What to Take Away From Apple WWDC 2016

Apple’s latest developer conference brought some major changes to the software that powers the iPhone and the Mac.

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Jun 13 2016, 7:52pm

Third-parties getting a crack at Siri highlight the new goodies in iOS 10.

WWDC, Apple's annual developer shindig where it typically introduces new versions of iOS and OS X and lays out its vision for the coming year, kicked off as scheduled on Monday in San Francisco. After hosting a moment's silence to mourn the victims of Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, CEO Tim Cook threw the keynote to his top lieutenants where they all discussed the changes coming to the iPhone/iPad, the Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch with a slew of software updates due before the end of the year.

Apple TV: You know how every time you download a television network's app it asks you to authenticate with your (or your parents') cable username and password? Well, Apple just fixed that with an app called Single Sign-On. Now you merely authenticate once, and Apple TV will remember that username/password combination for each subsequent app. Is that enough to justify the big cost (it starts at $149) of the Apple TV relative to the other cord cutting devices out there? I'm hesitant to say yes, but the assembled crowd absolutely loved the idea when Eddy Cue, the Apple executive who counts Apple TV among his various domains, made the announcement.

OS X: Say goodbye to OS X and say hello to macOS—macOS Sierra, to be specific. Yes, Apple will officially change the name of OS X to macOS beginning with the next major release in order to better align with its other platform names: iOS for iPhone/iPad, watchOS for Apple Watch, and tvOS for Apple TV.

Beyond the name change, the biggest news here is that Siri is coming to the Mac, which has been an open secret for several months. In truth, Apple is playing catchup here, with Google releasing its own voice control assistant for Chrome in 2014, and Microsoft releasing Cortana for Windows in 2015. Siri for the Mac can do things like search for and open files and play playlists (provided you use iTunes).

Apple also showed off a few other tricks with macOS Sierra, including the ability to unlock your Mac when in range of your Apple Watch and the ability to share your clipboard between your iPhone and your Mac. That way if you copy text on your Mac it'll be available to paste when you move over to your iPhone. Game changer? Hardly, but another quality of life improvement to Apple's 15-year-old desktop operating system.

iOS: The big addition to iOS this year is that third-party developers will be able to hook into Siri, something that Motherboard explored the possible ramifications of just a few days ago. And just as we figured, opening up Siri to third-party developers will allow you to, say, send Slack messages, search inside Pinterest or Shutterfly, and make a Skype call using your voice.

Apple's also opening Messages, its SMS replacement app, to third-party developers, something other messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and China's WeChat have had for quite a while now. Expect things like stickers, animated GIFs, and other messaging mainstays to be become part of your Messages conversations with iOS 10.

Apple Watch: The biggest vote of confidence that Apple gave the Apple Watch was by referring to its as one of the company's four major development platforms, alongside the iPhone/iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.

With watchOS 3, the latest version of the software that powers the Apple Watch that's due this fall, Apple focused on getting apps to launch faster than ever before (the Apple Watch was never exactly known as a speed demon), showing a sports scores app loading just about instantly. That's probably how the Apple Watch should have launched, but that's another matter. Apple also highlighted a feature called Scribble that will let you draw English and Mandarin responses to text messages right on the watch face.

Oh, and Minnie Mouse will now be a selectable watch face, which, believe it or not, popped the crowd big time when it was announced.

The big takeaway here? Apple is working overtime to improve the experience of using an Apple Watch, focusing on speed and other quality of life enhancements, but until you can fully use it independently of a tethered iPhone it will merely be considered a pricey, and not exactly vital, accessory.

Wrap-up: Midway during Apple's presentation Motherboard staff writer Jason Koebler asked me if Apple had showed off anything "cool." My response was, outside of the potential for developers to finally unlock Siri's potential, this was all just about what you'd expect from an Apple WWDC keynote—and that's OK.

The Apple Watch and Apple TV were given some room to breathe, while the lion's share of time was spent on macOS and iOS. Opening up technologies like Siri and Messages to outside developers makes all the sense in the world, but that's also something developers have been able to do with other platforms. Nothing groundbreaking, but about time.