The Northern Spy: WWDC
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The Northern Spy: WWDC

By Rick Sutcliffe

Queue theory is something every programmer needs to know--especially if attending WWDC. First we entered our names in a request queue. After a wait of some weeks, The Spy and 6000 other fortunate ones received an invite to purchase a ticket to WWDC for $1700.

That taken care of, it was time to request accommodation from the convention management folk. Wait more weeks and the task became getting there. Since his wife needed a diversion, he decided to drive, abandon her to her own devices in downtown San Francisco for the five days, then holiday up the California and Oregon coasts on the way home. The arrangements for six more hotels took about the same amount of time as finding churches for the two Lord's Days involved, and in the end the tabbed paperwork filled a small looseleaf binder.

The three day drive from Abbotsford to San Francisco provided more exercises in queues--around and through Seattle, near Portland, and the last hundred miles or so along much of I80, especially in the Bay bridge lineup. Actually the problem in two places was that the freeways were built for the then existing traffic conditions, but later development (there's that word) meant that one or more exits became choke points, backing up all traffic for many miles.

Does anyone think of billing the builders of condos for some extra lanes off the freeway and into their communities? (Same goes for water, sewer, parks, schools, roads, and other amenities that all expect local government to provide. Planning, anyone?) In each case, the through traffic wasn't the problem once past the bottleneck.

The Spy was too late arriving in the megalopolis to register in the evening, so came by Moscone West about 0840. Stand in line to get registered, get sent to a different desk, stand in line again, pick up swag (this year a shirt bearing "14" on the back, and a $25 Apple gift card--a little less than Apple once provided), then go back outside and re-enter by a different door. Up the escalator, then stand in a queue that stretches along between ropes erected back and forth a few metres apart through two or three rooms.

Once that started to move, join a broader queue into the main presentation hall for the keynote. Since he was one of the last hundred people to arrive, find a seat on the far right wing where the nearest screen, let alone centre stage, are mere rumours themselves. At least this wait can be done sitting. Interesting to watch people stunting for the TV cameras.

0900 arrives and bated breaths are exhaled. We expect the keynote to begin but get video adds for various apps Apple has decided to highlight--a feel good commercial to remind developers that they are saving the world by making it a kinder, gentler, and more interesting place--a nice piece of hype.

Hey, some of it is true--the Spy's day job is to convince students to go and do likewise, with whatever talents they have been given and those they can now offer back to the giver by way of one thousand permille return (as Amy Rae would put it.) Done with that, the "celebration of the developer community" goes live with personal thank-yous from iTim backed up with Keynote slides.

And on to the meat. Some expectations and rumours were vindicated.

OS Updates

Both Apple OS will have better integration, each in "a huge release." The Spy doubts anyone was unprepared for at least one new OS release, but Cook surpassed expectations with the sheer volume of new goodies in both. His boys and girls have been hard at work indeed. The theme was interoperability. That is the two are not becoming one as some have anticipated. Rather their functionality is--in a document-centric, rather than an OS-centric manner. This is as it should be. The OO aficionados have it slightly wrong. Their approach is indeed useful, but it isn't data that's at the centre of computing, its documents.

The Mac OS

Cook noted that in the past year MacOS use grew 12% while the industry declined 5%. Last year's Mavericks release has reached 40M copies (now 51% of the entire Mac installed base and this represents the fastest industry adoption rate ever. Cook compared this with the 8% share for Windows 8, which has been out longer. The audience laughed. They could as easily have cried. Face it. Windows is dying a death by incompetence and irrelevance.

The newest Mac OS X version will be nicknamed Yosemite--and is now available for preview by developers, will also be for beta testing over the summer on request, and will be released to the general public in the fall. Cost? Free. The intro summary promised a new interface, enhancements to all apps, and appeared to have the kind of consistent, simple, unadorned UI offered by iOS7. One buzzword was "continuity".

Clarity and utility are the other new Applespeak watchwords. Greater use of translucency and more consistent typography are intended to maintain a sense of place, with design for sidebars for instance following the main window style. This extends to apps as well--Apple presented the whole picture as "the most gorgeous and useable OS X ever."Specifically, the UI changes include the new:
° Spotlight with easy app launching and integration with the Internet and the rest of the computer for info searching, viewing documents, performing unit conversions, and other tasks in the App via widgets, plus displaying map information such as restaurants, movies, etc.

