I know I'm a couple of days late on this, but it's been a busy week. Between WWDC, E3, the NBA Finals (Go Cavs!), and some personal milestones, it's taken me a bit to get caught up. Plus, I really wanted to have a couple days using iOS 10, watchOS 3, and macOS Sierra to speak to some of the new features. We will have a first impressions video up later today that will demonstrate some of these features, so look for an update including that.
Let's go through some of my favorite features that were announced during Monday's keynote.
Craig Federighi described iOS 10 as "the biggest iOS release ever" on stage at WWDC this past Monday. After spending a couple days with iOS 10, I can confidently say that this declaration is all about perspective. Prior to making that proclamation, Craig also said iOS 10 is "a huge release for developers" and this is 100% accurate. There are so many new API's available, including one for Siri, that will open up a new world of functionality for all apps. From the standard consumer perspective, iOS 10 isn't all that much different. In general, it's the same, familiar interface, with a few aesthetic tweaks here and there. With that being said, when I installed iOS 10, my phone felt immediately fresh. Some of the tasks I do everyday, like texting, e-mailing, reading news, listening to music, and checking sports scores, are somehow 'fun' in iOS 10. Apple should make a video with Jony Ive talking about how iOS 10 makes the mundane fun again. Seriously.
iMessage has received probably the largest "refresh" of any part of iOS 10. I call it a refresh because the experience using it feels totally new, even though it's the same app you're used to. It's been a couple days and I'm still finding cool, new features hidden away in it.
Sidebar: "...new features hidden away...," is a common phrase in iOS 10. I feel as if Apple has taken a step backward in terms of usability. There is a heavy reliance on 3D Touch in iOS 10, and most interactions are now implied gestures. For example, to clear a toast notification you swipe up, but there is no arrow directing you of this. I know this is an interaction people are used to, but it just feels like a step in an odd direction. Anyway, back to iMessage...
There are so many new features in iMessage that I could write a whole article on just that. If that's something you'd like, let me know and I will write it. For now, here are my top 5 favorite things:
Send with effect
One of the first things you'll notice in iMessage is the "Send" button is gone, having been replaced by an up arrow icon. As I mentioned in my sidebar before, this is a feature that took me awhile to discover. I watched the WWDC keynote while working, so I wasn't totally focused on it. I saw them showing off this feature, but I missed how to get into it. Regardless, most iOS users probably didn't watch that keynote, and Apple doesn't usually ship guided tutorials, so I'm unsure of how someone like my mom is going to discover this.
If you 3D Touch that new blue up arrow to send, you'll be presented with the Send with effect options. There are two screens available here: bubble and screen. Bubble effects basically add an animation to the standard text bubble and adds a little flair to your conversation. If you want to drive a point home mid-argument, you can use Slam. Or if you want to make an announcement, you can use the Invisible Ink, which requires the recipient to wipe away a blur effect to reveal the message. Screen effects go a step further anda background animation on top of the standard text bubble. Want to wish someone a happy birthday? Use the balloons screen effect. Some screen animations may happen by default without any interactions from the sender (regardless of if the sender has iMessage). An example of this; I received a text message from a friend with an Android phone (dreaded green bubbles) that said "Congrats!!!" yesterday, and iMessage tossed a bunch of confetti at me when I opened the conversation. It was a small, but nice touch, that really made me smile. It's cheesy, but sometimes cheesy just works.
I was in the middle of a conversation yesterday evening that could have ended earlier than it did. With these new iMessage features, the conversation kept going because it was just plain fun to keep going back and forth. Only time will tell if that's a good or a bad thing.
Similar to Slack or Facebook, you can now add a reaction to a specific message. If you 3D Touch the message text, you'll receive a pop-up bubble of preset reactions. These are awesome in a group chat, or when you just want to acknowledge that you read a message without continuing the conversation.
Apps. Apps are everywhere now. Your phone, your computer, your TV, your fridge, and now...iMessage.
Soon you'll have the ability to download apps right inside of your keyboard to unlock new capabilities. An obvious first progression is moving GIF and Emoji keyboards into this new format. On stage at WWDC, though, Apple showed some of the other possibilities this unlocks. Apps for coordinating group lunch orders, or taking polls with friends in a group chat. When they first pulled the curtain back on this, they jumped into a demo where you could place stickers inside of the messaging window, and I scoffed at it a bit. Just like anything else, though, it's the gimmicks that sell the idea to open the doors for innovation. As a developer myself, I'm very intrigued by this feature and am already dreaming up some new app ideas for within iMessage.
