharing app, the most recent information is the only thing that matters. Because notifications can’t replace old notifications, they buzz your phone again and again, building up in a pile.
I’m a little concerned that Live Activities are actually too powerful a solution that might dissuade developers from thinking they need to go so far in their implementation. I think back to Snapchat, which has to send separate notifications for when someone is typing a message and when they send a message. We’ll see how this plays out.
Focus modes are now much easier to configure and activate. You can tie a Lock Screen to a Focus, and this works both ways: setting a Focus changes your Lock Screen and background; swiping between Lock Screens sets your Focus.
The Focus API is an example to me of Apple giving back their platform advantage. Last year, they introduced a new system-wide feature that only Apple apps have access to, inadvertently giving their built-in apps a leg up on third-party alternatives. This year, they are letting everyone in on Focus modes (and Shared with You, too).
I never thought they would do it, but Apple has enabled editing and un-sending iMessages. Of course, it works with a few limits to avoid sticky situations: the recipient can see when a message has been edited or unsent and you can only do it within 15 minutes.
Marking a message as read or unread is also well-thought out: setting it as unread doesn’t get rid of the read receipt, it just puts the notification back on for you; marking a message as read, however, sends a read receipt. Gone are the days of tapping into a thread and immediately swiping back out to clear the notification badges.
It’s much harder to mark a pinned conversation as read or unread, because you have to long-press the icon and tap “Mark as Read/Unread,” a two-step process. Non-pinned messages can be marked with a quick swipe action. Apple doesn’t let you swipe on the icons of pinned messages — even though they already solved this design problem in the Apple News app, which lets you use the same swipe actions on small icon-sized news stories as you have on full-width news stories.
Initiating SharePlay over iMessage instead of FaceTime is a huge improvement — the big, obvious version-two feature. FaceTime can use a lot of network bandwidth on slow internet connections. If you’re then using SharePlay to watch a TV show with a friend, which, I assume, is 95% of the time SharePlay is used, you no longer need a second high-bandwidth video stream to use the feature.
Multi-stop routes in Maps is yet another finally. You can plan a route with three, four, five or more different destinations. When you’re in the middle of a route, you can add any stop with the full search capabilities, instead of the limited set before. And when you reach a stop, you can pause navigation until you’re ready to leave again.
My only remaining qualm is that at first when you search for your destination and tap “Directions,” there’s not a single-tap way to add a stop to the middle. You have to tap Add Stop, search for it, select it and reorder it to the middle. This makes it harder to add a stop along the way before you start navigating.
iCloud Shared Photo Library
There’s a lot of sticky design problems with a Shared Photo Library. Every picture in everyone’s library is a bad solution. My wife has thousands of random screenshots I don’t want in my library. But going the opposite way, opt-in only, where you have to select every picture you want in the Shared Library, is just as bad. If you require every picture to be shared manually after the fact, you’ll end up right back to square one, where everyone has an incomplete set.
I’ve long thought one potential solution would be a toggle in the Camera: when turned on, every picture you take will be added. Apple, of course, took this one step further: if it detects family members in the picture, or if they’re nearby when the picture is being taken, it’ll automatically add them to the Shared Photo Library.
My next hesitancy was that deletions are shared, too. Does that mean that someone could spitefully delete pictures from a few years ago, and if I don’t catch it within the 30 day window, they would be gone forever? No, because family members are notified when shared photos are deleted.
The day this is released, my wife and I will have a field day going through our libraries, adding everything we want to the shared library.
If you know 10 women, odds are, you know 3 women who have been in an abusive relationship.
Physical safety is of the utmost importance, but it’s not the only tool abusers have at their disposal. Giving people the ability to reset account security, sign out of all other devices and restrict access to Messages and FaceTime all from one screen will make a huge difference. People who are trying to escape a hostile situation don’t want to spend precious time futzing around with passwords on their phone.
When you use Dictation from the keyboard, the keyboard stays open so you can quickly switch between typing and speaking. You can quickly double-tap to select a word and speak over it or type over it. Automatic punctuation, in my testing, sometimes gets confused by attaching what would be comma-separated phrases to the wrong sentence, but this will improve over time.
Live Text is easily my favorite feature introduced last year in iOS 15. I’ll eat up new Live Text features faster than a plate of properly-cooked pasta. Live Text in video? Automatic currency and unit conversions? Language translations from the camera? Yes, yes and yes, please.
Visual Look Up can now automatically cut out the subject of a picture so you can paste it somewhere else without the background, like a sticker. I’m not entirely sure why, or what it’s for, but it’ll be useful to someone, I’m sure. I’ve been copying random things out of pictures and throwing them into a note.
