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A developer’s take on Apple’s WWDC 17 keynote

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For app developers, Apple’s keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference is always a mixed blessing. We hear about new toys (this year the full set with a new iPad, iMac Pro and Macbook line) as well as software updates that open new opportunities and make our lives easier – most of the time!

Each new software and hardware release however requires more learning and work to ensure existing apps are optimised and fully supported, so WWDC is both an exciting event and also a challenge for developers.

This year’s event seemed very focussed on business users, with the “Pro” label applied to more products than ever. Here are the key announcements from a business app developer’s perspective;

New hardware

WWDC has always been about the software, but more and more Apple is using the spotlight to announce changes to its hardware lines. This year in particular saw changes across the entire range;

iMac Pro

The biggest update probably signals the end of what was affectionately known as ‘the bin’ (Mac Pro). The iMac Pro is a serious piece of kit for a serious price. We won’t know the exact UK price until later in the year, but starting at $5,000, the iMac Pro is a high spec device for video editors and designers. But it sure looks great in space grey.

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iPad Pro, iMac & Macbook

Minor updates across the board. iPad Pro gets a new 10.5” size and the regular iMac sees upgrades to displays and processors. Macbooks also receive a speed boost courtesy of Intel’s Kaby Lake processors.

iOS 11

In the autumn, iOS will receive its annual update of tweaks and new features. As usual, there were so many changes and new features a two hour keynote just isn’t long enough to go through them all. Highlights included a new way to send money through iMessage using Apple Pay and an improved control centre.

In addition;

Improved multitasking on iPad

More on this below

Removal of built-in Twitter and Facebook account support

This will likely have a knock on effect to apps that ‘sign in’ via Twitter and Facebook or use iOS’s built in social sharing options

Native QR code support

Finally after 11 versions, iOS will natively scan QR codes using the standard camera (instantly killing the hundreds of QR code scanning apps in the app store!)

Business chat

A new tool to communicate with clients in a similar way to Twitter direct messages. Appears limited to interacting with businesses via Apple Maps so this will limit the initial impact.

App store

Massive news for app developers and long overdue. The App store organisation and layout has remained largely unchanged since its debut and has made the discovery of new apps difficult. These changes will not only give the app store a lift visually, but also hopefully help apps to be discovered by new groups of users.

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ARKit

Pokemon Go proved in 2016 than augmented reality can be massively popular and Apple has capitalised on this by providing new AR developer tools in the form of ARKit. The on-stage demonstration related to games but was seriously impressive, and if Apple’s ARKit is able to deliver some of what Microsoft’s Hololens has set out to achieve using a device already in your pocket, it has huge potential for business users and developers.

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iPad grows up

Taking another step away from its ‘big iPhone’ beginnings and towards becoming a true laptop replacement, iPad continues to add features such as improved multitasking, drag and drop support, file management and a new app dock.

I’m not sure the iPad is at its best when it tries to replicate a desktop experience, however this is clearly the path ahead for Apple. Having arguably reached market saturation, Apple is now looking to the education and business markets to grow the iPad user base and is making the software changes it will need to appeal to those users.

As always its success will depend on its execution. The iPad has always excelled at being a device you can hand to someone who has never used one before with confidence that they will understand how to use it without getting frustrated. My concern is these additions will make the interface confusing but if anyone can crack it, Apple can. If they can deliver on a true laptop replacement for business users with all the benefits of an iPad, it could prove revolutionary for mobile workers.

High Sierra

Despite the silly name, High Sierra brings some major changes ‘under the hood’ that will impact day to day performance and security as well as provide new functionality.

Apple’s File System

File systems rarely change and Apple’s move to AFS promises to be faster, safer, and help applications use less space than ever.

External GPU support & VR

Apple has finally embraced VR with Virtual reality support coming to Macs and Macbooks via an external GPU enclosure. Currently only HTC Vive support has been announced but expect Facebook’s Oculus headset to not be far behind.

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In other news…

HomePods look set to take over your home, assuming they’re good enough to justify the premium over competitors Amazon and Google. Typical Apple coming late to the party but will they replicate their past success in other product areas?

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WatchOS got minor updates but as a Disney nut I’m most excited about the new watch faces featuring Buzz and Woody from Toy Story!

Monument valley – iOS’s best game got a surprise sequel. A must play!

Chris Burton

Coder & Co-Founder