Apple WWDC 2017: What You Need To Know

CEO Tim Cooke at Apple WWDC

Apple’s annual shiny-new-gadget-and-software WWDC event showcased new operating systems for Apple’s flagship iMac and iPhone lines, larger and slicker displays all-round, and home speaker with built-in AI.  

The annual Apple WWDC or  Worldwide Developer Conference or WWDC – with some big reveals – and this year they turned the shiny up to 11 (and introduced VR).

CEO Tim Cook took to the stage in San Jose, California, alongside senior executives and engineers to announce two new operating systems, a slew of creative features and a new challenger in the ongoing battle of home AI.

The Apple HomePod

Apple’s major announcement of the day was the HomePod, a smart speaker for use in the home, which is totally different from the Echo, RIGHT?

Homepod can play music but also tell you who the drummer in the song is, should you care to know. Joking aside, the speaker packs an impressive array of tech into a model only 7-inches tall, which includes seven tweeter-speakers and a four-inch upward-facing subwoofer designed to fill a room with sound. All of this tech means that Apple is well-poised to take on other smart speaker companies, such as Amazon’s Echo, Sonos and their PLAY series.

Siri, Apple’s flagship AI, will assist the Homepod user as it will on any of Apple’s current devices. The HomePod has six microphones around the device, which will allow the user to talk to Siri from anywhere in the room. Like Google’s Assistant but unlike Amazon’s Alexa, Siri will also be able to understand more sophisticated and conversational dialogues given by the user. A person can say for example, “Hey Siri, I like this song,” which will teach the AI more about what genres and bands the user enjoys.

Amazon, Google and Apple’s devices all function as ‘smart home’ tech. The Amazon Echo is currently the front-runner, in terms of partnerships, working with brands including Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Wemo, Insteon, Wink, and Honeywell. Apple’s HomePod is a relative latecomer to the market and will need HomeKit-compatible products to function, but can be accessed outside the home via the user’s iPhone once the devices are linked.

MacOS Sierra and iOS 11

Apple revealed major updates to its two flagship operating systems – MacOS and iOS – with the emphasis, according to Apple, on functionality and creativity.

The newest Apple iMac desktops (and iMacs from 2009 or later) will receive MacOS 11 for free. High Sierra, the OS comes with several privacy-enhancing features including options to stop website cookies from following you through the web and preventing videos from autoplaying.

High Sierra will also support Metal, Apple’s application programming interface (API) as well as sporting some enhanced options for VR.

iOS 11 will also come with a number of quality-of-life improvements, such as an improved Siri (who can now translate into other languages), automatically synchronising iMessages with iCloud so they work across all of your Apple devices, an Apple Pay system for iMessage and an automatic ‘Do not Disturb’ feature which switches on when you’re driving.

iOS 11 on iPads will (finally) introduce multitasking and file handling. Users will be able to pull up a dock while in-app, to switch between applications and drag apps around to split the screen. Similarly to MacOS, users will also be able to touch and drag folders, files and photos and drop them into other apps, such as Mail or iMessage.

Photography and Augmented Reality

Apple has also, finally, signalled that it is entering the Virtual and Augmented reality sectors.

The new High Sierra update will (finally) allow Mac computers to support external graphics hardware, finally allowing users to support the latest powerful VR devices.

The iPhone 7+ and future devices’ cameras will be boosted with a number of improvements, including higher image quality, improved low-light performance, optical image stabilisation and true tone flash.

But Apple’s most exciting reveal of the day was ARKit, a toolbox for software developers to (finally) create augmented reality apps for the iPhone. The Kit can track surfaces, detect motion and sense lighting changes, as demonstrated when Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi dragged a virtual desk-lamp around a virtual coffee cup.

In contrast to Microsoft’s HoloLens (a physical pair of smartglasses), Apple will be delivering ARKit on the iPhone itself. This is a benefit for those who already own the phone, but a drawback because of the device’s limited screen size.

Stay tuned to DIGIT for more updates from Apple.

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