It’s taken me a while to collect my thoughts on Apple’s WWDC announcements- mostly because there was so much information to digest. First and foremost, I got the vibe that Apple finally woke up. After years of doing their own thing, and acting completely oblivious to customer demands, it feels like they’ve finally started to recognize the wishes of users, which is great. It makes the company look a lot less arrogant. While Apple definitely did a lot of catching up- several things they announced should have existed years ago- it didn’t feel at all like they were struggling. The sheer amount of new features announced on Monday made Apple look like it’s gotten back on its feet. I’ve separated my thoughts into a few categories below, starting with iOS 8.
Overall, I’m very happy with the changes announced in iOS 8. The majority of the new features seem incredibly useful, and there’s a lot of stuff here that I wasn’t expecting at all. Audio messages are great, and a lot of fun too. I just wish they’d be higher quality. Hopefully this will get improved. I’m also hugely excited about the new thread-level message features, although, basic features like leaving a thread should’ve been there since at least iOS 6.
The new system-wide keyboard is awful. The predictive text bar is distracting and takes up way too much screen space, and disabling it still leaves an ugly gray band above the keyboard. Then there’s the backtracked thick font and ruined shift key, but these aren’t specifically new to iOS 8. Another feature I’m not too happy about is the ‘recent contacts’ in the multitasking switcher. I’ve never had the desire to use a feature like this before, and I’ve never found myself even interested in using it now that I have it. The worst part is that there’s no way to disable it, at least yet. I don’t like the idea of extraneous features getting added to multitasking. The same thing happened in classic iOS, and suddenly we were controlling AirPlay settings and rotation lock from the app switcher.
iCloud drive is hugely exciting, and I’m looking forward to a time when I can store all my files this way. However, I think that’s a few years away. Additionally, Apple has solved a huge problem with accessing iCloud files between apps. I see little not to like here. The free 5GB of iCloud storage is still an absolute joke however, so there’s room for improvement on that front.
The last big area of interest to me in iOS 8 is Health. I’m still concerned about making too premature a judgement on software that is so new, but my initial thoughts aren’t exactly positive. First of all, let’s talk about that icon. It’s one of the worst icons I’ve ever seen on iOS. I’m embarrassed to even put it in the back of a folder. In fact, the design of the whole app isn’t great. I probably wouldn’t be as negative if I didn’t already know the great design that Apple threw away in favor of this. From what I’ve seen, the app is also highly complex. Just scrolling through the different sections that can be added to the dashboard left me confused. A lot of the cards feel like they’d be better suited in an app used by medial professionals, not consumers. Of course, the big picture here is yet to be fully realized, as third party accessories will have to be tailored to work with Health. At this point, however, I’m having a hard time picturing anyone but the most hardcore fitness junkies using an app like this, which is disappointing.
Of course, we didn’t see any substantial user interface design changes or tweaks to some of the horrible app icons in iOS, but this is to be expected. I’m fairly confident that iOS is set in design for the foreseeable future, in similar fashion to how classic iOS barely changed for the first 6 years of its life.
OS X Yosemite
The big story in Yosemite (for me) is the new design. There’s a lot of new features, yes, but I’ve been waiting a year to see what Apple would do to unify OS X’s design. I’m both happy and disappointed. It’s great that Apple has flattened the interface to match iOS in some regards. It looks a lot more modern, and I love most of what they’ve done. The new chat bubbles in Messages are almost enough to satisfy me. However, OS X’s redesign is a lot more conservative than what we saw in iOS, which is a shame. If you look past the transparency and blurring effects in Yosemite, not a lot has really changed. Sure, we now have new app icons, and new Spotlight/Notification Center UIs, but the majority of OS X still looks and functions extremely similarly to how it did before. I wish Apple would’ve been more bold in this regard. This was their chance to do something really new and exciting with the Mac, and they didn’t. It almost feels like Yosemite is the product of Apple’s continual backtracking on their new design language, which started with iOS 7.0 beta 2. Button borders are still present in Yosemite, Dock icons are still very 3D (more on this in a second), and a lot of the UI just feels like it still needs a refresh. Going back to Mavericks after using Yosemite does feel like a step back, but more in terms of features than design. Thanks to this modest UI change, Mavericks doesn’t seem immediately old and busted in the way that iOS 6 did. I can still go between the two without it hurting too much. I’d rather it hurt. That’s not to say that I don’t understand all of Apple’s decisions in Yosemite. I think that leaving window shadows and title bar gradients were smart moves- OS X and iOS aren’t the same operating system. However, there are some things in Yosemite that totally baffle me.
Icon inconsistency in Yosemite.
Yosemite’s new icon set seems like a schizophrenic mess. I’m not sure why Apple opted to stay with heavily skeuomorphic, 3D icons, but I’m not angered by that either. What I am angry with, however, is how inconsistent the icons are. Some icons, like the trio of iTunes, App Store, and iBooks are all very consistent (even though all three have shadows underneath the main icon glyphs, while their almost identical iOS counterparts don’t. Baffling.) Others, like Calendar, Reminders, Notes, and Contacts all share a very similar level of texture, depth, and the familiar tilt. Then there’s icons like FaceTime, Messages, Maps and Launchpad which are all relatively flat, and in the case of the former three, similar in some aspects to their iOS counterparts. Finally, we have icons like System Preferences, Safari, Mail, and Preview, which all exhibit a level of depth and realism I would’ve expected to see in OS X Mavericks.
Finally, there’s the Finder icon. I don’t know what to think. It almost feels like the new icon is mocking the legacy of the Finder, with its overdone 3D edge and cheesy new smile. In and of itself, none of these icon styles would’ve been an issue in Yosemite, if Apple had applied consistent theming of each icon and chosen ONE style. Instead, it feels like the designers were each given 2-3 icons to design, and each person modeled them with their own idea of OS X in mind. Overall, I’m a fan of most of the icons as they stand alone, but put together, they do not make a consistent set.
Apple’s new photo strategy scares me a little bit. I’m a big fan of the idea of all my iPhone photos and videos being stored in iCloud, that’s great. What I’m concerned about, however, is the application side of the coin. It appears that iPhoto for iOS is very much dead. What’s Apple’s replacement? It appears to be Photos.app. The problem is that Photos is nowhere near as feature rich as iPhoto, leaving me with no suitable way to edit photos on iOS. It looks like the same might happen on OS X. Apple announced a version of Photos.app for OS X, which, from the keynote, looks to have about the same feature set of Photos on iOS. Right now, I keep all of my photos in iPhoto on the Mac. This is a library of over 24,000 photos, many of which are 18MP RAW photos. I certainly don’t want these taking up my limited iCloud space, and I don’t even care to see many of them on iOS. If iPhoto on the Mac is really dead, I won’t have anywhere to manage my collection of non-iOS photos.
That said, my biggest takeaway from this year’s presentation is that for the first time in over 2 years, I’m once again confident that Apple pretty much knows what it’s doing. That’s a good thing.