Apple / Software / Tech Conference

Apple WWDC 2013: everything you need to know

A new Mac Pro, OS X 10.9, a completely redesigned iOS 7, iTunes Radio, and much more

 

ios

This year’s WWDC may have started off slow with a nondescript app demo from third-party developer Anki, but the typical barrage of news started soon enough, with major updates to both iOS and OS X only representing part of the press conference. Both operating systems have abandoned nearly all signs of skeuomorphism — indeed, Apple executives continually poked fun at the felt, stitching, and leather featured in older versions of the operating systems. iOS 7 looks shockingly refreshing, and OS X has seen many changes as well — including a move away from cat names. 10.9 is known as “Mavericks,” and it kicks off a series of California-inspired names for future versions. Overall, the extremely welcome software tweaks (which we’ll enumerate below) show Apple catching up to its competitors in many ways.

The show was light on hardware though new MacBook Airs with “all-day” battery life, Intel’s new Haswell processors, and lower price points were announced, as well as a long-overdue redesign of Apple’s Mac Pro desktop. Stubborn rumors about an Apple TV and iWatch will likely refuse to die, as Tim Cook and company had nothing to announce today, and we expect that users will continue to complain about iOS 6 until later this year as no one but developers will get their hands on the new stitching-free version of the mobile operating system until this fall.

Hardware

The MacBook Air gets Haswell

The first generation of machines with Intel’s new Haswell processors are showing up, and Apple isn’t missing the boat. The company announced a refreshed line of MacBook Airs using the Haswell ULT chip. Apple promises dramatic battery improvements — an 11-inch Air should now get 9 hours of battery, while the 13-inch should get 12 hours. Graphics will also get better on Haswell; Apple says we could see a 40 percent boost in graphics speed. The Air still can’t compete with machines that use a dedicated chip, but this change could open the door to better gaming or high-performance software options. The new Airs begin shipping today, starting at $999 for the 11-inch model and $1,099 for a 13-inch model.

Mac Pro sneak peak

The Mac Pro has kept a low profile at recent events, but now Apple has unveiled a dramatic redesign of its high-end desktop. It comes with dual AMD GPUs which Phil Schiller claims deliver “7 teraflops of performance,” and it supports Thunderbolt 2 and 4K displays. It also comes in a surprisingly small package: it’s several inches shorter and thinner than the last Mac Pro tower. The Mac Pro will be coming sometime later in 2013, and it’s being made in America — this is probably the “new version of a current Mac product” hinted at earlier this year.

New Airport Extreme base station and Time Capsule

A couple of Apple’s long-standing internet products — the AirPort Extreme router and Time Capsule backup unit — received some overdue updates today as well. Naturally the company has added next-generation 802.11ac Wi-Fi to both units, said to offer 1.3Gbps of throughput, which will be helpful for the few of you wired up with gigabit connections. The biggest change however is a fully redesigned AirPort Extreme base station that’s 4 inches by 6 inches. The Airport Extreme is available now for $199, while 2TB and 3TB versions of the new Time Capsule will be available for $299 and $399, respectively.

 

iOS 7

A new look from Jony Ive

Since the first iPhone was released in 2007, Apple’s interface has looked more or less the same — and as iPhone hardware evolved, iOS started looking stale. Under former hardware design head Jony Ive that’s changed somewhat. Apple has kept the basic structure of iOS but it’s redesigned its icons with a flatter, more stylized look —the whole palette has become brighter and simpler by stripping out the gradients that were ubiquitous in previous versions. When scrolling through things like the home screen or Messages app you’ll see a subtle parallax effect.

iOS 7 includes a number of small but noticeable tweaks: fonts have been slimmed down, there’s a new version of the classic slide-to-unlock function, and a new translucent control panel slides up from the bottom for quick access to frequently used settings. Touch gestures have also been expanded with a greater reliance on things like swiping and pinching. There’s also a tilt feature that changes the interface. Folders no longer top out at 12 or 16 apps – you can put hundreds in a folder if you want.

Multitasking like webOS

At long last, multitasking is no longer a list of four icons. Instead, Apple has taken a page from webOS and Windows Phone. When you double-tap the home button, large thumbnails of your apps appear at the top of the screen with their identifying icons underneath. You can scroll horizontally through them and see three at a time. Apple also said that every app will offer multitasking in iOS 7, theoretically meaning that you won’t have to wait forever switch between recently used apps.

