Apple’s WWDC 2017 Wrap Up, Machine Learning Edition

Apple just blew through six major updates on stage at WWDC, telling us about the future of iOS, macOS, watchOS, and even the iMac and iPad. While the keynote was run at breakneck pace and went for close to two-and a half hours, the pervasive theme — besides rumours spoiling nothing — was that Apple are focusing on machine learning to power many technologies moving forward. When Cook’s update about Apple was brief and to the point — “Apple’s doing great!” — you knew you were in for a good time. Let’s break it down.

1. Apple TV

Amazon arriving on the Apple TV was the first cab off the rank, a seemingly minor update to the platform. Coming later this year, Amazon Prime Video will be good for all Amazon Prime subscribers, but less useful for those of us that live outside of the US or the UK don’t get all the advantages of Amazon Prime.

2. watchOS 4

Kevin Lynch was up next to talk watchOS 4, which features new watch faces, improvements to workouts, and the new ability for watchOS to talk to gym equipment to exchange information, so that both the watch and the equipment can share information that the other doesn’t have.

There’s a new proactive Siri watch face in watchOS 4, which tells you about upcoming things like the trip to work, upcoming meetings, and what the weather is like today. It’s powered by machine learning to understand your habits and learn about them over time, in order to tell you about what you want to know next, and the updates even change over the course of the day so they’re always showing you something relevant. The new Siri watch face joins the trippy Kaleidoscope (Apple’s version of an Apple Watch fidget spinner, to be sure) and new Toy Story animated watch faces featuring Woody, Jessie, and Buzz.

Improvements to workouts include smarts that allow multiple workouts during the same workout, workouts automatically starting a playlist of music, and some swimming-related workout improvements that can tell you how you’re doing when you take a short break at one end of the pool. Activity improvements compare you against your past self, encouraging you to move more than the previous month.

WatchOS 4 will be a free update this fall, which probably means after September.

3. macOS High Sierra

I’m not exactly sure what the marketing team at Apple were thinking (or smoking, for that matter) when they called it High Sierra, but maybe this a Leopard/Snow Leopard, Lion/Mountain Lion-esque update to Apple’s desktop platform. As per usual, there were refinements to Safari, Mail, and Photos, as well as tech improvements in data, video, and graphics.

Safari gets a new intelligent tracking prevention system, designed to prevent ads from previous purchases following you around the web. It’s — of course — powered by machine learning, and there’s also blocking of autoplay videos in webpages, as well as the fastest JavaScript engine of any of the major browsers.

Photos gets a new persistent sidebar that mostly completes its transformation into the iPhoto that it replaced. Better face identification comes courtesy of neural networks. Editing improvements include the ability to adjust curves, selective colour, and synced edits if you decide to go to something like Photoshop. Apple’s also bringing back photo printing services, with a bunch of new printing options to give your memories a more physical presence.

Technology wise, macOS Sierra makes the switch to APFS as the default file system. This impacts everything you do with files, and the demo that Federighi gave was duplicating files, which now happened instantly instead of waiting for files to copy to a new location on disk. HEVC/H.265 becomes a supported format on the mac, with software support for decodes on all Macs running High Sierra and hardware decodes on Macs with compatible hardware.

The introduction of the Metal 2 API, besides a missed opportunity for a Heavy Metal name, also allows for external GPU support. Apple will be releasing a Metal developer kit with a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and a Radeon RX 580 GPU to get people started, and for developers, there’s a bunch of new optimisations and APIs for developers included in Metal 2, as well as VR support for the first time on Macs. Apple’s working with Steam to bring their VR SDK to the Mac, and both Unity and Unreal will be making their VR SDKs available on the Mac in the future, too.

MacOS High Sierra will be a free update this fall, available on any Mac that currently runs Sierra.

But wait, there’s more.

The iMac lineup has been refreshed, with display getting brighter and being capable of displaying more colours. Kaby Lake processors provide the power to do 10-bit HEVC decodes (handy when you’re pushing that many pixels on the 4K and 5K Retina iMacs), and you can now customise iMacs with more RAM than ever before; up to 32 GB on the 21.5-inch, and up to 64 GB on the 27-inch. Fusion drives now come standard on the high-end 21.5-inch and all configurations of the 27-inch model, and last but not least, all iMacs now come with two Thunderbolt 3 ports to replace their existing Thunderbolt ports and to complement the existing four USB-A ports.