° Calendar with its new day and week view and access for its purposes to messages.

°  Notification Centre (including the integration of app-exportable widgets for information on sports, stocks, weather, contacts, etc.)

° iCloud Drive is a new interface to all the user's documents regardless of device origin--all also accessible from iOS and Windows apps.

° Mail has a new technology called mail drop that allows an attachment up to 5G in size to be sent encrypted through the cloud, so that it won't bounce from the receiving mailbox, which often has size limitations in ordinary mail transport software.

° Safari has a new more unified and simpler bar, with favourites and spotlight suggestions now located in the search subsystem. It has an improved tab view with tab stacks, adopts new (to it) standards, including HTML5 video, and has better energy efficiency and higher speeds, partly because of a new JIT Java compiler, and faster JavaScript.

° Markup allow notes to be jotted on an email message from within Mail.

"Continuity" parses as the ability to use features seamlessly between devices. Cook said that among other things this means AirDrop now works! Handoff is a technology that allows devices in proximity to be aware of each other in order to hand off work, say in the middle of a composing a document or mail message. Begin an e-mail, letter, or chapter of the latest novel on an iDevice and finish it on the Mac, or vice-versa, all without having to manually intervene by moving a copy of the document--both are aware of each others' current work. The Spy presumes that specific apps would have to be made Handoff-aware, however.

Hot spots can be set up automatically between devices. SMS changes mean that messages and phone calls can be interchanged seamlessly. For instance, a call to the iPhone could be received instead on a nearby Mac, which can be /used seamlessly as a speakerphone. The interoperability extends to apps on the same device, including making calls from contacts.

iOS 8

Again, Cook delivered a review of stats on adoption included total users now in the half billion range. More interestingly, new users were 130 million last year including many refugees from other OS, particularly the badly fractured Android.

In summary, iOS will have the same kind of inter-app and inter-system integration described above, with comparable features now delivered to the corresponding UI and app interfaces such as Safari and Mail. In many apps, the additional functionality is accessed with a swipe down, a side swipe, a tap or a double tap. For instance, a restaurant reservation communicated in an email can easily be added to the calendar, flagged, or have pictorial content deleted, and draft material can be added to messages being sent. Spotlight searching can be for apps, messages, songs, or other material.

The specifics

The new on-screen keyboard has content sensitive user adaptive and app sensitive predictive typing, all private to the device and available in multiple languages. There are enhancements to messages, including time-paramerterized location sharing, do not disturb/leave commands on message threads, and touch to record for sending audio messages.

The iOS version of iCloud Drive has both inter-device and inter-app integration, so that documents are available in multiple places as well as multiple devices. Two apps using the same document share the same copy via the cloud, and no longer need to pass copies to one another.

The device iOS7 enrollment program allows an enterprise IT department to hand out to an employee a device in a sealed box and have it download the user's context automatically when it was started on the enterprise net. This has been expanded in iOS8, and now includes the ability to integrate other enterprise software than Apple's. It is available in beta today, to everyone in the fall, and will run on iPhone 4 and up.

A health product was expected here. Apple introduced two. Health Kit provides an integrated platform for storing all health information regardless of originating platform or device. The Health app can then examine data generated in hospitals and passed to Health Kit. The first partner is prestigious partner Mayo Clinic, but presumably this will be expanded to other health care providers.

Supposedly tests done in one facility can be examined by the app and notifications sent to doctors or other facilities where they are out of spec for the owner. The Spy opines, however, that Apple will need a quick and deep push to establish its just-birthed system as the market leader. No device or provider certification program was announced.

Family Sharing is a new technology that allows a family unit of up to six people sharing the same credit card, to also share photos, songs, movies, and apps, calendars, reminder lists, find my friend, and to find each others' devices.

Attempted credit card purchases by family members generate a permission request to the card owner before they go through. How long the request is kept in abeyance if the permission granter is unavailable was not specified.

Photos will be iCloud integrated so all photos are shared on all devices, including pictures stored in the cloud, in case the device cannot hold them all. These can be searched by location, time, and album. Enhanced editing capabilities have also been added, and the changes go to the cloud so are represented on all devices.

However, the corresponding revisions to Photo on the Mac are yet to come (OS X Yosemite at release time). New iCloud affordable storage plans allow much more space to be purchased than the minimum 5G, and at what seem reasonable starting prices.

