Another year, another batch of Siri improvements aimed at enhancing what’s already there, but not radically transforming it. Siri in iOS 13 comes with a handful of changes, all of which are in line with the types of iteration we’re used to seeing for Apple’s intelligent assistant. Siri now offers suggested actions in more places and ways than before, its voice continues becoming more human, and perhaps this year’s biggest change is a new SiriKit domain for media, which should enable – after the necessary work by third-party developers – audio apps like Spotify, Overcast, and Audible to be controlled by voice the way Apple’s native Music, Podcasts, and Books apps can be.
Posts tagged with "iOS 13 Preview"
Siri in iOS 13: SiriKit for Media, New Suggestions, and a Better Voice
Apple Hits Restart on Game Controller Support
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly six years since Apple added game controller support to iOS. The big news at WWDC in 2013 was the iOS 7 redesign, but for game developers, it was rivaled by the announcement that third-party Made For iPhone (MFi) controllers were coming.
The game press and developers understood the potential of controller support immediately. Even though it wasn’t announced there, Chris Plante of Polygon declared controller support the biggest story of E3, the game industry trade show that was happening at the same time as WWDC. Plante imagined that:
If Apple finds a way to standardize traditional controls, every iOS device will become a transportable console. In a year, both iPhones and iPads will approach the processing power of the current-generation devices. Companies will have the ability to port controller-based games for the mobile devices in millions of pockets — an install-base far greater than they’ve ever had before.
Game industry veteran Gabe Newell, the co-founder of Valve, saw Apple’s entry as a big risk to companies making PC and console games:
The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform…I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily.
I was right there with them. iOS devices couldn’t match the power of a traditional console in 2013, but you could see that they were on a trajectory to get there. With the addition of controller support, Apple felt poised to make a meaningful run at incumbents like Sony and Microsoft.
It didn’t work out that way though. iOS’ controller support was rushed to market. Early controllers were priced at around $100, in part because of the requirements of the MFi certification, and they couldn’t match the quality of controllers from Sony and Microsoft.
As anticipated, controller support was extended to the Apple TV when its App Store launched in 2015. Initially, it looked as though Apple would allow game developers to require a controller. In the end, though, the company went an entirely different direction by requiring that games support the Apple TV Remote, a decision that complicated development and dumbed down controller integration to match the remote’s limited input methods. Apple changed course eventually, and now lets developers require controllers, but by the time of that change the damage had been done. Many developers had already lost interest in controller support. It didn’t help either that for a very long time, the App Store didn’t indicate which games were compatible with MFi controllers, leaving the void to be filled by third-party sites.
Last year, when I looked back at the history of games on the App Store for its tenth anniversary, I came away pessimistic about the future of games on Apple’s platforms. After a decade, I felt like we were still asking the same question that Federico posed in 2013:
Will Apple ever develop a culture and appreciation for gaming as a medium, not just an App Store category?
Sadly, Federico’s question remains as relevant today as it was six years ago. Still, I’m cautiously optimistic based on what’s happened in the past year. Part of that is the App Store editorial team’s excellent track record of championing high-quality games in the stories published on the App Store. Another factor is Apple Arcade, the game subscription service we still don’t know a lot about, but which appears designed to showcase high-quality, artistically important games.
The latest cause for optimism is Apple’s announcement at WWDC this past June that iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and macOS would all support the Sony DualShock 4 and Bluetooth-based Xbox controllers when Apple’s OSes are updated this fall. The reaction from developers and other observers was a combination of surprise and excitement that was uncannily similar to the MFi announcement in 2013. Yet, the news begs the question: ‘How is this time any different?’ The answer to that question lies in how the new controllers work and the role they will play in Arcade.
Hello, Computer: Inside Apple’s Voice Control
This year’s Worldwide Developers Conference was big. From dark mode in iOS 13 to the newly-rechristened iPadOS to the unveiling of the born-again Mac Pro and more, Apple’s annual week-long bonanza of all things software was arguably one of the most anticipated and exciting events in recent Apple history.
Accessibility certainly contributed to the bigness as well. Every year Apple moves mountains to ensure accessibility’s presence is felt not only in the software it previews, but also in the sessions, labs, and other social gatherings in and around the San Jose Convention Center.
