It’s time for Apple’s WWDC, and its keynote. It’s currently underway, and much like Google’s I/O keynote and the introduction of Android M, we’re looking at a lot of catch-up. Both the new OS X and iOS releases are getting new features taken directly from the competition.
OS X 10.11 will be named El Capitan, and among its major new features are the ability to snap windows side-by-side, and in case you’re wondering how it works, just look at Windows 7 and later. It’s a direct copy of the Aero Snap functionality, and I’m really glad Apple finally got around to copying this excellent Windows feature. I use it so often on Windows, I really, really miss it on any platform that doesn’t have it.
Safari, too, fired up the photocopier, and this time around, Chrome’s the obvious target. Safari in El Capitan is getting pinned sites, which is a useful Chrome feature that allows you to keep your favourite sites open all the time. Safari is also copying another great Chrome feature: the little indicator that tells you which tab is producing audio. As a Safari user on my retina MacBook Pro (Chrome is a battery hog on OS X), I am incredibly happy with these new features.
Apple is also bringing its Metal graphics API to from iOS to OS X, and Apple really focused on gaming when it comes to this one. I’m still not entirely sure who uses or even cares about gaming on OS X, but for those of you that do – this is surely great news. As has become the norm for OS X, El Capitan will be free, and will ship this fall. A public beta will be released in July.
Moving on, the major new features in OS 9 are also catch-up features, this time to Android, of course. The biggest one is Proactive, Apple’s Google Now competitor. It offers similar functionality to Google Now, including reading your email to notify you of invitations and the like. Unlike Google, however, all the ‘intelligent’ stuff happens on the device itself – not on Apple’s servers.
We’ll have to see how well it works – if Proactive works just as well as Google Now, without requiring the kind of information Google claims it needs, Apple’s got a winner on its hands. If it sucks, it will be a validation of Google’s approach.
As a sidenote, I’ve never actualy really used Google Now. It does not work for me at all because my GMail account is a Google Apps account, which Google Now doesn’t work with (yes, paying Google customers cannot use Google Now). It led to a fun situation when my friends and I were on vacation in the US, in October 2014. Google Now on their iPhones worked perfectly fine, bringing up boarding passes and relevant travel information, whereas my Nexus 5, a Google phone running Google software on a Google operating system, just showed me the weather back home. When I found out why, I turned off Google Now.
The keyboard has also been improved – and now does what every other smartphone platform has done for years: when you press shift, the keycaps will reflect the state. If you put two fingers on the keyboard, you can user them to move the selection cursor – a great feature that appears to be iPad-only for now. Apple is also introducing a new news application to iOS, which is basically a Flipboard copy.
The big new iOS feature is iPad-only: multitasking. If you’ve ever used Windows 8 on a tablet, you know how this works. Swiping in from the side, splitscreen view – we’ve all been here before. It literally works and looks exactly like Windows 8. Again – this is great. A lot was wrong with Windows 8’s Metro UI for tablets, but its tablet multitasking is absolutely great and fantastic. I’m really glad Apple copied it, and it’s high-time Android will do the same (in fact, there’s early support for it in Android M).
So, much like Google’s I/O keynote and Android M specifically, OS X El Capitan and iOS 9 are all about catching up to a number of stand-out features from the competition, so I can repeat here what I said then: another example of how competition between the major platforms makes both of them better – consumers, win.
Unlike Android, though, there’s no update elephant in the room here. In fact, Apple has heard the complaints about the iOS 8 update being too big for iPhones with little storage, so iOS 9 is only 1.4GB in size. A great move, and it will ensure that every eligible device will be getting iOS 9. In addition, Apple isn’t dropping any device with iOS 9 – if it runs iOS 8, it’ll run iOS 9.
All in all, a great keynote with lots of awesome new features, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Every single day, iOS and Android become ever more interchangeable. As consumers, the more these companies copy each other’s great ideas, the more awesome features our platforms of choice will get.
I’ll leave you with two final notes. First, Swift will be released as open source. Second, Apple had women up on stage to present new features for the very first time. It was about time.