The old multitasker used to have an option to swipe to the left to see common toggles — like music controls — but those features have been separated out into a new feature called Control Center, which is available with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

Notification Center cleans up

Take a sigh of relief: Notification Center has seen a desperately needed overhaul in iOS 7. The list of changes includes many eminently obvious but previously unavailable features. For instance, iOS 7 allows you to access your notifications from the lock screen, and notifications sync between devices so you don’t need to dismiss the same update multiple times. The top of the new Notification Center features three tabs, “today,” “all,” and “missed.” The first is a bit reminiscent of Google Now: it gives you a heads-up on what’s coming up today, with calendar appointments, weather, birthday notifications, stock prices, and more. Of course, like in the rest of iOS 7, there’s a huge visual overhaul here too. The pull-down menu is now transparent (though it attractively blurs out the details of what’s happening on your screen, leaving bold colors), and it features the new fonts and swipe interactions we’ve seen in the rest of the updated operating system. Talk about welcome changes.

Quick-tap toggles for settings

Digging in to change common settings has always been a multi-tap hassle on iOS, but with the new version that’s all changed. From any screen, you can drag up from the bottom to reveal a panel of quick toggles for a bunch of settings including Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, flashlight, and rotation lock. You can also adjust brightness, manage music playback, and connect to AirPlay or AirDrop.

Control Center is slightly translucent, letting you subtly see the app underneath it. All of the icons are clean black outlines on a white background. Some of these settings were hidden away with a left-swipe on the old multitasking view; separating multitasking from Control Center makes a lot of sense.

AirDrop comes to iOS

A new way to share files over Wi-Fi on iOS, AirDrop takes its name from the same feature on the Mac. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the iPhone 5, but Apple says it will work system-wide. It is also securely encrypted, and it transfers the files directly, peer-to-peer. You can toggle AirDrop to accept files from other people on the same Wi-Fi network or force it to only accept files from your contacts. On stage, Tim Cook couldn’t help but take a subtle dig at Android — and mostly Samsung — by saying there’s “no need to wander around the room bumping your phones.”

Instacropping and automatic organization

The once-basic Photos app on iOS is taking cues from desktop apps like iPhoto or the new photo tools in Google+. The latest version will automatically organize photographs into “moments” based on where and when you took the images. Photos will be labeled based on the moment they’re in, which can be sorted according to various levels of granularity. Photos taken in different parts of San Francisco, for example, may be labeled as different moments but they’ll all be part of the same San Francisco vacation collection and can be viewed as a single chunk. This works temporally too so you can get a look at everything you’ve posted in the last year.

There’s also an increased emphasis on sharing. Photos can be automatically cropped into a square shape for Instagram and photostreams can be shared, allowing you to create a stream and then let friends add photos to it.

App Store auto-updates

The App Store has undergone a couple of subtle but useful changes. It’s now hooked into the iPhone’s GPS and offers suggestions for popular apps based on where you are — if you’re in New York, you might get a subway map or a local restaurant guide. Users also won’t have to manually update apps; like with Android, they’ll download in the background. It’s meant to both keep people out of Apple’s sometimes awkward update section and prevent new versions of apps from piling up.

A smarter Siri

Siri’s signature robotic voice is getting an overhaul. A redesigned version of the personal assistant comes with the option of a male or female voice, both more natural-sounding than the original. Several languages are supported, and Siri’s data sources have been expanded: users can query her (or him) for information from Wikipedia or Twitter. Apple touted a partnership with Bing which is currently used to pull in web results, but it’s possible other search engines will be available.

Apple joins the streaming music race

Is Apple going to kill Pandora? That’s the question people will be asking in the coming months now that the company has finally unveiled its streaming music service. iTunes Radio is free for everyone, though you’ll see ads unless you subscribe to iTunes Match, and it offers radio stations similar to other streaming music services. It’s built into the Music app and offers selected radio stations that can be shared with friends.

Unlike other radio apps, iTunes Radio is geared less toward pure streaming and more toward old-fashioned purchases: if you like a song you hear on the radio, you can follow a link to buy it. Apple is coming relatively late to streaming music — by all accounts, it only finished signing deals with the major labels late last week — and it will be competing with both independent services like Spotify and juggernauts like Google.

iOS for cars

Apple added turn-by-turn directions to its last version of iOS, and it’s expanded vehicular options with iOS 7. A new “iOS in the Car” system will mirror your iPhone on the infotainment displays found in many cars: it’s supported on everything from Kias and Hondas to Jaguars and Ferraris. That means Maps, Siri, Messages, and more will be available directly on the dashboard. You’ll have to wait a while to use it, though; car manufacturers will begin adding the feature in 2014.