“One of the things that’s been really cool this year is the [accessibility] team has been firing on [all] cylinders across the board,” Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, said to me following the keynote. “There’s something in each operating system and things for a lot of different types of use cases.”
One announcement that unquestionably garnered some of the biggest buzz during the conference was Voice Control. Available on macOS Catalina and iOS 13, Voice Control is a method of interacting with one’s Mac or iOS device using only your voice. A collaborative effort between Apple’s Accessibility Engineering and Siri groups, Voice Control aims to revolutionize the way users with certain physical motor conditions access their devices. At a high level, it’s very much a realization of the kind of ambient, voice-first computing dreamed up by sci-fi television stalwarts like The Jetsons and Star Trek decades ago. You talk, it responds.
And Apple could not be more excited about it.
Health in iOS 13: A Foundation for Apple’s Grand Wellness Ambitions
Apple’s Health app first debuted in 2014 as part of iOS 8. In the five years since its launch, Health has been one of the only iOS apps to receive redesigns every couple of years. The basic purpose of the app has remained the same through those changes, still serving as an aggregation tool for wellness data from sources like the Apple Watch to third-party apps and devices. However, Health’s regular reimagining serves as strong evidence that Apple has never quite felt content with how that original goal was being fulfilled.
It may be too early to cast judgment, but I have a strong suspicion that this year’s rebrand will stick. iOS 13’s Health app finally brings a design that feels intuitive and user-friendly, doing away with complication and creating a streamlined, inviting interface. Simultaneously, this year’s update adds compelling new features related to cycle tracking and hearing health that may hint at an evolving vision for the Health app’s future.
Sign In with Apple: Goodbye Account Management
I love trying new apps and services. It may be part of my job at MacStories, but even if it weren’t, I would still constantly be on the lookout for interesting, creative products that can benefit either my work or leisure. In recent years it seems like there’s always a fresh stream of apps and services to check out. Often when I try something new, however, I’m immediately confronted with the obstacle of a login screen. At which point there’s a choice to make: do I go through the hassle of creating an account for this service, or – if the option is available – do I simply authenticate via a third party like Google or Facebook? Sadly, neither option is ideal.
Creating a new account for every service you try is a major pain. It’s made easier with the aid of iCloud Keychain and 1Password, but while those tools eliminate lots of friction, they can be a little clunky, and in the end you’re still trusting your data to the (usually unknown) privacy policies of the service you sign up for.
Third-party login buttons solve the convenience problem, mostly. They may require entering your credentials for that third-party service, but at least you don’t have to create and remember new credentials for multiple services. The data privacy issue can be a question mark with these buttons though; when you authenticate through, let’s say Facebook, do you really know exactly what data you’re sharing with the new service? Or how the service will use that data? As consumers continue losing trust in Facebook itself to secure their data, why would they trust a service that taps into their Facebook data?
Sign In with Apple is a modern alternative to the current mess of login methods, offering Apple users a solution that addresses the current options’ shortfalls. It makes account creation and sign-in trivially simple – even more so than buttons from Google or Facebook – while also keeping your data in the hands of a company with a decent privacy track record.
When apps update to adopt Sign In with Apple, I suspect many users’ initial thoughts will be some variation of what immediately popped into my mind after trying it for the first time: “Where has this been all my life?”
Activity Trends in iOS 13
We touched on most of this year’s changes to iOS in our iOS 13 overview earlier this summer, but one feature that has mostly flown under the radar is the debut of Activity Trends.
True to its name, Activity Trends is a new way to monitor the progression of your daily activity over time. The feature is exposed via a new tab in Apple’s Activity app in iOS 13, and it breaks down your activity over the last 90 days compared to the previous 365.
In the main view, Trends are broken down by a variety of metrics, with each metric displaying your 90 day average as well as a simple up or down arrow to indicate whether it has improved or diminished over that time period in comparison to the average of your last year. The goal is to give you actionable information and goals to bring these metrics up. Goals are applied on a weekly basis, and hitting them consistently will result in an increase of your 90 day averages over time.
