At its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote this morning, Apple announced updates to all three of its major mobile platforms: Mac OS X, iOS and watchOS, the new name for the OS on the firm’s Apple Watch. Here’s what you can expect from these updates.
Mac OS X “El Capitan” 10.11
Apple has been on a California-based naming kick lately for OS X, and the next release gets even weirder by using the name “El Capitan,” which is a place inside Yosemite, which was the name of the previous release. But let’s not get all meta here: OS X 10.11, as it’s really called, is a decidedly minor update based on what Apple showed at WWDC. Some new features include:
Window management improvements. OS X includes a window management feature called Mission Control, and in this next release it is picking up a new Spaces Bar at the top of the screen where you can drag windows a la the Windows 10 virtual desktops feature. But the bigger deal, perhaps, is the new Split View feature, which lets you run two fullscreen apps side-by-side, like you can in Windows 8+. Copying is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.
Spotlight search improvements. Curiously, OS X isn’t getting Siri yet—you know it’s coming—so Apple is instead updating the current search feature, called Spotlight, with weather, stocks, sports, transit and web video data sources.
Performance improvements. Apple is claiming performance improvements of 40-50 percent, which makes one wonder what the heck was wrong with Yosemite, the previous release.
New system font. This is big news for Apple guys: OS X 10.11 will include a new system font called San Francisco that is specially made for Retina HD-class displays.
App updates. The built-in apps are all getting minor updates that are mostly not very interesting.
Professional developers can access the OS X El Capitan beta starting today, and a public beta will ship in July. The final version will be free and will be available this fall.
Windows 8 and Surface fans will be delighted to discover that Apple is, as expected, copying some of the key features from these systems, including the ability to snap two apps side-by-side (though that will in fact only work on the very latest iPad Air model, and not other iOS devices). But other new multitasking features will work on most existing iOS devices, including a nice Slide Over feature that lets you swipe in from the edge of the screen to access another app without leaving the app you’re currently using.
Apple iOS 9 will also feature a unique picture-in-picture mode which is obvious in retrospect and looks very useful.
Beyond these new multitasking features, Apple also announced the following other improvements in iOS 9:
Siri with proactive search. Apple’s digital assistant software is getting a big upgrade in iOS 9 and will more closely resemble Google Now, offering a number of “proactive” new features—app or contact suggestions based on location and usage patterns, appointment notifications that take account of the commute time and traffic, time-based reminders, and more.
Improved Maps. The reviled Apple Maps app is being updated with transit information and maps, and a Nearby feature that will help you find food, drinks, shopping and more. You know, like Local Scout on Windows Phone. In 2010.
Improved Notes app. Taking a swipe at Evernote and OneNote, the built-in Notes app in iOS 9 is gaining fonts, finger-based sketching, to-do checklists, photo importing, and other features we’ve all been using for years elsewhere.
New News app. It’s unclear why Apple needed to make a news app of its own, but the News app it introduced looks like a combination of Flipboard and Facebook’s Instant Articles. Completely uninteresting.
Apple Pay improvements. Apple Pay will now work with store and rewards cards, and with Discover.
Foundational improvements. As expected, iOS 9 will feature a number of low-level improvements that will help improvement performance, disk usage, security, reliability and battery life.
Apple’s iOS 9 is available now to professional developers, but there will be a public beta in July as well. The final release is expected “this fall,” which I assume means “roughly concurrently with new iPhone models.” It will be free, of course.
Apple has named the platform behind its Apple Watch as watchOS and along with the Apple Music service the firm announced separately, you can see that the firm is finally getting past those “i” names. The big deal here is that developers will finally be able to write native apps that run on the Watch; today, they write iPhone app extensions that run on the phone, with the obvious resulting performance penalty.
And it’s not just standalone apps. Developers can also write watch “complications”—a terrible name that is based on a feature of mechanical watches—which are little glanceable UIs, like mini live tiles. (That this is something iOS doesn’t even have is interesting; mark my words, iOS 10 will have a feature called or at least based on Apple Watch complications.)
Beyond developer features, Apple Watch is gaining a nightstand mode, voice activated workouts, Apple Pay improvements, and other obvious improvements. Indeed, there is a lot of stuff going on with the Watch, which is to be expected given how new this product is, and how incomplete the platform was at launch. I would be surprised if we had to wait until next year for watchOS 3.
Apple watchOS 2 will be available this fall as a free update.