As I mentioned earlier, iOS 10 includes a lot of new API's. Most users won't care about this initially, but it is going to have a big impact on iOS going forward. The Siri API, which is new in iSO 10, gives her the ability to do things like send messages in WhatsApp, request an Uber, and send money via PayPal. It seems like Apple is finally making Siri the center of the OS, as she was originally intended. Text suggestions are now provided by Siri, and she controls a lot of the information you will see displayed in the new widgets. This may have been mentioned during the keynote and I missed it, but I am very excited at the prospect of Siri controlling the Home app. Dimming my Hue bulbs while sitting on the couch for a movie night, or using my watch to begin a scene as I walk into a room are two features I've been waiting for.
I don't know about you, but I'm big on sharing news articles, YouTube videos, random GIF's, and others during my conversations. I love media, and I use it as much as I can. I'm also not a huge fan of continually switching context. When someone sends me a Twitter link, I hate that I have to click the link, and read it in Safari. It's nice that in iOS 9 they added the "Back to..." feature, but it's still not great. In iMessage for iOS 10, Apple has added rich links. If you don't know what that means, basically, anytime you share an article or video, you'll now see a thumbnail image giving you context into the content of the link. If you share a tweet, the full tweet will now be right there in your conversation. It's awesome.
My Apple Watch is hands down my most used device, mostly due to proximity, but also because it displays the information I care about in a way that I care about it. My biggest pain point has been app performance with watchOS. I love the immediate access to my watch on my wrist, but by the time I find the app I want, open it, and wait for it to load, I could have gotten my phone out of my pocket, gone through the same process, and caught up on my Twitter feed. Performance hasn't been a major selling point of wearables, but it plays a large part in the value proposition of them.
Performance & Dock
During Monday's keynote, Apple went straight into talking about the Apple Watch and didn't disappoint. Obviously, there's a fairly significant difference between the prepared stage demos and what I'm currently running in iOS 10 Beta 1, but the performance improvements are noticeable. As I watched the keynote, it seemed as though watchOS 3 was a total hit. The improvements were mostly subtle but huge in the big picture. After using watchOS 3 for a couple days, not much has changed. The new dock feature is by far my favorite feature of the watch now. It's no surprise to anyone, but my watch is mostly used for notifications. Meeting reminders, Slack messages, iMessage, Mail, etc. Oh, and I love using the watch for working out; especially running and cycling (I recommend Strava for this). Aside from notifications, though, I'm the guy who walks out of his front door, car keys in hand, and waits the several seconds for the August app to load on his watch to lock the door before heading to the office. I love the convenience of the August Smart Lock, but the watch performance can have me questioning the concept of smart home from time to time. Now, with the watch dock, I can quickly get to the app and it's already refreshed for me in the background.
The closest competitor to the Apple Watch, in my opinion, is the Samsung Gear. For a year now I've looked at the Gear's ability to type and wondered why I couldn't do that on my Apple Watch. Just last week I was planning a surprise and wanted to be able to inconspicuously reply to messages and I couldn't. Scribble fixes that. Now, when you receive a message notification on your watch, you are shown the reply options without having to hit a 'Reply' button. These options include your standard quick replies, voice, and emoji, but it also includes the ability to hand scribe each letter to craft your reply. Playing around with this so far, it's been extremely accurate. Fairly slow, but I attribute that to the early beta. My handwriting is terrible, and it has picked up on all of my words. One time it wrote "1s" instead of "is" but I blame myself more than the watch. I can see myself using this far more than the quick replies (even though they've added twice as many), and especially the watch specific emoji. Once watchOS 3 has been out for awhile, I'd love to see some analytics on how often it's being used and the accuracy of it. Do you see yourself using this a lot? Sound off in the comments below.
Of the other features that were announced, there isn't much drastically different that will affect your daily usage. So it seems like the watchOS keynote was mostly wow factor. The new watch faces are nice, though. I've taken a strong liking to the new activity chronograph face.
There is now a Minnie Mouse watch face to correspond with the Mickey Mouse one and you can change the colors of her outfit. It's definitely a really cool watch face for certain occasions, but not all. I've run into this myself. On the weekends for events and working out I'd rather use the Modular watch face, but I prefer the Chronograph in the office. Changing between these wasn't too tedious before, but now you can just swipe edge-to-edge to cycle between them, which is actually really nice. I was concerned that I might accidentally do this a lot, but I haven't had that happen once yet.
I'm going, to be honest; aside from writing, I haven't used my MacBook Pro since installing macOS Sierra on Monday. Other than the Siri icon in my taskbar, I can barely notice I'm using Sierra. I haven't even had an opportunity to use Siri yet. The demos shown during the keynote were great, and I am glad she exists across all of my devices now, but it's going to take me awhile to remember she's available there. Perhaps I'll write another article later on after I use more of the Sierra features. If there's anything specific you want me to review, let me know and I'll see what I can do.