My (not so) brief thoughts on WWDC 2024, 24 hours later

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 9 min read

I’ve had a little time to let the WWDC keynote sink in, and wanted to share my overall feelings on Apple’s big announcements in one post. And yes, I’ve installed the developer betas on every single primary device in my life (Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, and Vision Pro), so these opinions also include some hands-on experience with the updates as well.

Also, long time readers likely already know, but I’m not interested in covering every single detail in posts like this, so don’t expect a comprehensive feature overview, I’m just talking about the things that stood out to me.

visionOS 2

This wasn’t the big update I was hoping for, although it’s worth remembering (and they did remind us in the keynote) that visionOS 1 is only 4 months old, so it may have been optimistic to expect much more already. My overall impression is that this update doesn’t do anything obvious that would take someone who was uninterested in the Vision Pro before to being interested once this update is out. We’re looking at a minor refinement of the OS, not a big leap.

The first thing that stood out to me was the new Control Center, which no longer requires you to look up to access it. And good riddance, I say! The old method of looking up was configurable, but the only options I found were either:

  1. Low enough that I always saw a little dot at the top of my vision
  2. High enough that I had to nearly detach my retinas to look high enough to access it

The new “look at your hand” method is definitely better, and because I demand credit where credit is due, is very similar to the Meta Quest 3’s UI which also brings up a context menu when you look at your hand and pinch. JUST SAYING.

The other big win for me is that any photo in your library can be turned into a spatial photo on demand. Just pull up a photo taken on any camera, hit a button, and in a couple seconds you’ll see that photo in a very compelling 3D format. I tried it on some photos I took with my Canon R6 and they were pretty stunning. I like the idea of spatial photos and videos, but I don’t like how much of a downgrade in quality they require to take today, so converting high quality images to spatial is very cool.

Another notable thing is how “beta” this still feels. I don’t mean in terms of reliability, but more in terms of how many items have “under construction” signs on them. Zero of Apple’s iPad apps like Calendar got upgraded to native visionOS apps, so they remain in the “Compatible Apps” folder, the “coming soon” environments are still “coming soon” (including Bora Bora, which got stage time), and the improved Mac virtual display is coming sometime after the 2.0 update. Oh, also none of the Apple intelligence features are coming to visionOS this year.

I am happy to see an improved guest mode which remembers the calibration settings for the most recent guest who used the headset. This solves for the case where someone is trying the headset out, takes it off for a second, and then puts it back on, and it even solves well for my use case of literally only ever sharing it with my wife. I was hoping for a “VIP guest” I could save, and while this isn’t exactly that, it’s effectively the same thing for me.

I’m also happy to see the Magic Keyboard will show when you’re in a fully immersive environment and that I can use any Bluetooth mouse with the headset now rather than just an Apple trackpad.

Finally, as shown in one of the developer sessions, Apple has enabled some enhanced APIs for enterprise apps which enable things like access to the main camera, but these features are not available to apps distributed to customers, they only work in internally distributed enterprise apps. Seems like a glimpse into the future, though.

Overall it’s a fine update with some quality of life things I appreciate, but it’s not an update that I anticipate will move the needle for me on how much I use the device.

watchOS 11

After last year’s large update, we’re back to pretty iterative updates on the watchOS front, but there’s still some interesting stuff here.

The new Vitals app is a cool update for those of us who wear our Apple Watches to sleep, and will monitor some vitals like heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature, and will alert you when any of these metrics deviate from the norms.

I’m also interested in the “training load” view built into the Activity app, which looks similar to what Gentler Streak does. The feature requires 14 days of data before it can tell you anything, and it starts counting once you install watchOS 11, so I’ll be able to look at this in more detail in a few weeks.

The widgets section, which full disclosure, I greatly disliked in watchOS 10, has some updates that I hope make it more compelling. First off are live activities, which will now appear on your watch as well as your iPhone. Widgets will also be able to intelligently pop to the top when they are more relevant to you. In theory, this will mean things like rain alerts and calendar events will appear here rather than the random stuff I see today. Finally, widgets are now interactive, so you can do things from the widget and not jump into the app.

I’m kinda jazzed that third party apps being able to use Double Tap now, but I’m also not sure it’s going to be much more use than the feature is today. My use of anything besides Apple’s own apps has dropped basically to zero, so it’s very possible I don’t even notice this update 😬

Oh, and in a similar vein, they finally added rest days to your rings, which I would have loved a few years ago, but I’ve since given up on caring about my streaks, so it’s the right feature but at the wrong time for me personally.

iOS 18

Apple Intelligence is such a huge part of the updates to the next 3 operating systems, but I’m going to sidestep those features for these and focus just on the more traditional things being added.

Without a doubt, the biggest thing this year (and as has been the trend for several years now) has been customization. Free placement of icons is great to see, and lets me create the same layout I’ve been using on Android for…15 years and love. I don’t love the icon tinting feature, which in my opinion is a way to create an ugly home screen, and no amount of tweaking lets me get something that’s appealing to me. I expect this to tweak over the summer.