Sidecar in iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina: Working Seamlessly Between an iPad and Mac
The core experience of using Sidecar is fantastic. Part of the reason is that running an iPad as a second display for a Mac with Sidecar is immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used multiple displays. The added screen real estate, portability, and functionality are part of the appeal too. Of course, there are differences that I’ll get into, but Sidecar is so close to a traditional dual-display setup that I expect it will become a natural extension of the way many people work on the Mac.
There’s more going on with Sidecar though, which didn’t dawn on me until I’d been using it for a while. One of the themes that emerged from this year’s WWDC is deeper integration across all of Apple’s platforms. As I’ve written in the past, SwiftUI is designed to accomplish that in the long-term across all the devices Apple makes. In contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term way to tie the Mac and iPad closer together by bringing iPad apps to the Mac and encouraging developers to build more robust iPad apps.
Sidecar strikes me as part of the same story. Apple made it clear when they introduced Catalyst in 2018 at WWDC that it’s not replacing macOS with iOS. Some tasks are better suited for a Mac than an iPad and vice versa. Sidecar acknowledges those differences by letting an iPad become an extension of your Mac for tasks best suited to it. At the same time, however, Sidecar takes advantage of functionality that’s unavailable on the Mac, like the Apple Pencil. Combined with the ability to switch seamlessly between using Mac apps running in Sidecar and native iPadOS apps, what you’ve effectively got is a touchscreen Mac.
However, to understand the potential Sidecar unlocks, it’s necessary to first dive into the details of what the new feature enables as well as its limitations.
CarPlay in iOS 13: A Big Leap Forward
CarPlay fascinates me because it’s a relatively rare example of a successful Apple software product that isn’t tightly integrated with the company’s hardware. Of course, CarPlay runs from an iPhone, but it also relies on automaker media systems to deliver its experience to users in their cars. This lack of integration shows in cars with slower media systems; however, even when automakers’ hardware provides a subpar experience, CarPlay’s simplified but familiar interface and access to content already on users’ iPhones is superior. So much so in fact that Apple says CarPlay has managed to capture 90% of the new car market in the US and 75% worldwide.
I first tried CarPlay three years ago, when I leased a Honda Accord. As I wrote then, Honda’s entertainment system was slow, but the experience was nonetheless transformative. Easy access to the music and podcasts I love, multiple mapping options, and access to hands-free messaging all played a big part in winning me over.
When my lease was up earlier this year, CarPlay support was at the top of the list of must-have features when we began looking for a new car. We wound up leasing a Nissan Altima, which has a faster entertainment system, larger touchscreen, and better hardware button support for navigating CarPlay’s UI. The hardware differences took a system I already loved to a new level by reducing past friction and frustrations even though the underlying software hadn’t changed.
Just a few weeks after we brought the Altima home though, Apple announced that it would update CarPlay with the release of iOS 13 this fall. In a jam-packed keynote, CarPlay got very little stage time, but I was immediately intrigued by the scope of the announcement. CarPlay hasn’t changed much since it was introduced in 2014, but with iOS 13, iPhone users can look forward to not only significant improvements in its design, but a new app and other features that make this the biggest leap forward for CarPlay to date.
Apple Maps in iOS 13: Sights Set on Google
Apple’s path to a home-brewed mapping solution has been long and perilous, but it’s almost arrived.
12 years ago the iPhone launched with Google powering its pre-installed navigation software; five years later, the botched debut of Apple’s own Maps app led to the firing of a key Apple executive; Apple Maps has steadily improved over the years, but seemingly its biggest weakness is that it has never truly contained Apple’s own maps. The app is Apple’s, but the maps have always come from other sources.
Last year, Apple announced a coming change that had been years in the works: Maps would soon contain the company’s own maps, and they would be transformative. The new maps started rolling out in the US last fall with iOS 12, and Apple claims they’ll cover the entire US by the end of 2019.
Timed with the spread of its first-party mapping data, Apple is giving the Maps app a big upgrade in iOS 13 that represents the company’s biggest push yet to overtake Google Maps as the world’s most trusted, go-to mapping service. Apple Maps in iOS 13 represents – if you’re in the US at least – Apple’s purest vision to date for a modern mapping service. Here’s everything that it brings.