Here are a few assorted impressions I have about WWDC 2021.
General Impressions First
I watched both the Keynote and SOTU, and the production quality of these videos just goes up & up. Disappearing iPads, Craig Federighi appearing and disappearing in a whiff of smoke, and smooth transitions throughout.
A great tidbit here is how much feature parity is there this year between macOS and iOS. Apple’s bet on unifying the underlying bits of their operating systems (and not on the frontend UIs like Windows tried to do) seems to really be paying off.
Safari looks really sweet, but I wonder if Tab Groups will get any adoption. I really wish more extensions come over to Safari though, as I especially miss things for web development, like React Developer tools, and better debugging support in editors like Visual Studio Code. Without which, using Safari is a no-go for me.
Drag & Drop and keyboard mouse software KVM between all Apple devices is kinda insane. I wonder how people will end up using this.
Focus mode is just really nice. I’m really going to use this a lot: having a different Work mode and Play mode would be lovely to have on a laptop, or when you simply don’t have access to multiple devices for work and play.
There is an unsubtle hint in the SOTU that new Macs will come with beefier graphics processors. There are multiple references to AAA games, and a heavy focus on increasing graphics fidelity parity with PCs.
iCloud & Siri
iCloud+’s not a VPN feature is… interesting. And their email now supports custom domains, who would have thought!
Siri is finally on-device, and doesn’t need a network connection to recognize speech. Finally! Android has had this for ages.
There are some minor Siri updates, but it doesn’t seem like there is any big Siri overhaul. With how both Amazon and Google are leapfrogging Apple in natural language speech, recognition, and apps, I’m disappointed. There’s no reason really to buy anything Siri when you have both Alexa and Google devices.
iPad & iPhone
Safari extensions now work on iOS and iPadOS. That’s a pretty significant reason for folks not to use other browsers. I wonder if there will be an API for this for other browsers to adopt.
iPad multi-tasking really seems pretty sweet. The Shelf in particular seems to be a miniaturized Exposè view, and that’s pretty cool. Also: keyboard shortcuts for all of these!
Live Text is pretty cool, and it’s pretty similar to the contextual Google search on Android devices that searches what’s on the whole screen for content, but limited to images in your photos library and other apps. It’s pretty cool how the same text selection UI works inside a photo though.
There seemed to be a real big focus on making FaceTime & Messages more capable. I so wish I had more friends generally using Apple devices, because most of these I wouldn’t ever use because it’s a Whastapp world all the way here.
The Health features are probably best in class for any platform. Apple Watch continues to be an enduring advantage for Apple here.
I really liked the perspective photo watch faces.
watchOS seems to have the smallest feature set of all the OSs, and it’s the newest. I wonder what it says about Apple Watch as a platform going forward.
Swift & Programming
Swift Concurrency using actors and asyncawait is just sweet. In many ways, Swift is turning out to be a really great language with static typing, safe memory access, and now, great concurrency primitives.
You can now develop iPad and iPhone apps on an iPad. It’s marketed as an extension to Swift Playgrounds, so it’s pitched as being “less capable” than a full XCode install on a Mac, but I’m excited for when this gap will get closer.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the week for sessions as there’s something juicy in pretty much every session.
As an aside, I am not an Apple developer, so most of these thoughts are just outside perspectives, but I’ve loved the platforms for so long and started (& not finished) CS193p what seems like hundreds of times. Sometime down the line, I do want to develop an app for an Apple platform, if only to make my experience more real.
So I really enjoyed watching the third season of Master of None. That is partly because the headliner & comedy act Aziz Ansari is present for about a whole 15 minutes in the entire season (I really am not a fan of his reedy voice), but also because Denise’s story is so, so much more interesting than Dev’s constant whining.
It’s a nuanced and lovely portrayal of lesbian love, and as a straight man, watching it is very rewarding: what I took away from it, more than anything is that love is love, with all its complications and ugliness, and hurt, and drama, and reconciliation, and bittersweet moments. Naomi Ackie is absolutely excellent as Alicia, and Lena Waithe continues to be brilliant as Denise, both have given some of the best on-screen acting that I’ve seen in a TV show. And Cordelia Blair… wow, Nurse Cordelia absolutely stole my heart.
I’m not going to dig too much into the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it’s definitely a must watch, filled with long silences, and just evocative moments where nothing really needs to be said or done for us to feel, really feel, what the characters are going through. Absolutely brilliant screenplay, and amazing cinematography: I found myself just staring at the screen, and noticing all of the hidden detail in its slowly moving shots. I’ll leave you with a bunch of scenes that I found particularly moving.
PS: If you’d like to read a spoiler-full review, I recommend this one, but really, sincerely, go watch this.
Starting tomorrow, I’m joining Automattic to work on WordPress.com. I’m excited! It’s going to be a fun journey, and a new chapter in my career: it’s the first time I’ll be working in a company this size: Automattic is now over 1000 folks, and it’s still entirely distributed. It’s pretty amazing that a company built on the principles of open source software has grown and survived this long. I strongly believe that the Automattic mission is crucial and important: we cannot let big corporations hold our content and attention hostage, and the best way to do that is to enable even non-technical folks to self-host, whether it be blogs, eCommerce, or their social network. There’s obviously still a long way to go to achieve this mission, but I see very few companies still committed to the open Internet of the 90s, and I’m lucky that Automattic is one of them.
As is the case with every one of my previous companies, leaving is bittersweet. It was wonderful to work on Todoist, the simple todo-list that so many people love (and rant about), and Twist, which I believe will be a sleeper hit in the next few years (it’s so, so much better than Slack). Saying goodbye is always difficult, but I leave with fond memories 🙂
A Look Back & Forward
It’s been a long story for me & WordPress: I started this blog on B2, and switched it over to WordPress 18 years ago. I learnt a lot of good PHP by reading WordPress code, and it’s what made writing a blog (all in vogue then) possible. While my Twitter presence has largely diluted both the quality & quantity of my posts here, over the years, I’ve realized the importance of writing in a place you control, and using these social networks just for communication and publicity. I still believe—more than ever—that the best thing any young professional can do for their career is to write, and WordPress is still the best way to get started.
And now I get to contribute, at least a little bit, to the WordPress story. And this time, all in the open through Calypso and Gutenberg. Here’s to the next adventure!
In more ways where iCloud Drive is becoming more useful and a viable replacement to Dropbox, here’s how sharing links to files stored in iCloud Drive is a pretty cool experience when you are on a Mac. Here’s a short video demo:
As you can see it’s a pretty surprising experience:
I’m just clicking a link from an Obsidian document. It can be any app that supports a hyperlink, there’s nothing special about this.
There’s no interstitial browser popup. macOS seems to figure out it’s an iCloud link, fetches it in real-time if it’s not downloaded, and opens the associated app.
It’s super fast, probably the fastest way to hyperlink to files on a Mac I’ve found.
Now, Creating these Links is Clunky
As you can see it’s a weird process:
It’s only available through the Share menu in Finder.
And it’s only available if you make the link publicly available to anybody. There’s no way I’ve found to easily share a link visible only to yourself.
I really wish there was a Google Drive-like “Copy Link” right-click item for any file in iCloud Drive.
But it’s pretty cool the way it works now, and the tight integration with macOS is a winner!