Messages looks like it’s getting some really good updates. RCS was confirmed for later this year, they added hundreds of new reactions top tapbacks, tons of new formatting and text effects, and there are scheduled messages. This is all good stuff!

I’m also excited about the changes to Control Center, which I hope will let me create an even better way to do quick utility tasks on my phone. I’m extra excited that third party devs will be able to add their own actions here, but of course none of that is here in the first beta, so I can’t say how well adopted this will be or how useful the things devs build will actually be, but this stands out to me as what could be the really exciting change for nerds like me (and likely you, dear reader) this fall.

The new Photos app is questionable, and while I don’t hate it, I don’t immediately love it either. Gonna need to let this one simmer.

The Mail app got some love, although outside of the AI features, the only meaningful change is the addition of automatic category sorting, which is something Gmail has had for many years and is something I turn off immediately because I don’t like it. I’ll give it a shot when it rolls out to Mail, but odds are I’ll turn this off here too.

An unexpected nice feature was the ability to create hiking routes in Apple Maps. I won’t be using this for actual hiking, but I like to take my dog to new areas to walk, and it’s often tricky to figure out how long a planned walk is in a new neighborhood. I’ve played with this a bit in the beta and the UI is a little tricky to figure out at first, but it does let me do what I want, and gets me a great idea for distances before we go.

iPadOS 18

Close to a decade ago Apple started calling this “iPadOS” instead of “iOS” because they wanted to give the message that this wasn’t just the phone UI blown up to larger screens. There have certainly been years where the iPad got some very specific features, but 2024 was not one of those years. Looking through the updates on Apple’s website, I’m struck by the fact that basically everything there is just rehashing the iOS features we just looked at. Even the Calculator updates that demoed really well on the iPad ended up also being iOS features.

On the plus side, as far as I can tell, we did actually get every single iOS feature on iPadOS this time, and we don’t have to wait a year like is so often the case.

I guess a solid update if you were already happy with everything about the iPad, but a real letdown if you were thinking, “Apple’s going to finish the M4 iPad Pro at WWDC.”

macOS Sequoia

Much like iPadOS, macOS largely got all the changes that came to iOS as well, which I feel better about for 2 main reasons:

  1. No one is clamoring for macOS to “get there”, it’s already powerful and most functional gaps are solved by third party apps
  2. There was at least one knockout feature announced that makes macOS special

The rad feature is the next step for Continuity, which is a general category for all the functions that Apple enables between different Apple devices. This year it’s “iPhone Mirroring” which lets you mirror your iPhone to your Mac. Bezel has done something like this before, but Apple uses their elevated position as the platform owner to take this to the next level.

This looks sick and is really cleverly done. The thing that gets me most excited is the ability to have notifications appear on my Mac and not just on my iPhone. The fact that clicking on that notification opens that on my iPhone on my Mac’s display is just awesome. And again, since Apple has elevated powers here, the fact that your phone screen remains off while all this is happening is just a cherry on top.

I can’t help but snark that Apple lets you use your iPhone with a mouse and everyone thinks it’s awesome, but touching a Mac remains beyond the pale and something only a fool would suggest 😉

Anyway, it’s nice to see all the iOS features hit the Mac right away, and the new iPhone mirroring feature will be fantastic for doing quick things on my phone when I’m working on my Mac.

Apple Intelligence

We’re 2,000 words into this thing and you might expect another 2,000 words on this alone, but I actually have less to say about this than you might expect. So much of these generative AI features depend on how well they work in practice, not in staged demos, so I am finding it hard to think anything too definitive right now since I can’t use it yet.

In broad strokes, I guess my feelings are:

  1. The native text tools are great to see. Proofreading alone is an excellent thing to have available everywhere on your devices.
  2. We’ll see how good the rewriting features are, but I don’t particularly love those. I am happy to see that their options for modifying text all involve shortening your work, not expanding it (aka the “turn these bullet points into a long email” use case).
  3. Guessing and summarizing your most notable notifications looks rad.
  4. Showing email summaries in the list view of Mail is a godsend.
  5. Siri being able to fall back to ChatGPT when it can’t answer something is good, and I hope there is a way to let it always allow this rather than manually pressing a button like they showed in the keynote.
  6. Custom emoji…sorry, Genmoji might be cool, but time will tell.
  7. I was shocked to see Apple do image generation; not because it was too hard for them, but because AI images suck. “Did AI make this?” is literally the current insult you throw at something that looks bad.
  8. Smarter search in Photos looks awesome.
  9. Magic Eraser…sorry, “Clean Up” looks nice.

I know there’s more, but without using it, I don’t have a super strong opinion just yet.

For my part, I’ll be watching developer sessions this week, which always have some nice goodies that I appreciate but weren’t keynote-worthy.