WWDC 2014 Keynote Impressions

Wow.

Big day for Apple. As great as the keynote was last year (and it sure was exciting seeing iOS 7 in action for the first time), everything about today's keynote seemed more important, more ambitious. To me, this was a very confident Apple (a company known for dripping confidence, if not full on arrogance) flexing its muscles and showing off three exciting platforms that will shape the future of the company.

The following are the things that stuck out to me most.

YOSEMITE

While Mavericks marked a new direction in naming conventions, it never felt like a humongous change. If anything, it was a great name because it was Apple saying that they were ready to head in a different direction, to challenge what they had done before (in some instances with almost a playful derision, such as the comments poking fun at the fake leather of Contacts or Calendar, the torn paper of Notes/Calendar). 2013 was the year of iOS, so Mavericks was them setting off on this different path, with plenty of time to find their way.

2014 is the year of Yosemite. The changes are sweeping, vast, both in UI as well as features. The name fits such an epic undertaking. Yosemite is epic, beautiful. It is bold. It is daring. I have no doubt that their vision came first, and the name just fell into place.

Sharing iOS 7's design language, Apple have added layers of transparency (transparent material, apparently, a phrase that was used multiple times throughout the demos), and the same attention to hierarchy for different aspects of the operating system. Notification Center notably has a very subtle shift from pushing the desktop to the left; it now appears as an overlay on the rest of the desktop. Makes sense.

The three "stoplights" in the corner have not only been redesigned, their functionality has been slightly tweaked. In particular, the green one no longer has the zoom function; it takes the app directly to full screen mode. This is something that I felt should have happened with this button for years, but Apple always very stubbornly said, "Nope, this is not going to behave as you expect." After adopting things like right—sorry, control—click, and window resizing from any corner (took way longer than it should have) from Windows, you'd think they would've just made the damn green light maximize a window. I guess this is the next best thing1. Yosemite is a big step forward in design. I have no doubt that upon its release, anyone who goes back to a machine running 10.9 or before will realize just how archaic the design had become. Also, we got a typeface change! Looks like a heavier Helvetica Neue than what most of iOS uses. Slick.

Flashy design aside, the most exciting stuff for me is the focus on blending iOS and Mac together. The transition we began to see in OS X Lion is now pushing ahead in full force. But rather than dumbing down the Mac into what amounts to a very large iOS device, Apple is actually using Yosemite to emphasize the utility of their line of mobile devices more than any other point. By allowing all of these things to talk to one another more seamlessly, iOS devices can complement their more powerful Mac counterparts to a much greater extent than ever. Where we had Photo Stream in iPhoto before, now we have Photos for Mac. Where there used to be Documents in the Cloud, we have iCloud Drive. Receiving a phone call, but your iPhone is charging across the room? Answer it on your Mac. Working on a document, but need to get the fuck out of your chair and curl up on the couch before you lose your mind? Pick up your iPad and that document is ready to go. AirDrop between iOS and Mac (high five)! It feels like iCloud has been working up to this point, and we finally have a mature syncing service that not only takes care of the backend stuff, but has some real consumer-facing utility, too2. The vision of an ever-connected ecosystem that is device agnostic is fast approaching, and it's only possible because of Apple's lockdown on its own devices. This is huge.

Also, the new Spotlight made me vibrate with excitement. In my pants.

iOS 8

Yosemite stole the show, but iOS had some new tricks up its sleeve. I'm very happy with simple additions such as the suggested contacts in the multitasking bar, interactive notifications, and widgets in Notification Center. Honorable mention goes to Family Sharing of iTunes/App Store purchases. Thank god. Health will be interesting as third party manufacturers take advantage of it. I'm guessing there are some cool tricks in store for whatever wearable device Apple eventually comes up with, too.

Some of the more surprising things were QuickType for the keyboard (and the even more surprising third-party keyboard support), Extensibility, and TouchID APIs.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting a TouchID API this soon, but I'm very happy it's coming. It won't be long before Apple runs their own fully-fledged mobile payments platform, and this is just another stepping stone in that process.

