by Brandon Butler
From WWDC 2020 6/22/2020

I liked the WWDC 2020 virtual presentation format this year. I like that Apple was required to try something new, and I think it worked really, really well. So well, in fact, I’d love to see more keynotes just like this. The keynote was pre-recorded with unique views of the Steve Jobs Theater and Apple Park. I liked getting to zoom around Apple Park and I appreciated the tight editing and lack of “pause for applause” moments that most Apple keynotes endure. This was a well made, well edited, and well presented keynote of Apple’s future software and hardware offerings.

A few interesting takeaways from the keynote:

Apple has officially announced the transition of their Macs from Intel to Apple silicon (that’s Apple’s placeholder name for the new ARM SoCs). Macs with Apple silicon will be shipping by the end of the year. A Mac mini running the iPad’s A12Z will be shipping as a DTK for $500 to registered developers starting this week.

According to the About this Mac window of the development build of macOS running on Apple silicon, this is now macOS 11. It appears 10.15 will be the final version of OS X, first released almost 20 years ago. I’d actually wondered if Apple would take this opportunity of transitioning to new hardware to update the OS version, and they have done just that.

With so many translucent menus and sidebars, I wonder what kind of embedded GPU power this new OS will require. I’m guessing a lot of older, 5+ year old Macs will not be seeing macOS 11 as an update option. I am seriously unsure of my MacBook Pro 2015’s upgradability. And, if I do upgrade, what kind of performance hit am I going to take with it? (Update: On Apple’s Big Sur Preview page, way at the bottom, are the supported systems. Most systems from 2013 are supported, including the MacBook Pro. That essentially means most Macs purchased in 2013 will get at least eight years of OS updates, and Apple could very well extend that support to nine years with macOS 11.1 or macOS 12 or whatever they end up calling it next year. You won’t find many PC laptops getting continued support from their manufacturers eight years down the road. The hit to performance, however, remains to be seen.)

Make no mistake, Apple said this macOS redesign was the largest since Aqua, and they’re right. This is a huge overhaul of every pixel on the screen. It will hopefully get some fine tuning before public release this Fall, but it does look beautiful. It borrows heavily from iOS (which borrowed heavily from macOS, so cycle, circle, etc) and includes iOS’s widgets and the Mac’s take on control center. Apple is clearly saying something here about their user interface going forward: iOS is our design core. If something needs to be designed on another platform, we’re taking design cues from iOS.

And in a lot of ways, this is the right way for Apple to be approaching it. iOS is by far the most popular operating system in the world. If your first Apple device is an iPhone, and for many people it is/was, then it makes sense to turn on your next new Apple device, probably a Mac, and be greeted by a familiar and recognizable user interface. Is there room to improve on iOS? Yes, there is. But iOS, evolved from the Mac, is now evolving the Mac. The apprentice has become the master.

In that regard, Apple is doubling-down on Catalyst apps on the Mac, bringing Messages and Maps into the Catalyst fold. I definitely saw some groans on Twitter when that was announced. I’ll admit it, when I saw Maps and Messages demoed with those awkward sidebars and iPad-like UI, I thought, “huh, those look like Catalyst apps.” And then Apple proudly revealed they were, in fact, built from Catalyst.

But Apple also announced Macs with Apple silicon will be able to run iOS and iPadOS apps natively on macOS, and showed off a few games and apps. The apps should just automagically work and need no updates from devs.

Apple also showed off a little bit of gaming on the new Apple silicon, and it looked… fine? It’s impossible to tell on a live stream, and they could have just said “gaming looks amazing” and gotten the same message across. It’ll really be up to game developers if they want to port their games to the Mac now. They’ve tried before and it has never really caught on.

The iPhone home screen is getting some updates via widgets, which feels a bit meh as far as innovations after 14 years of status quo. Can’t wait to see what changes are coming to the next home screen update in 2034. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t see any need to make any significant updates to the home screen or multitasking of iPadOS (at least, they didn’t announce anything). I worry about the iPad’s future if Apple is just okay with the Springboard/home screen and multitasking features as-is. Maybe this was always planned as a stability year for iOS/iPad OS, and a feature year for macOS, and 2021 will bring the iPad some much needed usability improvements.

Apple also threw up a slide of all the new iOS features they didn’t have time to talk about (despite the virtual keynote ending nine minutes before noon) but one of these new features is the ability to change the default browser and email client. I think it’s very telling of Apple not wanting to implement this by their reluctance to speak about it. After fourteen years of tapping a link and having Safari or the Mail app open, you can now choose whatever you want to open in their place.

And watchOS has sleep tracking and hand washing tracking now, so that’s something. I expect if Apple Watch has any additional surprises they will be hardware related and won’t be announced until the Fall.

AirPods Pro are getting some new surround sound abilities in a future software update, as well. However, no new AirPod models were announced. AR/VR wasn’t menmtioned, either. The term LiDAR was never once mummbled or even appeared on a slide. No HomePod news, either.

In fact, no specific new hardware announcements at all, aside from Apple silicon. As with many WWDCs, this is a focus on what the developers need, as well as a little something for consumers and bloggers to get excited about over the next few months. Apple hype season has officially begun.