The new iMac starts at $1,899 for the 21.5-inch model with a 4K display, which is a 3GHz/8GB/1TB configuration. The 27-inch model starts at $2,699 for a 3.5GHz/8GB/1TB configuration, both available today to ship on Thursday.

I was originally skeptical that Mac speed bumps would make it to the keynote, but Apple announced 7th generation Intel processors for all iMacs, the MacBook Pro, and regular MacBook. Nothing else notable here, and I’m even reasonably sure prices remain the same.

Apple also provided us with a sneak peek of an upcoming product. The iMac Pro (probably) isn’t the expandable Mac that was discussed earlier this year, but will be the one pushing the iMac envelope, re-defining what a pro-level machine is. It’s as if Apple took out all the stops and created the fastest, most powerful iMac they possibly could. The iMac Pro comes with an 8, 10, or 18-core Xeon processor, AMD’s brand-new Vega-class graphics that provide comparable performance to Nvidia’s current consumer flagship graphics card, and up to 128GB of ECC RAM and 4TB of SSD at 3GB/s. Four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and a 10Gb Ethernet port complete the I/O, and there’s a seriously cool thermal management system that uses dual blowers to keep things at just the right temperature while keeping noise down.

Apple announced the Space Grey iMac Pro would be available by the end of the year for US$4,999 — Australian pricing wasn’t announced, but you can bet that for those kinds of specs and a 5K display, you’ll be paying something north of $6,000.

For those of us that aren’t quite that spendy, there’s always the Magic Keyboard, now with a numeric keypad. $179, ships Monday.

4. iOS 11

With Cook telling us that iOS doesn’t suffer from the horrible fragmentation of competing platforms, it was then over to Federighi to tell us about how iOS 11 would turn the iOS to 11 with a combination of technology improvements and new features.

On the iPhone side, there’s a bunch of improvements to everyday essentials such as Messages, Siri, Photos, Control Centre, Maps, and even the App Store. There’s a ridiculous number of new features in iOS 11, way too many to list, but a few of my favourites include:

  • Synced conversations across all of your devices when using iMessage
  • Apple Pay for person-to-payments, although it’s only available in the US to begin with
  • New female and male Siri voices, powered by deep learning to give Siri a more natural-sounding voice,
  • Better compression algorithms for video and stills — HEVC for video, HEIF for stills
  • Indoor maps for malls and airports, providing detailed floor plans as well as directory and search features. Initially in the US, but expanding to other countries eventually I’m sure
  • Navigation improvements in Maps including speed limits and lane guidance
  • New Live Photo effects, including a loop, machine-learning powered Bounce, and Long Exposure effect that will be the new hotness on Instagram in about a few months
  • Computer vision to identify photos of dogs
  • AirPlay 2 which brings multi-room audio, a shared Up Next playlist, and the developer APIs to match

Schiller told us about the upcoming App Store redesign, which has a new Today tab for app discovery and telling us what’s hot. There’s separate Games and Apps tabs in the App Store now, each capable of showing both apps as well as in-app purchases for new content for apps you already own, and apps get a new app page which shows off apps in a whole new light. It’s all a little reminiscent of the recent Apple Music redesign, with big weighty typefaces in headings and liberal use of whitespace.

Developers get the Metal 2 APIs and Core ML. Machine Learning is an obvious part of iOS 11 — Apple already uses it in a bunch of places for things like iPad palm rejection, battery life prediction, face recognition and memories, and now new Machine Learning APIs will allow developers to do their own computer vision and text analysis. There’s also ARKit, which will let developers detect surfaces and do some pretty cool stuff with AR in the future.

We’ll be right back with more iOS 11 features in a bit, but iOS 11 will be out this fall and feature compatibility as far back as the iPhone 5s, iPad mini 2, and 6th generation iPod touch. You remember those, right?