While it's interesting to me that we're going to start seeing inter-app communication and support for third-party keyboards, I can't help but be just the tiniest bit skeptical. Sure, I'm excited that Apple is doubling-down on their promise that iOS 7 was the beginning of a more mature mobile operating system. iOS through version 6 was effectively training wheels, introducing the concepts of a touch interface with big, bold buttons and skeuomorphic design. iOS 7 took the training wheels off, trusted that people understood these concepts, and they set off on their new path, expecting you to follow.

Now, iOS 8 is taking us from bike to car (CarPlay pun intended, haaa) introducing a slew of new features for both consumers and developers to bring these little pocket computers to new and exciting areas. I would be lying if I didn't say I'm torn. I like the idea of even more customization, but I don't know how I feel about the inevitable situation where some kid changes his mom's keyboard, and she's suddenly standing in the middle of an Apple Store, frustrated, lamenting to a Specialist about how her Apple Phone keyboard is now broken and how dare Apple not fix it? In my time as an Apple Retail employee, it was hard enough explaining concepts like third-party developed apps to some people. I can't imagine trying to explain how the keyboard—up until now something that only Apple had control of how it functioned, and it functioned the exact same on every phone—is suddenly messed up and now grandma doesn't know how to fix it. How do these keyboards work? Do you download them like apps? Is there an approval process? How do you remove them? These are just my immediate thoughts to this particular thing. There's a part of me that is afraid of complexity for complexity's sake, and the only part of me that is remaining optimistic is the part that trusts Apple to do it right3.

With all of this in mind, though, I can't help but be excited for iOS 8. We saw the big, beautiful, revolutionary change last year, and now we have Apple settling back into the area in which they're most comfortable: refinement and meaningful additions that will further improve the experience of their customers. They've laid a strong foundation, and now they're building upon it and will continue to do so for the years to come.

Which brings me to the last major thing that stuck out to me...

CRAIG FEDERIGHI

Craig has been a staple of many Apple keynotes over the last few years. His glorious gray mane flowing atop his head, eliciting humorous jokes and exchanges at his expense. We see him more and more, and I have to say that he was one of the best parts of today's keynote. His stage presence is unmatched by anyone else at Apple, and any time Tim or anyone else was on stage, it seemed like they were just biding their time before they could bring Craig back out into the spotlight. He's come into this role of presenter very naturally. He embraces his jokes—just corny enough for Apple without being too cringeworthy—and he accepts that he's not the typical hip tech guy that we see portrayed in popular media.

What he is, though, is focused, intelligent, and he brings a very warm presence to the stage that I don't think even Steve Jobs could muster. Whereas Steve approached keynotes with a cold, calculated choreography, Craig embraces the moments where he can show he is a human being. One dude cheers for enhanced enterprise features for iOS? Craig is right there with him. He's fun, he's friendly, he's approachable. He's a good face for products that are also supposed to fun, friendly and approachable.

Tim has smartly dialed back his presence on stage with every keynote, allowing his passionate and incredibly smart team take the reigns. Instead of telling everyone how much he appreciates their hard work like Steve did, he shows them by allowing them to participate and be themselves4. This is a company that is growing, changing, maturing5 in a post-Steve Jobs world. After Steve died, it was never going to be one major event or product release that changed Apple forever (though countless bloggers and comment trolls would have you thinking otherwise). It was always going to be the slow evolution where each team member had a chance to become their own person. The hardware and software was always sure to follow, because those are the product of the team's growth and passion.

It's such a magical thing to see happen before your eyes.


1 I am curious to see how they handle the "stoplight" layout for apps that do not support full screen. Is it greyed out, an empty circle? Is it removed completely? Does it just act like the zoom function before? The preview on Apple's site seems to show it green in every app. That might get confusing if it doesn't actually do anything.

2 Now let's just hope that Apple's web services have improved server-side. Something like this needs to be fast and reliable to truly compete with industry leaders like Dropbox.

3 Don't get me wrong. This is a huge part of me. I just can't help but foresee these scenarios. Three years of Apple Retail will do that to you.

4 "Can't innovate anymore, my ass," anyone?

5 This is, like, the third time I've used this word in this article, but I don't know of one that more accurately describes today's Apple.