Once a year, Apple developers get together in San Francisco. Some lucky people in person, most through on-line connections. The event is the World Wide Developer’s Confrence (WWDC), the event for those people and companies developing applications for OSX and iOS. As a developer, I look froward to this event every year and have a different take than most commentators.
Apple has a calendar of releases. In June at WWDC, Apple gives the developers enough warning to get their applications and skills up to speed for the fall hardware releases. Generally, late September announces the new Hardware with a October or November release date. There are notable exceptions like the Apple Watch which had several announcements and a release date only weeks before WWDC2015.
Some members of the press figured out that when Apple warns developers about something, it must mean some big news at Apple. Everyone now shows up to write some headline about Apple. Apple never tells the whole story at WWDC. Often hardware related programming gets held back even from developers.
Like a good television series there are story arcs and trends that follow Apple products. Very often these trends at WWDC get missed.
The Press Getting it Wrong
This is an annual tradition, and of course the press would never admit they goofed big time, along the lines as the Apple watch will never amount to anything and Google Glass is the way to go. Most, if not all, of the press are not programmers of any kind, let alone work with Xcode regularly. They invariably miss the big stuff going on to concentrate over some shiny new toy that’s relatively meaningless in the scheme of things, which might be the Spotify competitor this year.
You can expect post-keynote for the press to be generally disappointed and exclaiming this the decline of Apple for lack of innovation this year, missing what really happened. It’s not completely their fault of course. They write for consumers, and what goes on under the hood doesn’t concern them.
The Big Theme: High Quality, Good Style Fast to Market
Apple’s strategy for the last few years has been towards rapid development of applications by developers. All of the points following this one depend on this overarching idea. Build fast enough that rapid hardware changes can be adapted to quickly, and any new hardware has a large amount of apps on release day. Rapid development also means it’s an easy environment to get into for beginners. The ease of development makes many a developer stay with the one platform.
The Game Development System
Over the last few years Apple has built a robust game development environment into Xcode and iOS. Two years ago there was SpriteKit. Last year there was Metal for 3D rendering. Most of these tools are still code-based. I’d expect if this arc continues to see a full game engine or at least several new tools for non-code creation of games.
Apple is rumored to give developers more access to what the Apple watch does. One that might affect the gaming side is gesture based games. Use of the motion sensors on the watch to control your game would open up a lot of gaming experiences.
The Apple Watch and HealthKit/ResearchKit
This is the one I’m watching with the most interest. Apple now has a sophisticated fitness monitor sitting on people’s wrists with the Apple Watch. As I said in gaming, the rumor mill is indicating that Watchkit will gain a lot more power to work with an Apple watch than its paltry experience now.
All that data filters through Healthkit now but those Watchkit changes might open up the heart rate monitor and motion sensor to developers. I’d bet on the motion data more than the heart monitor, but both are possible. Apple introduced ResearchKit in the same press conference as Apple Watch. To borrow a phrase from Marvel Comics, it’s all related.
If Apple can find ways around two sets of regulations, Apple Watch and HealthKit will disrupt healthcare like they have credit cards and music. On one level, people will have a lot of personal data to make health decisions from — some not like any other fitness monitor out there.
As an owner of an Apple Watch, and Fitbit Zip , Apple’s definition of exercise intrigues me. Just walking around is not enough. My Fitbit said I had 19,732 steps for 9.17 miles of walking in 147 active minutes last Sunday. Apple Watch’s activity app said I had 19,295 steps, for 9.77mi but only 20 minutes of exercise. Experimenting with this, Apple’s definition requires an elevated heart rate and faster walking pace to count as exercise. Why the difference?
Apple has repeatedly said the heart rate monitor is a measure of fitness – not a medical device. The reason is simple: to get FDA approval as a medical device is very costly and very complicated at this point for them. Apple at least now is dodging FDA and other international device regulations by claiming it’s not a medical device. Apple also has to deal with the hippo in the room: HIPAA. The security and privacy of patient data presents lots of problems for any mobile device or wearable. That said, if you come up with acceptable legal methods for sharing patient data, you could do some very interesting things. One that would benefit everyone is large-scale research into heath problems very inexpensively. That’s what ResearchKit is about. Research would like that data. There are strong agreements within ResearchKit apps to release data. If those hold legally in this environment then there is one more environment they might work well in: insurance.
Insurance must work on aggregate data and a single snapshot of a person’s health. Short of a peek at one vitals at a physical and doctor’s visits, there is no way insurance companies can estimate your health and fitness. If they had a years worth of near-continuous heart rate and exercise data they would have a better estimate of health. The more factors that actuaries have available the more realistic their measurement would be.
A healthy person is less likely to have conditions that would lead to expensive procedures. It’s been pretty impossible to give a good economic incentive to healthy people or for people to become healthy. The HealthKit/WatchKit arc might have as its disruptive end game that incentive. People who are healthy pay less for health insurance because they are less at risk. The Apple Watch’s stringent exercise requirements make sense in this light – you really do have to move to have exercise be called exercise.
Think about it: want to cut your insurance if you east healthy and exercose? Buy an Apple watch. Even the steep price tag of a phone and watch sells a lot of phones and watches on that savings.
Swift for Education
When Apple introduced Swift last year, they declared it a both a rapid development language and a educational language. While developer based Swift is everywhere, and developers new and old are reportedly preferring it over Objective-C, the education part is still missing. Apple introduced for Swift playgrounds for test coding and exploring of language features without developing a full application.
Xcode, even with playgrounds, is not a good place to introduce a fifth-grader to coding. A simpler environment is necessary and one that runs on hardware less expensive than a Macintosh.
I said it last year after the introduction of Swift: there needs to be a Playground app on iPad. If made correctly, it could even scratch Scratch from early education.
If young or beginning coders learn Swift first, they re more likely to stay with Swift and skip Android’s Java.
The Large Class size
One introduction that a lot of people missed at WWDC2014, including me, was the introduction of size classesand the impact on iOS. I missed the reason they were necessary:the release of the iPhone 6 plus a few months later. Apple changed everything in the user interface code to accommodate size classes. Size classes categorize the height and width of any device. The system decodes how to layout the interface for that device – both for code and the graphically layout by designers and developers. Unlike earlier version of iOS, designers only have to design and develop code for User interfaces once — not five or six times.
in iOS8 there are two sizes: compact and regular. In general, Compact relates to iPhones and Regular relates to iPads. Notice what’s missing: Large. An omission like that cannot be intentional. That’s implies there will be devices larger than an iPad.
While they may not announce any devices at WWDC2015, watch for any announcement of a large class size. A large tablet (or improbably an complete OSX/iOS merger) will not be far behind.
I may be wrong, but this is what I will be watching for at the WWDC2015 keynote.