Siri has been expanded with new features and languages, Maps enhancements, particularly for China.

For developers

Cook reviewed the App Store ecosystem and its downloads, now north of 75 billion. The AppStore has come in for criticism of late, and he promised improvements. The new one will have an explore tab, faster scrolling, editors' choice, related search, bundles for developers to sell multiple apps, app previews (video demonstrations), Test Flight for beta versions, and other enhancements--all available in the fall. Not surprisingly, many of these were received with enthusiastic applause. Developers needed ways to keep their products under eyeballs, not just lost in an increasingly large crowd.

The SDK has been greatly enhanced with new capabilities and tools.. There are over 4000 new APIs. Prime example: those for extensibility (services offered to other apps), including ways to share data, offer translation to other apps, to offer photo filters that will work in Photo, to create apps that are iCloud Drive enabled, and to offer widgets to other parts of the eco system.

Thus, one app can run inside another one, say to edit photos on its behalf. One can run a widget inside the notification centre, say to add an eBay bid interface or translate a web page to another language. Systemwide third-party keyboards can be installed, and these can have their sandbox walls lowered to add functionality.

Third-party apps can now take advantage of TouchID via an API, and the fingerprint data is retained in the device confidentially. Camera APIs allow controlling the camera and editing the results, and these functionalities can be integrated into other apps.

Home Automation was another much rumoured possibility. Citing as motivation that every smart device has its own interface, Apple announced secure pairing to ensure that Siri and other apps can operate all home automation devices securely via the home automation hooks.

Cloud Kit provides client side authentication for data, with a fee ranging from free to an unspecified amount based on the number of users using the app through the cloud.

Metal is a new graphic layer, replacing OpenGL with "close to the bare metal" graphics that are supposedly nearly ten times faster than what was previously possible, "bringing new levels of animation to mobile platforms." Apple has added a number of tools for creating casual games, with particular attention to the physics of moving entities.

Last month the Spy specifically asked for new tools in the XCode environment. Someone heard--in part. But rather than permit multiple languages into the environment, Apple has devised its own new notation and tools.

Xcode will add the Swift programming language, which Apple says is much faster than Objective C. Presenters cited many modern features, including generics, namespaces, and type inference. It is native to cocoa and cocoa touch, and its code can fit alongside C and Objective-C code in the same application. The Swift "playground" runs the code as it is typed, showing the results on the side. It is touted as being able to build any kind of app from the simplest to the most complex.

Its tools can visualize the entire history of a variable throughout the program run, and changes to the code are immediately reflected in the visualization, which can be run forward or backward to scrutinize the program's action in detail. Complete reference documents are already available, and apps written in it will be submittable to the store on day one after iOS 8 is released. Note however, that this description is entirely Apple's, and the Spy, who is a language designer in his own right has neither verified, nor is he in a position to endorse Swift.

Some modern language features he's always wanted, and has included in Modula-2 R10 were not mentioned, including library-as-a-type, and blueprint contracts as part of attention to safety. Screen samples of code appeared to indicate that readability was less a priority than writeability, which could impair teachability. These are issues that the Spy will have address in depth at a much later date.

What did not get announced included enhancements to iTV or new television hardware of any sort, new Mac, iPhone/Pod/Pad models (likely relegated to routine releases), significant changes to iWork (though the Spy assumes they will be made Handoff aware) or any new peripheral devices or other software (no 3D printer as some thought).

Neither were there any hardware devices for the new Health software or home automation software, which relegates those announcements to the routine new-software-only category. Nor was there anything in the networking hardware category, and most telling, no iWatch. The Spy now half suspects that Apple will not enter any new hardware markets in the near future.

Thus in sum, announcements were all in the software and tools category, and none in hardware, contrary to the Spy's expectations. However, for this crowd they were also more substantial and significant than he feared. Indeed, Swift could turn out to be the most important new product direction Apple has taken since dropping PowerPC for Intel. One has to assume it will now become the programming notation of choice, though let's hope that, far from abandoning Objective C, Apple will open the platform up to other innovators.

Neither was anything said about a textbook reader, or indeed any initiatives at all related to education. Perhaps this simply wasn’t the right venue, but...

However, much was achieved. Some solid and significant work was on display, and the Cupertino gang can be proud of what they've produced--assuming it all turns out worthy. of the bumph.

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to Participate and you could win free web hosting from the subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:

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General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
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