Apple’s recent developers conference, which focused on updates to the company’s various operating systems, unveiled some potentially interesting and useful features in its products.

Share story

Practical Mac

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which wrapped up last week in San Francisco, is the company’s only yearly peek into the near future of its products. New this year were updates to iOS (iPhone and iPad), watchOS (Apple Watch), tvOS (Apple TV) and the newly renamed macOS (Mac computers).

Apple didn’t preview hardware at the event, but it revealed features and seeded pre-release versions of its operating systems for developers to start adapting their software. And what it showed looks interesting.

However, I find myself at this time every year looking at WWDC’s announcements with a critical (some may say grizzled) eye. Mostly that’s because there are still open questions regarding these early versions.

But that’s good! The time between now and September is when developers and the rest of us should be critical and give Apple feedback.

Most Read Stories

Save 75% on digital access today.

I’m focusing here on just a few standout items that I’m looking forward to. All of the OS updates are due in the fall, likely with new hardware to take advantage of them.

watchOS 3. As a daily Apple Watch user, I am excited about the features in watchOS 3. At the top of the list: faster performance. Frequently used apps — both Apple’s and third-party developers’ — will update themselves in the background, so opening them will be almost instantaneous.

There will also be new watch faces, a Breathe app to remind you to oxygenate yourself during the day, and more options for tracking exercise.

That’s all great, but we don’t yet know how background apps will impact battery life. The two previous versions of watchOS were enough to get the product to market, and designed with an insane priority for conserving power. As a result, battery life is better than I expected it to be throughout the day. But if the watch is checking in with your iPhone more often, will that network activity significantly lower the longevity through the day?

iOS 10. Apple’s marketing focus for its most important operating system is a curiosity: many new ways to interact with friends using the Messages app. Text bubble animations, background effects, temporarily hidden images, stickers … it initially looks like someone’s kids took over the design lab.

But there’s a lot of savvy behind the sparkle. People want to customize their communications, as shown by other messaging services. More significant, Apple is building the capability to do things like order food and make payments within the app. Apple needs to be a player in the booming new messaging market.

Speaking of nascent markets, a new Home app aims to wrangle all those HomeKit-based home automation gadgets that we all think sound nifty but don’t actually buy. Will Home finally work? Right now, the whole field is a mess of competing hardware and standards.

macOS Sierra. The star of the newest California-dreamt Mac operating system is Siri, which aims to be — yes, I’ll say it — Apple’s Alexa for the desktop. Siri will be able to locate information and files just by asking, perform web searches, and more.

The trick here, of course, isn’t necessarily the implementation on the Mac, but rather the strength of Siri behind the scenes. I use Siri often, both on my iPhone and my Apple Watch, and half the time I have to repeat myself or swear at it.

But Amazon.com, through Alexa, has shown that a voice-activated assistant can be done well, and that voice is an important front in the battle over how we access all of our information. Apple needs to leap forward here.

Sierra isn’t all talk, though. The Photos app gains Memories, which are automated smarts to locate people, create short movies, identify objects and places by analyzing photo contents and … well, be more like Google Photos. What’s particularly interesting about this is Apple’s approach: All that analysis is done on the Mac and iOS devices, rather than uploaded and processed in the cloud. That’s a lot of local data crunching, so we’ll see how that impacts performance and, on mobile devices, battery life.

Lastly, I want to bring up Optimized Storage. Here’s a feature that sells itself. It’s easy to run out of storage these days, especially on laptops with relatively small amounts of solid-state storage. This feature stores “rarely used files in the cloud and keep(s) them available on demand.”

However, here’s an area where the details will really matter. What if I’m traveling and not connected to the internet? Apple’s iCloud storage rates are also expensive compared with other companies. The cynic in me wonders how much of this feature is intended to help people, and how much is pushing upgraded iCloud subscriptions.

There’s much more in these new OS versions, such as unlocking your Mac when your Apple Watch is nearby and using Apple Pay on the web, plus a few updates to the Apple TV. But those will all come into better focus in the coming months. For now, I need to go download a lot of pre-release software.