Microsoft Loomed Large Over WWDC (Premium)


Ahead of my analysis of yesterday’s WWDC 2019 keynote, it occurs to me that Microsoft quietly had an outsized impact on the announcements.

This is interesting on a few levels.

Most obviously, Microsoft is commonly thought to have lost at mobile, but its post-Windows Phone efforts to expand its presence on the dominant mobile platforms has been quite successful. And while Apple never really mentioned Microsoft explicitly in the keynote, that’s emblematic of the role Microsoft will probably have for most individuals in the future: Unseen but still quite influential.

In any event, there are at least three key ways in which Microsoft impacted the WWDC 2019 keynote.

First, as Mehedi wrote, Apple TV is gaining support for Xbox One (and PlayStation) controllers in tvOS, which is expected this fall. “tvOS 13 adds support for the best and most popular game controllers in the world, Xbox One S and PlayStation DualShock 4, making it even easier for gamers to take advantage of Apple Arcade and other great games on the App Store,” Apple notes in its iOS 13 announcement.

But that support extends to iOS as well, and the audience of gamers on iOS—which includes iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (despite the recent addition of iPadOS)—is much, much bigger than the gamer audience on Apple TV. Apple doesn’t mention Xbox One Controller support in its iOS 13 announcement. But it’s coming and will be available to those who subscribe to Apple’s coming Arcade service. This could make mobile gaming truly interesting for the first time to those who today prefer consoles.

Second, Mojang’s demo of Minecraft Earth, which mingles the world of Minecraft with the real world using the AR technologies in iOS, was arguably the hit of the show. Left unsaid, of course, is that Microsoft owns Mojang and Minecraft, which Apple breathlessly claimed during the keynote was “the best-selling game of all time.”

The demo is inspiring, and the experience is clearly amazing. And you can catch it at about the 2:01:28 mark in Apple’s video replay of the keynote. The best bit? You can tell that the Mojang presenters are blown away by being able to demonstrate this title publicly. Just look at their faces as the demo concludes. That’s what bliss looks like.

Third and finally, Microsoft’s Office apps played a role in the iPad portion of the show because they legitimatize Apple’s ongoing efforts to morph this platform into more of a PC-like productivity experience. This year, Apple is separating the new iPadOS from iOS so that it can more easily make this transition, and iPadOS 13 (as I assume it will be called) includes a more efficient home screen, improved Split Screen and Slide Over capabilities, better Apple Pencil integration, a more powerful Files app, a desktop version of the Safari web browser, improved text editing, and more.

For its first public demo of iPadOS, Apple used an iPad Pro that was loaded down with Apple’s built-in apps, of course. But there was exactly one third-party app on the home screen, for Microsoft Word, which was sporting its colorful new logo. Noting that you can use two Microsoft Word documents side-by-side, Apple’s Craig Federighi joked, “now that’s enterprise-y right there.”

But it was no joke: Microsoft Word was the only third-party app used during the iPadOS demo.

In case it’s not obvious, Microsoft’s influence over WWDC is even more impressive because Apple’s platforms are so locked down. Where Microsoft can easily meld Android to its own will, and does via a big lineup of Android launchers, virtual keyboards, and apps and services all kinds, including PC integration capabilities, getting onto iOS is a lot more complicated, and a lot more limited.

And yet there it was, on stage, a big presence at Apple’s own show. There’s only one reason, then, for this influence. Microsoft’s offerings are good enough to warrant the attention. Even from Apple.

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