This year, in lieu of a golden ticket to San Francisco, I had the opportunity to organise a meetup in Adelaide to watch the Keynote live at 2:30am. Not expecting more than a handful of people to turn up at 2am on a weekday morning, I was surprised to have 12 other Apple enthusiasts in town rock up. So with some comfortable chairs set up, enough sugar and Red Bull to keep us awake for at least 24 hours straight we watched the live stream over the Apple TV.
With little preamble of sales and "customer sat" charts it was clear that they had a lot to get through. Two hours almost wasn't enough to present all of the new features and tools revealed in this Keynote.
OS X continues to show that its maturing at a steady pace and, in my opinion, with just the right amount of progress to be new but not jarring — avoiding Windows 8 like shock. This year has brought some key features that have connected OS X and iOS deeper than what has been thought of.
What was the most interesting feature in my mind was apart of a set of "Continuity" features. Handoff utilises proximity to begin to contextualise the physical relationships between a persons devices. This allows one to begin drafting an email on a portable device and by proximity awareness continue editing the draft on OS X through a convenience shortcut. This is in no doubt because of frameworks and technologies like Multipeer Connectivity, AirDrop and Bluetooth Smart — have yet to dig into it.
As the presentation of Handoff continued I couldn't help but think that it sounded a little bit familiar. In late 2012 I put together a post about my thoughts on a simple annoyance that happened daily. The idea that via Bluetooth Smart, or other means, the devices I use can understand their context and relationship between themselves and me. The annoyance was centred around Push Notification alerts arriving on all devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook) and all wanting my attention.
What Apple has done with Handoff was something even more ambitious than just silencing multiple notification alerts. Coming from an understanding that once one know the proximity relationship between devices they can work together to better serve their users needs and means of getting something done. But this could only be the beginning for proximity based enhancements between these two platforms.
Another feature that sparked my interest was the arrival of a Touch ID interface. As expected, not the means to directly work with the biometric device but rather to request its usage to verify the user. Internally known as the Local Authorisation framework; it provides a very modest feature set which primarily only allows the request of a prompt to touch authenticate to proceed with an action.
This will mean that applications using sensitive information, including mobile banking apps, can move to a Touch ID authorisation method rather than a pin code if the biometric device is available. This is something that I have been looking forward to seeing how it would be implemented, guessing it could be integrated to the Keychain. This implementation is simpler and more flexible for the application to interface with. Plus, it doesn't mean they had to drag the Keychain API from its C API purgatory into a modern interface.
Another new interesting core feature for iOS 8 is App Extensions. This allows iOS to embed third-party content and interactivity across core areas of iOS like Notification Centre and even the keyboard. What has been long said as a far-off but inevitable feature for iOS has now materialised. What we see here is just the beginning. It will be interesting to see where and how the developer community takes this new ability.
HealthKit, HomeKit and CloudKit hit near the end of the Keynote and by their brief preview looks like they have massive potential. HomeKit can potentially solve the problems with currently fragmented home automation appliances. HealthKit can really help improve peoples lives — not the 'improves peoples lives by providing asynchronous, cloud based, aggregated compression algorithms for enterprise and consumers' malarkey but something really, actually beneficial. CloudKit sounded like an awesome solution to get developers off and running with an application by taking care of the backend. Yet to be seen how and where this can be used and how things like migration off of CloudKit or restrictions will play out.
With all of the other new features and API's available to developers it is clear that this is a company that is focussing on the future, a realistic future, and beginning to optimise and improve the relationship between portable devices and traditional computing. All of the frameworks and features that have been rattling around in iOS and Mac OS are beginning to bear fruit. An interesting way to help theorise about what Apple will do next is look at the vast array of useful technologies, frameworks they have at their fingertips today waiting for another need to fulfil.
I'd like to thank the people that attended the meetup on Tuesday. I never thought that more than a handful, at best, would even be remotely interested or willing to head in to the city at 2am. And, sincerely, to Red Bull for getting in touch out of the blue to offer some refreshments to get us through the night. Thank you.