5. iPad Pro

The rumoured 10.5-inch iPad Pro was finally unveiled by Apple, with 40% less bezels and a 20% larger display compared to the 9.7-inch model it replaces. Display improvements mean that the iPad Pro now lets you have a full-size on-screen keyboard and Smart Keyboard accessory. Besides that, the display on the iPad Pro is brighter and less reflective than ever before, capable of displaying HDR video. Apple’s new ProMotion technology means the new display runs at 120Hz, supporting either that or a variable refresh rate depending on the content being displayed, which lets the Apple Pencil attain a 20ms response time.

It’s all powered by Apple’s new A10X Fusion chip, combining a pair of three-core high efficiency and high-performance chips for even better performance, while delivering the same 10-hour battery life. There’s also a 12-core graphics chip for 40% faster performance over the previous iPad Pro.

But the big news in terms of the iPad was all the iPad-specific features that are coming to iOS 11.

There’s a new Files app that brings all of your files together no matter where they live — and with support for third-party storage solutions such as Dropbox and OneDrive, you’ll be able to get access to your files from your iPad, no worries.

The Dock lets you swipe up to switch apps and drag to enter multitasking, whether you’re using the multi-modal displays such as Slide Over, or going back to a previous screen that had two apps in Split View.

Drag and drop lets you, uh, drag and drop, just about anything. Text, photos, links, whatever you want.

System-wide support for markup and annotations with the Apple Pencil just made the Apple Pencil a must-have accessory. A little window appears when you take a screenshot that lets you scribble all over it, and any input field can be turned into a place for an inline drawing.

The Notes app gets a serious revamp, too. Now, you can instantly access a notes area by tapping your Apple Pencil on the lock screen, letting you quickly draw and diagram something which then gets saved to the Notes app for later. There’s a new document scanner in Notes, letting you digitise, markup, and save to PDF a document.

It’s all pretty wild, and while iOS 11 won’t be released until after September, you can buy the new iPad Pro now. Both the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch models have been updated with the 120Hz ProMotion display, which are now also True Tone and support wide colour. Pricing for the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro is $979, $1,129, or $1,429 for the 64, 256, and 512GB capacities in Wi-Fi only, whereas if you want Wi-Fi and Cellular, you’ll be paying $1,179, $1,329, and $1,629, respectively. Then there’s about a $200 premium if you want the 12.9-inch model, and both ship next week.

6. Music

Following Apple’s revolution in the personal music space, they wanted to do something about the home. Short of releasing the iPod Hi-Fi again, we got the next best thing, or at least a sneak peak at Apple’s HomePod. It’s a combination of a wireless speaker and Siri personal assistant, just like the rumours said it was going to be.

It looks a a little like the Mac Pro, but packs a bunch of great audio features into the package. It’s been “engineered to bring down the house”, with smarts so it adapters its seven tweeters and high-excursion woofer to the available space so it sounds great regardless of what kind of space you give it.

It also has a built-in A8 chip, so it can continually evaluate the sound it’s producing via six inbuilt microphones. The A8 chip also lets you request songs via Siri, as the HomePod is designed to work with Apple Music straight off the bat. You can even pair multiple HomePods together, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It integrates with HomeKit. It answers questions via Siri. It’s HomePod, and it’ll be launching in the US, UK, and Australia in December for US$349. Australian pricing hasn’t been announced, but the smart money is on somewhere around $499.

And that, I think, is all she wrote. It was an absolutely jam-packed event, with many of the presenters blowing through their demos and right past the slides showing off the lesser features of iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, but I’m sure we’ll have more to unpack over the next couple of days as WWDC happens. For now, join us in the discussion in the forums, and tell us what you think! Oh, and if you’re ordering anything off the Apple Store, make sure to use our affiliate link.

Notable Replies

  1. A pleasantly surprising and unexpected keynote, loving everything that was announced - now this cynical old bugger just has to try and find money for new toys....

  2. That new iPad is very very nice indeed. Wish I could justify the expense :frowning:

  3. I'm curious to see what happens when dosdude gets ahold of High Sierra, and if it is similarly moddable to install on my 2008 Mac Pro which, as we've been discussing, runs Sierra 10.12.5 spectacularly. I cannot see why it wouldn't run High Sierra, unless Apple intentionally undermines the avenues dosdude used for Sierra.

Continue the discussion talk.appletalk.com.au

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