Everything You Need to Know About Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference

WWDC 2020

Apple’s highly anticipated annual WWDC has concluded with a number of exciting announcements. Like so many other events, this year’s conference was online-only due to the current Coronavirus situation. That didn’t seem to put a damper on things as Apple enthusiastically live streamed their keynote event for the general public as well as educational sessions for developers, pulling in millions of viewers throughout the event. While there were no new hardware announcements, Apple instead offered up a slew of software updates for their MacOS, iOS, and iPadOS. For those of you who missed it, we’ve compiled a list of major highlights from the event.

Apple is Moving Away From Intel Processors

Certainly the largest announcement made by Apple was the long-rumored shift away from Intel processing chips. Referring to the announcement as “a historic day for the Mac,” Apple CEO Tim Cook stated the next generation of Mac computers would employ their own proprietary ARM-based processor instead of the Intel x86 chip architecture. These “Apple Silicon” chips will boost efficiency and performance while freeing Macs from relying on Intel’s update cycles. This move will also establish a common architecture across all of Apple’s platforms, simplifying the process to create and refine apps across their entire product line. 

With any kind of major transition like this, there may be some bumps in the road. Apple promises that they will supply developers with all of the tools they need to create programs on the new ARM-based version of Xcode. They also claim that Xcode will continue to support programs for both the new Apple Silicon chips as well as the previous-gen Intel x86 chips. Regardless, there is likely going to be a period of adjustment for developers not yet familiar with Apple’s architecture. Based on what was shown during the keynote address, the new Apple Silicon chips will boast more than enough performance for the average consumer. Whether or not the chips can meet the demands of professional creatives, however,  remains to be seen. According to Apple, at least one model of the Mac series will sport the new chipset beginning sometime next year, and the entire lineup will make the transition within the next two years. 

Big Changes Coming to MacOS and Safari

Apple has announced that the next evolution of their MacOS is named ‘Big Sur’, continuing the trend of naming their operating system after locations in California. Visually, Apple has polished up everything from the dock to the tray icons. The new look is cleaner, more intuitive, and more interactive than the previous iteration. Part of this includes a new update to Apple’s Catalyst and SwiftUI projects, which provides a framework for mobile iOS apps to run natively at high-resolution on Mac laptops and desktops. This means apps like Messages on MacOS will now sport all of the same features as the mobile version including stickers, Memojis, effects, pinned conversations, overhauled group messaging, and more. SwiftUI and Catalyst are only in their first year of iteration, but it is clear they will play a large role in the future of apps across all of Apple’s platforms. 

Safari also had a significant presence at the presentation, with Apple boasting speeds more than 50% faster than Google Chrome. They also touted some of Safari’s new security features: a special privacy button on the browser’s toolbar that gives the user insight into the specific information being monitored and collected by the webpage, as well as a built-in password manager that routinely scans for any compromises. Probably the largest announcement made for Safari was the upcoming addition of external browser extensions. They can be downloaded via the Mac App Store with Apple promising seamless port functions so developers can easily bring their extensions from other browsers to Safari. This opens Safari up to massive functionality improvements from other programming languages which it has sorely needed. Anyone who uses browser extensions on Chrome or Firefox can attest to the wide variety and sheer utility they bring to the table. Visually, Safari will now allow custom wallpapers and widgets on the home page, and tabs have been overhauled for improved clarity. New language translation for web pages capability has also been added. Overall, Safari is shaping up to be a possible contender against other internet browser giants such as Chrome and Firefox.

iPadOS 14 Edging Closer to Standalone Computer

At the tail end of last year, Apple announced an all-new operating system built specifically for the iPad. The announcement was nine years in the making and the move is as symbolic as it is practical; iPads will gain access to a number of previously mac-exclusive features, while simultaneously cementing the iPad’s position as totally-not-a-giant-iPhone. The next iteration of iPadOS, called iPadOS 14, has been unveiled and it includes a number of notable upgrades. Many advancements shipping with iPadOS are also heading to iOS on the iPhone, but Apple seems intent on capitalizing on the iPads screen real estate. They have introduced a new sidebar feature for a number of different apps that promises improved navigation and streamlined file organization. Phone calls, Siri, and search functions will also no longer take up the entire screen, using a small drop-down feature instead. The standalone OS and the recent release of a detachable backlit keyboard with trackpad functionality are incremental steps taking the iPad further into full-blown computer territory.

Apple Wants to Transform Your Car Key Fob

 In one of the more unexpected announcements, Apple shared its desire to reimagine your car key fob. Apple CarKey will allow you to unlock, start, or even share your car with others via an iPhone. Using the built-in NFC chip, the user can unlock their vehicle with the tap of their finger. Placing the phone down on a wireless charging pad grants the app the ability to remotely start the engine. You can even share your ‘keys’ with others in iMessage and set security profiles with restrictions for situations like using a valet or sharing your keys with a teenager. Currently the feature only works on BMWs, but Apple is working to expand the feature to a number of other manufacturers in the coming months.

What Does This Mean for Software Developers?

One of the major themes running throughout this event was unity and consistency across all platforms. This was evident by the fully native multi-platform apps and the opening of Safari to more easily accept extensions written in Javascript and CSS. This allows software developers to use the same extension model and APIs as other browsers. This is great news for developers already working in the iOS sphere as their apps will now work flawlessly on Mac computers without needing a rewrite, opening up a new market with considerable potential. For the developers who have not published to the App Store, this is the perfect opportunity to bring their projects on board. 

A likely intentional side effect of this move is that it will further ingrain web developers into the Apple Ecosystem. After all, Safari extensions are only available via the Apple App Store. Once a developer has gone through the effort of building an app, purchasing the Apple Developer license, and navigating Apple’s thorough vetting process, it’s quite likely they will stick around and continue to develop apps for iOS in the future.

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At Lithios we value outside opinions. This blog was written by one of our guest bloggers.

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