Many people are scared about the privacy implications of having your ID or Driver’s License in your phone’s wallet. I can’t blame them. Apple is trying to make sure it’s not just the same level of private and secure, but beyond that. Apps and websites (in theory, whenever this is implemented) won’t need to ask for your exact birthday, they just need to know if you’re old enough. As before, you don’t need to hand any officer your unlocked phone — scanning your ID uses NFC, just like checking out at a store. Whether it works this way in practice or not is yet to be seen. Even at drive-throughs, clerks will still ask to take my phone if I ask to use Apple Pay.
Apple Pay Later is Apple’s entrance into the buy-now-pay-later service. My impression of the established businesses in this market is that of scum and predatory practices. I’m a little disappointed to see Apple enter this market, but I would love to be proven wrong.
Order tracking in Wallet will either be a slow burn that ends up very useful in the long run, or no one will adopt it and it’ll fizzle out. Don’t uninstall your package tracker app yet.
The new Home app is another finally for a lot of people. I don’t use the Home app nor any smart home products because I still rent. Another WWDC attendee showed me the existing Home app, and now I understand what everyone was complaining about. It desperately needed burned down and rebuilt. The new app looks great and I hope to use it some day.
So, this is probably all that will ever come out of Project Titan, right?
Apple previewed a future version of CarPlay that replaces not just the navigation and entertainment functions, but the gauge cluster and all of the car controls.
The statistic they cited is that 98% of new cars have CarPlay and 79% of new car buyers in the US only consider CarPlay-capable vehicles. Reading between the lines, the remaining 2% of new cars and 21% of buyers have got to be Tesla cars and Tesla customers. It’s no surprise, then, that while they say the user interface can be completely reconfigured to accommodate a wide variety of layouts, brands, designs and styles, they prominently featured a layout that mimics the software of the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.
My immediate question was whether or not, behind the scenes, there’s some new hardware device powering this in the car. Current CarPlay only works if you have an iPhone, because that’s the point: it’s the music and navigation from your phone, but in your car. As quoted from the Keynote, “your iPhone communicates with your vehicle’s real-time systems, in an on-device, privacy-friendly way” to power Future CarPlay, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility that other features are powered by hardware in the car itself.
As noted on the Accidental Tech Podcast, digital car gauges are required to use a real-time operating system. iOS cannot simply switch to being a real-time operating system when it’s on CarPlay; this is a fundamentally different operating system design the entire system needs to be built upon.
The list of brands they’ve partnered with includes:
- Land Rover
It’s a little less impressive when you realize that half of the brands shown are sub-brands of others: Ford Motor Company (Ford and Lincoln), Nissan Motor Co. (Nissan, Infiniti, Renault), Volkswagen Group (Porsche, Audi), Honda Motor Company (Honda, Acura), Volvo Cars (Volvo, Polestar) and Jaguar Land Rover (I’ll let you figure this one out).
Cars with Future CarPlay won’t even be announced until late next year, so it could be until the 2025 model year that these cars actually ship.
The biggest new feature of watchOS this year is the Workout app. It’s remarkable how much Apple is able to pull from a few sensors on a wrist. With machine learning on top of complicated math from the sensors, they are able to determine how high you bounce as you run, the length of your stride and how long your feet are in contact with the ground.
The new workout views are another big change to the Workout app. It’s like a different set of watch faces you can switch between as you’re working out that focus on different goals. One that caught my eye shows different energy zones, so you can see if you’re going too hard or if you need to pick up the pace; another graphs the amount of power you’re generating in Watts — a friendly existential reminder that we are still machines, we just happen to be made of conscious meat.
Racing against your previous best time on a run is one step short of racing against a ghost of yourself in Mario Kart.
Sleep stage tracking is pretty awesome. I never used sleep tracking in watchOS 8 (I don’t have any problems with my sleep), nor do I have any medical reason to track the stages of my sleep, but it’s cool enough that I’ve switched to wearing my Apple Watch overnight so that I can look at the cool graphs. I’m a sucker for cool interactive graphs.
The new watch faces are fun, I guess, but they’re still lacking for me personally. I don’t know exactly what I want, but I’d like a convincing reason to use a watch face other than Modular.
The share sheet is a powerful tool in iOS; I hope it will be a nice addition to watchOS.
Medication tracking might not seem like it needs to be a smart feature. It’s just Reminders but tailored for medication, right? Wrong. Apple’s implementation is thorough. It can warn you if two drugs you take have a combined side effect. You can add a drug by scanning the prescription label with your camera, so you don’t need to worry about fiddling with the settings and getting it right. This will be a big help for a lot of people.
Apple kicked off the Mac section with some new hardware announcements.
We’re another fifteen or twenty years out from a single seismic shift as big as Intel to M1. So how much can we expect year-to-year? M2 offers some pretty big improvements.
