WWDC 2014 Round Up

Scott McMullon
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While Apple may have a tendency to polarise lovers of technology we have to admit that they do know how to throw an event to keep their fans happy. That is very much the story with the latest convention at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) as Apple’s best and brightest show off the latest new features users can look forward to playing with. While many were predicting that the much rumoured iPhone 6 might be revealed or even the mythical iWatch, this was all about the software this time around focusing mainly on Apples laptop, desktop and mobile operating systems.

OS 10.10 Yosemite

It seems like only yesterday that users of desktop and laptop devices recently updated to OS X Mavericks which helped push the curve for what we could do with our operating systems, however, it is with this latest refresh to 10.10 Yosemite, that Apple takes another grand step forward.

Altogether the design has taken cues from last years iOS7 release and now focuses on flatter, more 2D imagery, particularly in the launchpad which has had a total redesign. The sense of transparency that has been such a staple of the new iOS has also been reflected here as toolbars and certain acts allow a blurred image of the screen behind, further pushing this theme.

In terms of real new features we were impressed to see that the Notification centre has had it’s functionality extended to include a day view and also the appearance of app widgets to help allow a level of customisation to the individual Mac. This is a feature which has also extended to third parties allowing for a similar treatment as what we have seen in Samsung devices, while still keeping within the confines of the Apple aesthetic.

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Speaking of enhancement, the Spotlight search tool has been touched up to make it a stronger and more valuable resource, as well as opening a quick and easy to use search box in the middle of the screen the new functionality allows users to search their files with previews of their documents as well as being able to look online. While this seem like a small touch it can become a great utility for users with a taste for research. Safari also has had a few adjustments including a slimmer menu bar, a new sharing button to share with users at a touch of a button and even a quick and easy to use RSS subscription option to help take that level of customisability even further.

Now AirDrop is something which has helped revolutionise sharing content over WiFi on the iOS but it has now been taken to the Mac allowing sharing between devices to become that much easier. This continuity feature also responds to projects allowing users to take work from device to device at the touch of the button, such as emails, documents and even spreadsheets. This is all wonderfully backed up with a new iCloud Drive which allows remote storing of vast quantities of data from a variety of sources and apps allowing the potential for back ups for a whole swathe of devices.

The theme of customisation has always been a tricky one with Apple who have often been critiqued on how their framework is too tight for some. Features like iMessages which allow iDevices and Macs to communicate with each other is great but often leaves out those who aren’t in the Apple family. But Apple may be on the way to changing this as they announced that Mac users will now be able to receive and send SMS between mac devices and non apple phones opening the doors to a new level of unity for users of all kinds of different operating systems.

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iOS 8

After we were finished enthusing about the refreshed OS for Mac, we got a closer look at the new features for the mobile line as the developers talked turkey about iOS 8. Building on the new framework from last years software update Apple have brought in a mass of new features and treats to keep iPad, iPod and iPhone users coming back for more.

Many of the new features are gentle tweaks on existing ideas, for example double tapping the home button now shows all open apps as before, but also lists all your most recent contacts as well as methods of communicating with them. Similarly the Notifications centre, a mainstay of the system since the launch of iOS 5, has now allowed notifications to be more interactive, allowing people to respond and act on a new notification without leaving the app they are in. Even Siri gets some work done as it now no longer needs a user to touch the phone now following vocal activation commands, what is more, Siri now has functionality with Shazam allowing people to get access to music they hear and find them on iTunes.

The promised Health Book was also announced as Health Kit and simply Health, which shows Apple jumping on the healthy living band-wagon as well as on the course for greater health awareness. Using the rationale of pulling together all the apps that offer health based services into a single cohesive place for an almost aerial view of a persons health. We have to say we are not always the most active people but were impressed when Apple announced its partnership with the Mayo Clinic, and even features such as contacting a doctor on the users behalf should new test results show a problem.

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There were some surprising gimmicks though that made us smile, for good and bad reasons. The idea of family sharing, allowing a family to have access to each others iTunes content sounds good until you realise this allows people to share pictures as well. We don’t know about you all but we think there are some pics on our phones that mother simply doesn’t need to see… ever! That said we did like how it can be programmed to only allow a child to purchase something should a parent provide approval as iTunes sends the parent a message asking for customisation. After all the high profile stories of kids running up massive bills with online app stores it is a sign that Apple are trying to think smarter.

We did like that the classic Photos app was getting a mild upgrade to allow for more editing and exposure choices once the picture had been taken. It also benefits from the integration with the iCloud drive allowing for storage and access of pictures from a mobile device as well as a Mac. Similarly Messages has a few updates allowing users to form group messages with a few users and able to share content such as voice bites, video blasts and pics as well as texts. This can also be regulated to include a do not disturb option meaning users don’t need to worry about having their phone buzzing too much.

Altogether the new software updates are all set to add a lot of new features to the mix for Apples various devices. Many people decried the last software updates as being unfinished and lacking in enough new toys to keep users attention, but listening to reactions from Twitter and other social media have helped to show these new updates will be waited for with bated breath.  OS 10.10 Yosemite and iOS8 are released for developers now, casual users can expect to get the updated features for themselves in Autumn 2014.

About Scott McMullon

Lover of literature, film and music living in Essex (no jokes please!). 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars' - Oscar Wilde