Heading into WWDC 2016 last week, I was excited. In fact, this was the first Apple event in years that genuinely had me excited. As I explained to my colleague Yoni Heisler, the WWDC 2016 keynote marked the first time in a very long time that there was real mystery heading into an Apple event. Nearly all of the big news from each event typically leaks out weeks or even months ahead of every Apple event, but this time we were going in almost completely blind.
Making things even more intriguing was fact that we were in the midst of a very negative Apple news cycle. Growth at the high end of the smartphone market is over! The upcoming iPhone 7 is going to be boring! No one likes the Apple Watch! This was a real opportunity for Apple to change the conversation by showing off exciting new software updates for iOS and other products. We wanted refinement, sure, but we also desperately wanted true innovation. We wanted a glimpse of the future of mobile devices.
What we ended up with is indeed the best version of iOS Apple has ever assembled. But those of us looking for a glimpse into the future might actually find that Apple is beginning to get stuck in the past.
First, a couple disclaimers. Apple’s new iOS 10 software is not complete and there may be several additional features added between now and the software’s public release later this year. In fact, we’ve already gotten a preview of one upcoming iOS 10 feature that was found hiding in the software’s code. There might be even more new features coming alongside the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that Apple is holding back.
The design of iOS 10 also isn’t yet finished. Several areas of the interface will undoubtedly change between now and September (and we can only hope that the widgets section is among those changes).
Keep both of those things in mind when you read about iOS 10 in the coming weeks.
Looking only at the key iOS 10 features Apple unveiled on stage during its big WWDC 2016 keynote last week, we find a whole host of great new functionality that has been added to the iPhone and iPad. Among the new features are a lock screen that is far more useful, a huge update to the Messages app that adds a whole host of new features, Quick Type enhancements and a rebuilt Apple Music app.
These are all terrific changes that improve the user experience, but is there anything truly new or unique in there? These are the features Apple specifically chose to highlight in its big iOS 10 presentation. Shouldn’t they be a little more… exciting?
In fact, let’s go through the 10 main features Apple covered during its keynote one at a time with our pessimist hat on:
- New lock screen: Raise to wake is nifty, the new widget view will be nice when it’s finished, more interactive notifications are a nice touch, having to press the home button to unlock is a little annoying (though the iPhone 7 might address that). In the end, nothing very special.
- Siri updates: More proactive features like remembering where you parked are nice, as is third-party app integration. But it’s still basically Google Now Lite.
- Quick Type enhancements: Nice use of Siri and contextual suggestions, but we’ve seen all this in one form or another from other keyboards.
- New Photos app: A (more secure and private) Google Photos clone plus HTC Zoe.
- New Maps features: Live traffic on route, more location-aware features and third-party app integration are all very cool, but probably not enough to pull holdouts away from Google Maps.
- Apple Music revamp: The old app was pretty terrible so a redesign is appreciated, even if it does look like something straight out of Windows Phone.
- News app: A terrific news reader in a sea of terrific news readers.
- Home app: A so-so smart home controller in a seas of so-so smart home controllers.
- Phone app updates: Extensions to help block spam and VoIP integration are appreciated but hardly groundbreaking.
- Messages: Clearly one of the best new features of iOS 10, and plenty of fun to use. But it’s basically just the old Messages app with a bunch of features from other mobile messaging apps slathered on top.
Some of that was a little harsh and it’s all oversimplified, but come on. These are the 10 show-stopping features that Apple chose to get us all excited for iOS 10? These are the stars of the show?
Apple is in an interesting place right now. It still offers what I and many other people believe to be the best mobile experience in the world, all things considered. It’s the smoothest, it’s the cleanest and it’s supported by the best third-party app ecosystem in the world.
But Android narrows the gap in those departments each and every year, and it does so while pulling further ahead in other key areas. The latest two Android releases have some seriously awesome new features, like the Tango AR platform, the Daydream VR platform, a rebuilt update mechanism that downloads and installs system updates in the background, killer power-saving features, and Instant Apps, which is a brilliant feature that lets users begin testing an app in the Play store without having to purchase it or even download it. There are also plenty more exciting new features where those came from.
As I said in that article I referenced earlier, I really wanted Apple to wow us this year. I wanted to see new features that made smartphones exciting again. Instead, I saw plenty of refinement that is obviously appreciated, but it comes along with a whole bunch of catch-up features and not much else. This has been a trend for several years now and at this point, we can only hope it ends alongside the massive 10-year anniversary update Apple is supposedly planning for next year’s iPhone.