The 16 GB memory ceiling really had to be raised, and now M2 caps out at 24 GB. The memory is faster, too, with a 50% increase in bandwidth. M2 comes with 18% greater CPU performance and a bigger cache, but where it really shines is its 35% performance leap in graphics, 40% faster neural engine and powerful built-in media engine.
All of these improvements are on the same 5 nm process. M3 is rumored to come with a die shrink down to 3 nm, which will be an even bigger leap. Another reason to hold off on buying a new Mac just a bit longer…
Everyone was anticipating a MacBook Air in the formula of the iMac-to-go. Like what the iBook was to the 1998 iMac, the MacBook Air would be in pastel colors with a white face.
I think Jason Snell put it best: what kills the white borders, ergo the vibrant colors, is the notch in the display. Apple uses black glass on notched displays. This is a small oversight on behalf of everyone speculating the MacBook Air would come in the fun colors, myself included.
The “studio-quality” three-mic array and four-speaker sound system trickles down to the low-tier MacBook Air.
This new MacBook Air does not replace the M1 model; it’s positioned $100 above. I don’t find this the least bit surprising.
First of all, new designs are always more expensive. Apple spends a lot of money on tooling a new unibody design. The cost of setting up a manufacturing line for a completely new computer shape has to get paid for somehow. They could either ignore it and amortize the cost over the lifespan of the product, or they could play it safe by charging a little more for the product when it’s new and trickle the device down to lower pricing tiers over time.
Second, the cost of manufacturing the M1 MacBook Air probably hasn’t gone down. Computer components are more expensive now than they were in November 2020. It’s not as if the M1 MacBook Air was a brand new design when it was introduced that is now cheaper to make; it was already built using cheap parts when it was new. The only alternative to this pricing structure — keeping the M1 MacBook Air at $999, introducing the M2 MacBook Air at $1,099 — would be to drop the M1 MacBook Air, not push it down.
The middle MacBook has long been in a troubled spot. From the base model non-Retina MacBook Pro they sold unchanged from 2012 to 2016, to the MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar they sold during the Touch Bar era, Apple has had a hard time filling in the gap between Air and the real MacBook Pro. Apple struggles with meeting halfway on Pro features.
The M2 MacBook Pro carries over the M1 MacBook Pro design, which carries over the Intel MacBook Pro design, which carries over the Touch Bar, USB-C instead of MagSafe and thicker display bezels.
Although Apple is almost done transitioning every computer to Apple silicon, it’s becoming clear that the transition to new hardware designs across the entire lineup will take even longer. The MiddleBook Pro isn’t ready for its makeover yet. An iMac Pro is still coming… eventually, and the Mac Pro is nowhere to be found.
At least it got M2 at all. The Mac mini, the other M1 Mac unveiled at the November 2020 event, is untouched for now. It looks like they’re holding off on the Mac mini until they can redesign it and include the anticipated M2 Pro chip.
What a sexy name.
Stage Manager is a new window mode that organizes your screen for you. You can arrange sets of windows — Notes and Safari; Messages and Mail; Notes, Reminders and Safari; etc. and Stage Manager will keep all of the windows in a set visible on screen. With one click you can switch out which set you have. It’s a bit like single-window mode if you happen to fluent in early Mac OS X history or shrinkydink if you happen to be fluent in internal builds of OS X Leopard from 2006.
I’ve always found it frustrating how Spotlight is inconsistent across platforms. macOS Ventura has a new version of Spotlight more in line with the rich results you can get on iOS and iPadOS.
Safari, thankfully, is one of the apps that has a dedicated team with continuous attention (unlike Mail, which seems to get a new feature once every six years). The Safari and WebKit teams are both very active on Twitter. I don’t understand a fraction of what the web technology team does, but I am nonetheless thankful for the hard work I can only assume they are doing.
PassKeys. They are right in that the transition away from passwords will “be a journey.” When the transition is finally complete, our great grandchildren will really appreciate that.
Apple is trying to make yet another pitch to game developers that gaming on the Mac is totally a thing that can happen. MetalFX upscaling is a clever solution to Apple’s big problem: their displays are too high resolution. Retina displays double the resolution but have four times the number of pixels, so running a game at a high refresh rate at the native Retina resolution is simply out of the question. MetalFX upscaling leverages the Neural Engine (which just got 40% faster with M2) to take some weight off of the GPU and fill in additional frames.
Continuity camera is genuinely mind-bending.
You can mount your iPhone on top of your Mac’s display and use it as an external camera. This much makes sense.
It can do this without opening an app, unlocking or touching your phone at all. This is very impressive, but I still follow.
It uses the Ultra Wide lens on your iPhone to simulate Center Stage on a Mac that doesn’t otherwise have the feature. Another instance of Apple reusing software across different hardware products. All well and good.
It can simultaneously use the Ultra Wide camera to show both your face and the current view looking down at your desk. This is the exact moment that broke my brain. It creates both of these views from the same camera feed point towards you.
