Devil-on-the-Shoulder Look at the WWDC 2014 Keynote

[Updated in places thanks to feedback from readers, and a fresh round of caffeine since I wrote this post late last night.]

I almost titled this post “The Pessimist’s Look at WWDC,” but I’m not a pessimist. I think most of what was announced by Apple at the Worldwide Developer Conference keynote is exciting and interesting, and I can’t wait to be able to use it. The presentation itself was funny and lighthearted at times (although the haircut gag was too forced), and shows that Apple is doing all sorts of work that doesn’t rely on a shiny new gadget.

But as I read more about the technologies and think about the keynote, I can’t help but hear from the devil on my shoulder that proves, to me, Apple—even at such an unbelievable current level of success—really needs to prove themselves in many areas. So, a quick whisper from the shoulder about some of the stuff announced today, in no particular order:

  • I’m excited by the photo possibilities introduced in iOS 8. The editing controls look really slick. Will this herald the end of iPhoto for iOS? There’s a lot of overlap in functionality between the new Photos app and iPhoto.

  • It’s not clear whether iCloud Photo Library counts against the storage space for the new paid tiers, all documents, the new iCloud Drive, or what. I’m guessing it all does, which makes the 5 GB free pretty disappointing. People already rightly complain that Apple’s iCloud storage plans don’t even cover a regular backup for devices—I own a 128 GB iPad Air. And when you add photos to the mix, 5 GB gets eaten up mighty quickly. So what happens then? Are oldest ones deleted? [It sounds as if the storage space is for all of your data, and new material is no longer uploaded when you hit the ceiling.]

  • I would like to see more than just marking something as a favorite and creating albums as the only methods of organizing photos. If Apple is retiring iPhoto for Mac in favor of the new OS X Photos app in 2015, say goodbye to keywords, star ratings, smart albums, and other ways people sort their photos. And how does that apply to people’s existing libraries? My suspicion is that Apple will continue to have two tiers of photo organization: the Photos app on iOS and OS X mirror each other and replace iPhoto on OS X; iPhoto and Aperture are rolled together into the “pro” or “advanced” application, perhaps with a gauzy screen separating the amateur and pro features somehow. I don’t believe Apple is ready to ditch Aperture entirely; it has time and money on its side. But it may not have any users left. And both applications desperately need to be refreshed or fully rewritten, for performance reasons alone.

  • I like the idea of being able to say “Hey, Siri” at any time to activate Siri hands-free, but without some magic applied, that’s gotta be murder on battery life. [I missed that this feature is only active when the device is plugged into power, such as in a car, nightstand, or desk. Related: How soon before people freak out that Apple is spying on them by having an always-listening device nearby? Even though I’m sure it wouldn’t be recording or anything remotely nefarious, just listening for that trigger. Mark my words, some pundit will make a big deal out of this.]

  • Extensibility is a long overdue, great addition to iOS. And one that every developer is going to try to add to their app. So what happens when I want to open a document of some type and I have to slog through dozens of apps in the share sheet to find the one I want? On a phone especially, throwing in too many options will degrade the user experience. I should be able to swipe once, twice max, to find the app I want.

  • The Family Sharing features also look promising, but the kicker is that all devices must share a single credit card. That makes sense, but how will that work in practice? Specifically, how will people transition to take advantage of it? My wife has her own music library and her own credit card to pay for items; if we switch to a single card, does that erect a wall between her existing items and the new ones? And if it’s at all complicated to set up in a situation like that, will people just ignore the feature?

  • Oh boy, the promise of HealthKit is exciting. Apple singled out the Mayo Clinic as a partner with integrated data and apps that can notify a doctor if, say, your vital signs are spiking. I want to believe, but this involves dealing with the medical industrial complex where nothing is easy, nothing talks to anything else, and obfuscation is standard operating procedure. Can it really get off the ground? [Looks like it has potential: Apple has partnered with Epic Systems, which provides an estimated 40 percent of Americans’ medical records.]

  • Wi-Fi integration with your iPhone to take phone calls on your Mac! Automatic hotspot! Soooo cool. But with one little asterisk at the bottom of the page: “*Check with your carrier for hotspot availability.” In the U.S., that basically means, “Crap.” [Okay, I overstated, since most providers now offer hotspot features. But often at a markup.]

  • Okay, let’s lump iCloud Drive, Mail Drop, iCloud Photo Library, Handoff, HomeKit, and I’m sure several other features into one big box: iCLOUD. I totally understand why Apple is leveraging the cloud, especially since in most situations the end points are all Apple products. But, iCLOUD. For whatever incomprehensible reason, Apple has never quite gotten the essential net services that it knows are vital to all of this. Developers have spent months and months banging their heads trying to incorporate iCloud syncing in their apps, and many of them have determined that the best route is to write their own sync servers. Say “iCloud” to a room full of developers or people who support Apple devices and the floor tilts from the combined displacement of eyeballs rolling in their sockets. The more Apple elevates iCloud as the backbone of its services, the more important it is that iCloud just works. All the time. And Apple still struggles with this.

Like I said, I actually have a positive outlook on what Apple announced today. And keep in mind that the WWDC keynote is often only half of the iceberg—we’ll learn more in the Fall when new hardware is released to take advantage of this software. But, as ever, Apple has a lot to prove to make it all work.

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  1. Robert Cassidy June 3, 2014 at 12:40 am

    “It’s not clear whether iCloud Photo Library counts against the storage space for the new paid tiers, all documents, the new iCloud Drive, or what”

    Pretty sure Craig said that it counts against your storage. I think it all counts against your storage (5GB free, or whatever you buy up to). I think it’s fair to pay a bit for this stuff, but would have preferred the capacity of your iDevice(s) to be free, and have to pay above that. So I’d get 32GB free for my iPhone, presumably for backup, and anything past that I buy.

    “I like the idea of being able to say “Hey, Siri” at any time to activate Siri hands-free, but without some magic applied, that’s gotta be murder on battery life.”

    Craig specifically said ‘plug into your car’ so I think plugging it in activates the hands-free mode. Could also be specific to the CarPlay ecosystem thinger.

    “The Family Sharing features also look promising, but the kicker is that all devices must share a single credit card. That makes sense, but how will that work in practice? ”

    In this post-Target world, what happens when you swap out your credit card every couple of weeks?

    “I want to believe, but this involves dealing with the medical industrial complex where nothing is easy, nothing talks to anything else, and obfuscation is standard operating procedure.”

    Kaiser Permanente was on the list, and they are surprisingly not-terrible with their electronic records. There’s room for optimism here, but probably not with many providers.

    I see a lot of talk about this keynote finally showing the post-Jobs Apple. I think it’s more likely the post-Forstall Apple. I think it’s going to take some time to get everything pointed in the same direction and undo some not great decisions.

    Reply

  2. Great having a peek inside your brain on all this, Jeff. Thanks!

    Reply

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