OS X 10.9 Mavericks

Organize everything with tags and tabs

Navigation is a big focus in Mavericks, though Apple isn’t introducing anything that hasn’t long been standard in browsers or email. For the first time, Finder windows won’t have to clutter the desktop: 10.9 supports browser-style tabs. Apple has also introduced tags, which can be added to any file to simplify searching and organization. They’re simple changes, but still satisfying to see in OS X.

Revamping the basics: goodbye, leather

Apple’s much-mocked leather or felt interfaces have been stripped out in an across-the-board redesign of its most basic apps. The new Calendar software is flatter and softer, with clean white and silver design language that matches the rest of the interface; the Game Center, phone, and messaging apps have undergone similar changes. iBooks is also coming from iOS to OS X.

Apple Maps, initially one of the more embarrassing pieces of Apple software, has gotten some attention with a desktop version for OS X and an SDK that lets developers add Apple Maps directly to their Mac apps. Desktop and mobile maps are integrated with the option to push directions to an iPhone. The larger desktop screen can also showcase Apple’s dramatic but somewhat sparse flyover 3D views.

Multiple Displays & Apple TV screen sharing

As useful as multiple displays can be, they’ve been frustrating to use in OS X. Apple’s hoping to fix this in Mavericks, redesigning its Mission Control tool with extra displays in mind and adding more settings to show a dock and menu bar on both screens. You can now use two fullscreen apps at once, and if you have an Apple TV, the new features can extend to your television as well with AirPlay.

iOS notifications come to OS X

Apple’s desktop Notifications received a much-need update with the ability to quickly reply directly from a notification — you’ll be able to reply to email, FaceTime, and Messages notifications without having to load up the specific app. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll be able to receive push notifications from your iOS device. Anything you’d receive on the iOS lockscreen, like fantasy football updates or New York Times alerts, are available.

New Safari

Apple updates Safari regularly, but this year saw some particularly dramatic changes. The new Safari takes on apps as diverse as Chrome and 1Password, rolling in many features that you’d otherwise have had to access separately. A new sidebar will hold bookmarks, but it will also integrate reading lists as well as links shared by friends on Twitter and LinkedIn, turning it into a limited client for your social networks. Apple also talked up the browser’s performance: it showed off sets of benchmarks that put Safari on top, taking a swipe at Firefox and calling the competing browser’s energy usage “kinda sad.” The new Safari is supposed to cut down on power use with a feature called App Nap (borrowed from iOS), which will direct power to whatever apps or windows you’re focused on.

Safari gets iCloud keychain

The OS X keychain has fallen out of fashion as people increasingly need to sign in across multiple devices. Macs and iOS devices will have access to a new feature called iCloud Keychain that can remember passwords and auto-suggest them in Safari. It can also store things like credit cards. There are strong echoes of Chrome Sync here, and Apple is also somewhat indirectly taking on dedicated password managers like LastPass and 1Password — as long as you’re invested in the iOS and OS X ecosystem.

iWork takes on Google Docs

As useful as multiple displays can be, they’ve been frustrating to use in OS X. Apple’s hoping to fix this in Mavericks, redesigning its Mission Control tool with extra displays in mind and adding additional settings to show a dock and menu bar on both screens. You can now use two fullscreen apps at once, and if you have an Apple TV, the new features can extend to your television as well with AirPlay.

Wrap-up

While we didn’t see big hardware announcements — except for the completely redesigned Mac Pro — this year’s WWDC included some major changes to Apple’s products. Long-running traditions like the big cat naming scheme were completely abandoned, as was the skeuomorphic design that once defined many of Apple’s apps. We saw further integration of iOS and OS X, and several apps got much-needed feature upgrades.

But the key to WWDC 2013 wasn’t revolution or even primarily evolution — it was playing catch-up. Apple’s long-overdue redesign echoed the flat, brightly colored schemes we’ve seen in other apps and user interfaces for years, and its new apps were often revamped, Apple-focused versions of existing services. In some cases, that was a good thing. Safari rolled in limited social media integration and better power control, and the iOS 7 and OS X redesigns are a breath of fresh air, bringing Apple’s software up to speed with its hardware. In other times, though, it felt like we’d seen it all before.

We’re also still waiting on some of the most interesting developments. The heavily rumored low-cost iPhone was nowhere to be seen, nor were refreshed versions of the iPhone 5, iPad, or iPad mini. If Apple is working on anything stranger or more ambitious — like the enigmatic iWatch — we won’t be seeing it for some time.

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