Euan Andrews: From emojis to maps, Apple shakes up apps

Apple's vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, speaks at WWDC. Picture: Gabrielle Lurie/AFP/Getty Images
Apple's vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, speaks at WWDC. Picture: Gabrielle Lurie/AFP/Getty Images
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Monday night saw Apple kick off its week-long Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. At the top of the bill was a two-hour keynote presentation showcasing new features and outlining plans for the company’s future.

One of the first things to catch the eye was the landmark decision to move from OS X, the operating system designed under Steve Job’s eye in 1997, to macOS Sierra, as Apple slowly breaks down the barriers towards creating an operating system that is unified across all its products.

Apple announced a new operating system, macOS Sierra. Picture: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Apple announced a new operating system, macOS Sierra. Picture: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Sierra will be focused on continuity. With this in mind, one of the biggest changes will be the ability to unlock your laptop simply by having your Apple Watch nearby, doing away with the need to repeatedly enter a password. The new operating system also sees the long-awaited arrival of digital assistant Siri on a desktop platform, answering questions and controlling devices, in much the same way as on your iPhone.

One announcement actually brought cheers and applause from the crowd – the Universal Clipboard. Finally you will be able to copy text from your iPhone and paste it straight onto another device. Apple Pay also arrives on your browser, allowing you to make online payments directly through Safari and – keeping with the theme of continuity – requires authentication through your Apple Watch or iPhone.

While there’s change afoot on your desktop and laptop, new iPhone operating system iOS10 also shone during the presentation by Craig Federighi, with iMessage getting some of the biggest updates. It can now understand “rich links”, which, you’ll be pleased to hear, means you can now play your favourite cat video directly from YouTube within the body of the message, rather than launching the YouTube app.

iOS10 also features some really nice interactive updates to the lock screen, such as “raise and wake”, which, as the name suggests, activates the screen for a quick glance at notifications and updates. This is further enhanced with integration with 3D Touch, so there’s no longer any need to launch the Messages app in order to respond to messages.

READ MORE: First fall in iPhone sales weighs on Apple revenues

As I’ve already mentioned, Siri is about to make its desktop debut. But on handheld devices it has become older and wiser. Now third-party developers, such as us here at xDesign, can integrate Siri into our apps. Meaning that apps will finally be able to be driven by voice commands. “Siri I need a cab”, for example, will be able to request a car on Uber and provide you with real-time updates.

Maps, Music and News have also come in for some much needed TLC, as well as Photos, which now features on-device facial recognition – protecting your privacy while allowing you to arrange your photos based on who is in them. News now has a much more traditional look and feel, allowing you to subscribe to a newspaper or magazine from within the app.

The California keynote showed us that Apple Maps is on its way to becoming a real contender to Google Maps, with local suggestions, live traffic and recommended routes – tackling Google head-on with an updated Maps proposition. Like Siri, Maps is also being opened up to developers, with the potential to book and pay for a restaurant or an Uber car, and then track your ride, all without leaving the Maps app.

And what about the 15 million long-suffering subscribers to Apple Music? Well they’ll be delighted to hear that it has come in for a substantial facelift, with a “redesign from the ground up”, and now has all the features that you would expect to allow it to compete with Spotify, Tidal and the like. In fact, Monday’s announced redesign should make Apple’s entire music ecosystem a whole lot easier to get your head round.

However, if you’re not a fan of emojis, you better look away now. They’re about to get three times bigger and come with a new prediction feature, highlighting words that you can turn into emojis. Along with emojis there are also stickers and an iMessage store. Oh, and how could we ever have lived without the invisible ink message that arrives blurry but reveals itself when the user swipes over it?

The last feature of iOS10 that I want to touch upon is also one of my favourites: Transcribed Voicemails. Oh thank god. No more waiting for that automated, robotic voice to slowly read out the date, time and phone number, only to find the person hung up without leaving a message. Now a transcription of the voicemail will arrive on my phone in text format. A lifesaver for those of us who are constantly on the move!

Yes great, many changes are coming to your Mac and iPhone, but what about your beloved Apple Watch? Don’t worry, you haven’t been left out. watchOS 3 is on its way, with Apple promising a 700 per cent increase in app launch times, new docking features, an iOS inspired control centre and an SOS mode in case you find yourself in trouble, dialling the correct local emergency number no matter where you are.

tvOS anyone? You’ll soon have over 1,200 new channels to choose from, as well as a brand new remote control app, ideal for those of us who keep losing the control down the back of the sofa!

Like what you hear? As they say, the proof is in the pudding, which should be with us on a Mac, iPhone and watch near you this autumn.

• Euan Andrews is founder and managing director of Edinburgh-based apps developer xDesign