The iPadOS section begins with a demo of collaboration features that I found very confusing because the feature isn’t new. I’ve shared documents in Numbers and Pages plenty of times before, and yes, with simultaneous live collaboration. What’s new here is that you can initiate it from the Share sheet and Messages. Neat? I don’t see why that needs to be given such a long segment in the Keynote.
Whereas the Mac struggles to be taken seriously with gaming, the iPad struggles to be taken seriously with finicky features usually left for desktop apps. Apple is making a big pitch to developers to reconsider adding in the little things. Here is the full list, which scrolls by very fast in light-gray-on-white text:
- Status bar in Safari
- Pop-up buttons in lists
- File and document menus in toolbars
- Printing N-up layout
- Page and sheet printing views
- Print scaling support
- Copy or drag contacts to Mail
- Undo/Redo across the system
- System find and replace (I met the engineer who worked on this. He was really nice.)
- Multicolumn table view in Shortcuts
- Availability view in Calendar
- Column autocomplete in Numbers
- Enhanced photo and document pickers with sidebars
- Redesigned event inspector in Calendar
- Find and merge cards in Contacts
- Lists in Contacts
- Select multiple items without entering edit mode
I’ll believe it when you can edit song and album metadata in Music.
Next, we have Stage Manager. This means we have, another finally, freeform app windows on iPad.
Craig explicitly said at the start of this section that the power of the M1 chip and virtual memory swap enable Stage Manager. Despite that, people are mad it is limited to iPads with the M1 chip.
I suspect the biggest hurdle in supporting Stage Manager is that it supports an external 6K display. Displays, especially 6K Retina displays at 60 FPS, are very graphically taxing. It also needs to continue driving the built-in iPad display, which is pretty high resolution on its own, too.
The other big hurdle is the number of apps Stage Manager needs to keep in memory. While Stage Manager supports up to 8 apps on screen at once, it actually has to keep 16 apps in memory so that you can switch between window sets without stuttering.
A commonly cited counterargument is along the lines of, “the Mac has had virtual memory swap for years, even on PowerPC; how does the A12X not support it?” To refute that claim, I challenge anyone to use a Power Mac G4. Those Macs were slow. Much slower than you remember. Even when they were brand-new, running the version of OS X they shipped with, everything lagged a little bit at best. The Mac could get away with that because the interface of a mouse and keyboard are indirect. People have higher standards for their iPhone and iPad; they need to react instantly to your touch. Apple says that only the M1 has the memory bandwidth necessary and I believe them.
The most finally? Weather on iPad.
Kidding aside, it seems clear that the TV is going back to a hobby for Apple, getting completely snubbed from the Keynote. And there are some pretty cool features, too:
Cross-device connectivity can integrate a tvOS app with an iOS, iPadOS or Apple Watch app for richer experiences. This could be really powerful, and it would have been nice to see what Apple envisions for this feature in the Keynote.
Multiuser support can connect the profiles on your device to the profiles inside apps.
Both of these, if adopted, would be a huge quality-of-life increase.
This is clearly the model Apple will use for WWDC going forward. They can still get a big crowd in, they can design the event free of traditional convention center restrictions and everyone at home can still watch the Keynote and sessions in the superior prerecorded format. For WWDC23, they might add additional events flowing into Tuesday and I bet they’ll mix in live footage with their prerecorded video. They could have done both of those this year, but I suspect they wanted to play it safe.
For a full album of pictures from the event, check out my post-event gallery on Cult of Mac.
A few remaining details and observations:
The number of attendees I was able to fish out of an employee was as follows: 1,000 invited developers, 350 students and Swift Challenge winners, 200 media/press and some number of Apple engineers (my guess is about 400).
The crowd control was handled by Apple Store employees from all over the country. There seemed to be almost as many of them as there were of us. Their hyper enthusiasm didn’t land on me, I found it a bit annoying. Their clapping echoed loud in the cavernous white hallways of Apple Park.
I’ve never seen so many iPhones without cases nor such a variety of Apple Watch models and bands all in one place.
After the event, I went to dinner with some new friends. We ate at Chika in Santana Row where I had the best Mexican food I have ever eaten.
I sat next to two very polite developers who had traveled to California all the way from Europe. They explained to me that, in Austria, they love watching John Oliver as a comedy show. It reminds them of how much worse things could be.
On my walk from the train station to my motel in Sunnyvale, I was surprised to see another Apple campus on the way. As an engineer explained to me over lunch, different teams are shuffled in an out amongst the various Apple campuses all around Cupertino. She had been working in the aforementioned Sunnyvale building, but her AR team had recently relocated to the Ring in Apple Park. Interesting.
And that’s all. I will get back to my regularly scheduled twice-a-month posts here on Extra Ordinary. To all of the lovely people I met at WWDC, I hope to see you again next year.
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