Judging Apple's WWDC 2016 announcements one year later

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 6 min read

The Verge conveniently made this nice article that listed the 13 biggest announcements from last year's WWDC and I thought it would be fun to look at what we thought was a big deal last year and see if they hold up today.

macOS gets renamed, and some new features

I think last year's macOS release will go down as one of the most forgettable updates the platform has gotten since the jump to OS X in 2001. Siri was the headline feature at the time, and I basically don't even remember that Siri is a thing on the Mac today. Likewise, Universal Clipboard turned out not to be a thing I need that often. It's not due to poor execution on Apple's part, I just rarely copy something on my Mac that I want to paste on my iPhone or vice versa.

On the other hard, Apple did bring iCloud sync to the Desktop and Documents folder on the Mac, which has been game changing for me. This is something Microsoft will be bringing to Windows this fall, and I think Windows users will love it too. Being able to access docs from my Mac's desktop on my iPhone when I'm out in the world is liberating. It's magic.

Apple Pay on the web

While this feature works well, it's not exactly taken the web by storm. I use Apple Pay multiple times a week, but I've only used Apple Pay on the web a few times in the past year. I'd love for Apple to find a way to make this work in all browsers, because it's really convenient for us Safari users, but we're a significant minority.

If you want to give it a shot today, I have used it on The Washington Post, Kickstarter, and many Shopify stores.

Apple Watch gets faster and new features

This has been a big win for Apple and for consumers. Sales of the Apple Watch are accelerating and the performance gains Apple showed off on stage turned out to be totally legit. Apps launch about 100x faster1 and almost every update they made to watchOS has been met with praise from users.

The Dock is far more useful than Glances ever were, and the ability to quickly change watch faces is actually really convenient for "phase shifting" from work to play to workout and more. The ability for apps to run more natively on the watch itself has also meant that I can leave my iPhone behind and the Watch still functions almost as well as if my phone were right by my side.

This was a big win for Apple. It was the most significant OS update they showed off last June, and it easily wins the "BirchTree's Most Improved Platform" award over the last 12 months.

iOS got a bunch of updates

iOS 10 was a substantial update for the iPhone, but a nothing update for the iPad. A number of new UI paradigms were introduced in the update, most notably a card interface that you can really see in Apple's Music app or Marco Arment's Overcast. There are a bunch of little changes system-wide, and the general feeling is that iOS has more "depth" than before. It's hard to put my finger on it, but things just feel more tactile than they did before.

Apple Maps and Siri got third party plugin support, which should have been a big deal, but has proven to not be that important to most people. The fact that apps can display themselves directly in the Maps UI seemed at the time (and actually is today) to be super helpful, but most people are not using the functionality. Siri apps lets more apps integrate to iOS's voice assistant, but again this seems like something Apple needed to implement differently so people actually used it. I'd love to see Apple loosen the restrictions on what apps can use Siri this year. If they have a "Siri speaker" of some sort coming out this year, they really have to do this, so my fingers are crossed.

Apple News updates

Apple News got a major redesign, and I think it's been fantastic overall. There's not much to ay here, but the ability for you to subscribe to publications directly from inside the app (or connect your non-News subscription) makes it a viable news apps for just about anyone with an iOS device.

I'd love to see Apple bring Apple News to the web this year. Don't bring it to, make it it's own standalone product. At the very least, please bring it to the Mac.

Apple Music gets totally redesigned

Apple Music is by far my favorite music subscription service, and the update it got in iOS was jarring at first, but has proven to be a great update 12 months later. The addition of My Favorites Mix and My New Music Mix playlists, which is some great AI work from Apple, are incredibly good and make this a "sticky" service that invites me to check it out often.

Maps gets updates

I already mentioned this, so I'll just reiterate that this has not taken off at all, and it's a shame. Apple needs to find a way to make this a more obvious feature to make Apple Maps a more powerful tool.

Messages updates

iMessage got the most love it's seen since it was released in 2011. We got an App Store for Messages which did great, and then kind of tailed off. I have not looked for a new Messages app in months, but I do use a few of them daily. The built in GIF search is always useful, Bitmoji is tons of fun, and Game Pigeon is a fun way to play billiards with friends.

I hope Apple shows off a ton of stuff for iMessage this year, because iMessage needs more than an app store to stay on top. I love iMessage, but it needs to keep up with the rest of the market. Maybe bringing in more time/location-based content in the form of stickers, and yes, even video filters would bring some life to the service. iMessage is one of the most important things that make people loyal iPhone users, so they need to keep pushing on this.

Photos takes a shot at Google Photos

I think the updates to Photos last year have been largely successful. The amount of smarts Apple has been able to add to their app while using all on-device analysis of photos is quite impressive, but they are undeniably still behind what Google is doing with Photos. Google is still beating them in:

  • Image recognition/Serch (especially in weirder searches)
  • Physical photo books
  • Unlimited free image sync
  • Sharing options
  • Web interface

Meanwhile, Apple is in the lead when it comes to editing tools (and ability for third party extensions to enhance the built in tools), automatic highlight videos, and of course privacy. Of all Photos' limits, I want to see them address sharing more than anything else. Make it easier to share photos and albums to people outside Apple's ecosystem, and make it easier for families to have shared libraries.

Voicemail transcription

Ugh, I don't even want to talk about voicemail in 2017. Voicemail sucks, and this makes it suck a little less.

tvOS grows up

Did it though? tvOS is good but not great, and the updates they showed off at WWDC last year haven't really moved the platform forward that much. TV provider sign on seems nice, but is a small perk. Dark mode was welcome, but again not exciting. Frankly, the most impactful update they debuted was the ability to get notifications on my iPhone to let me type into text fields on the TV instead of using the Apple TV remote.

Siri opening to developers

Again, I talked about this earlier, but SiriKit has not taken off like it should have. Apple needs to loosen the restrictions on what apps can tap into Siri and make general voice recognition better.

Predictive type FTW

I don't know if this warrants a mention on a list like this, but this actually is a really nice feature that I forgot until now is only a year old. Having iOS suggest my email address for email field, name and address information for their respective fields, and answers to common questions in iMessage has actually been really nice. It's not something that will make headlines or make people switch from Android, but it's definitely a nice thing to have.

And that's it! My takeaway from looking back on everything is that Apple announced a lot of things that are good on paper, but just didn't grab people or developers like they wish they had. The flashiest addition to the Mac was Siri, which no one uses (please tell me if I'm wrong on this one, but I don't think I am), iMessage apps have not become the next hot app market, and plugins for Siri and Maps are probably things you haven't thought about in months.

But Apple released a huge update to iOS that has been greeted almost entirely positively by most people, the made Apple News the best news app out there, they released a killer update for the Apple Watch, and they made Apple Watch a leader in the music space.

I'm sure I'll write more about this, but my hope going into WWDC 17 is that Apple focuses on the following areas:

  • Siri and AI in general
  • iPad
  • Apple Watch
  • iMessage

  1. Slight exaggeration, but it feels 100x faster.