Technophile

WWDC ’16: Siri, Sierra and a whole lot more

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 20, 2018

A roundup of the biggest announcements from Apple’s annual developers conference



Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is literally a brand by itself, generating intense interest amongst both its app developer community and buyers of its iPhones, iPads and Macs. It has always been a platform where Apple's top management announce a roll out of new features and updates to its operating systems. And the announcements are keenly followed despite the fact that there is no new hardware that is launched at the conference.

This year's edition focused on improving functionality and performance of all four of Apple's operating systems. Here are four of the most significant new updates and features that were announced across the OSs.

Siri reaches the desktop

Apple's digital personal assistant Siri has been available on its mobile devices with limited functionality largely focused on search. Similar personal assistants on competing platforms like Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and Google's own assistant have been attempting to extend the range of operations. So, Apple was expected to announce new additions to Siri's capabilities as well in an effort to keep up. Siri in Apple TV now gets a whole new set of functionalities.

A number of new apps are coming to tvOS and Siri can deliver a range of search results across the old and the new apps. You can topic search for movies, you can ask Siri to search YouTube or to take you directly to a live channel. If you have HomeKit compatible accessories in your home, Siri on Apple TV can also help control them like closing the blinds or turning on the lights. The range and specificity of Siri commands have been expanded.

Siri also makes it into the Mac now, having been integrated into the latest macOS Sierra.

Aside from the usual search capabilities, a range of new features that are specifically meant for a desktop environment have been added. Siri can be accessed from the dock, menu bar or keyboard of your Mac and a whole new range of operations can be performed using just voice commands.

Demoed functions included locating documents, scheduling calendar entries, or even starting a FaceTime call or sending messages. Search results from Siri can also simply be dragged and dropped into emails or documents, or put up in the notifications centre for real time updates.

Siri has also been opened up for third party app developers, so expect to find more apps in the future that use the versatility of this voice guided assistant.

Crosstalk

For a while now, Apple has been adding features that allow users to perform tasks across iOS and Mac devices seamlessly. You can already take phone calls and reply to text messages from your Mac. A bit of watchOS cross functionality has come in at this WWDC with the newly added ability to unlock or login to your Mac by just walking up to it while wearing an authenticated Apple Watch. Similarly, Apple Pay now comes to the Mac, with payments for online transactions in Safari on the desktop being authenticated by Touch ID on your iPhone or by using the Watch.

The new macOS Sierra also enables access to your desktop and documents on multiple devices including a Windows PC. Integration with the iCloud, now allows saved files and documents to be accessed on iOS devices via the iCloud Drive app, and on a Windows PC using the iCloud for Windows app.

One other continuity feature that connects the Mac and iOS devices is the new Universal Clipboard. The contents of this clipboard are available across all Apple devices via the iCloud and can even be heavy files like videos, photos and other images, not just text.

Expressive messages

Apple's Messages app is said to be the most used app in the ecosystem. It promotes the use of iMessages over text and has probably been eyeing the kind of user preference that Whatsapp gets over all other messaging services.

That goal will get signficantly closer with the new Messages app in iOS 10. Messages can now be more personalised, and use animations that cover the entire screen of the phone instead of a one liner text message. There are a few other personalisation options like invisible ink and auto emoji suggestions to replace words. More importantly, the app has been opened up for developers to come up with new customisation options like stickers or personalised GIFs such as the ones offered by Jib Jab.

You can also see content online, play media, send rich links and even send payments without leaving the conversation you are having in the Messages app.

Maps with a twist

The other feature on which Apple would have liked more users of its iOS devices to use as their default choice is Maps. With higher adoption of CarPlay and the new redesigned Maps app in iOS 10, Apple will be hoping to wean more users away from Google. Maps has also been opened up to developers with a new extension framework.

So, Apple says apps like OpenTable can integrate restaurant bookings right into Maps. Similarly, users could book and track an Uber cab without ever leaving the app. Maps can apparently also deliver proactive results by giving directions to locations based on your daily routine or appointments on your calendar.

Most of these new features across platforms are scheduled to roll out as free over-the-air updates later this year.

The writer is in San Francisco at the invitation of Apple

Published on June 15, 2016

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