Apple started out its annual Worldwide Developer's Conference yesterday with a bang.
The company unveiled updates to its computer-based OS X operating system as well as iOS 8, the upcoming software update for iPhone and iPad devices. While Apple showed off software updates instead of new hardware, the announcements give a glimpse into the direction Apple will take in the next few months. Here are some key highlights from the conference.
OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Apple's next iteration of its OS X operating system is called Yosemite, named after the California national park and continuing the famous landmarks naming scheme established with OS X Mavericks last year. Yosemite features a flatter design and new app icons, which creates consistency with the similar flat design introduced in last year's iOS 7. Yosemite will also have translucent windows and a new "Dark Mode" that contrasts the brighter colors already present in OS X.
Along with design adjustments, Yosemite also makes changes to existing features. The Notification Center in Yosemite will function more like its iOS counterpart with a "Today" tab featuring the day's weather, reminders, calendar appointments and extra third-party info added via widgets. Spotlight, the built-in search feature, will include web results and function in the middle of the screen rather than the upper right corner. iCloud will function more like traditional cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive, with support for storing and managing files and folders.
Built-in apps will see improvements as well. Mail has been redesigned and improved, with support for sending quick sketches and large attachments. Apple also gave the new version of Safari an overhaul with a new design and improved functionality.
Yosemite released first as an open beta for developers yesterday, with a consumer release planned in the fall as a free upgrade for existing OS X users.
While Apple's next-generation mobile operating system won't feature the same kind of significant overhaul as seen in last year's iOS 7 release, iOS 8 still brings important upgrades to iPhone and iPad devices.
Like Yosemite, iOS 8 will feature third-party widgets in the Notification Center, allowing developers to program live-updating icons that users can add to the Notification Center such as Facebook updates that can be liked from the widget or eBay auctions with updated prices. Siri can now be activated just by saying "Hey Siri" without having to hold the home button or lift the phone and can identify songs with built-in Shazam song recognition. Apple also improved the keyboard with more adaptive auto correcting in its QuickType feature, which better predicts what a user plans to type. iOS 8 also includes new apps for tracking health and controlling home appliances as well as the ability to track battery usage of each app. For developers, Apple improved coding mechanisms for iOS devices and included support for inter-app communication, opening the door for apps to interact with each other.
The new operating system will also give greater tools for families to integrate their devices. Parents can track their children's missing iPhones and iPads, share purchased songs and apps and require pre-approval for purchases on a linked credit card.
iOS 8 will release as a free update in the fall, likely around the same time as the release of the new iPhone. iPhone models older than the iPhone 4S and the first-generation iPad will not be able to upgrade.
Continuity between iOS and OS X devices
Apple's two new operating systems are designed to seamlessly work with each other, allowing users to switch from an iPhone to an iPad to a Mac without missing a beat.
The new Handoff feature allows many functions of iOS and Yosemite to work in unison. iPhone and iPad devices will be able to share files with Mac computers via AirDrop, a commonly-requested feature after AirDrop debuted on iOS last year. Users can also shift work between devices, allowing a person to start an email or a document on one device and finish it on another. The functionality will work between default apps on OS X and iOS devices such as Mail, Calendar, Maps and Safari at launch, and third-party developers will be able to add Handoff support for their apps.
Apple's new Handoff feature also works with texts and voice calls. Mac users can pair their iPhones with a desktop or laptop computer running on OS X Yosemite to send and receive blue iMessages and green SMS texts as well as phone calls from their computers.
The new continuity features show an overall approach towards having Apple products work more closely with each other, giving greater incentive for iPhone users to invest in Macs and vice versa.
Apple's rumored push towards allowing iOS devices to control home devices like lighting, garage doors and other appliances came in the form of HomeKit, a tool for developers to program those interactions.
While yesterday's presentation didn't include proprietary Apple devices to control appliances or a built-in app for home control, the announced development kit allows manufacturers of existing home control services to program their devices to work with iOS 8. Developers can also use HomeKit to allow control of smart home devices with voice commands via Siri.
It's possible HomeKit is a first step of Apple's venture into smart home devices, and HomeKit could have even more potential on the new iPhone if the rumored Near Field Communication technology is included. A new iPhone with NFC using HomeKit could open garage doors or turn on lights by being in close proximity with those devices.
Current smart home device manufacturers can develop for HomeKit starting now, and users can take advantage of the new features as part of the iOS 8 upgrade this fall.
In addition to smart home developer kits, iOS 8 also features the ability for developers to program health-based apps to function with a new Health app via HealthKit.
iOS 8 users will have the Health app by default, which contains a collected database of different health metrics from different apps. While multiple programs exist to track blood pressure, steps, weight and other health information, HealthKit allows those programs to share that information with the Health app, giving users a single, centralized program to track their health stats.
While popular health metric tracking programs like Nike, Fitbit and Wahoo began programming their apps to work with HealthKit, the new functionality also provides the ability to export relevant health information to medical experts. Apple is already working with the Mayo Clinic to develop services to track HealthKit metrics, which could allow quick health information for doctors as well as tracking and notifying users if a metric falls outside normal health parameters.