Apple’s focus this year appears to be on how the 20 million developers worldwide can take advantage of software. Here's what was showcased at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

Share story

Is this a feature year for Apple software, or a performance year? At the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week, Apple previewed new versions of the operating systems that run their products, revealing them to be heavy on performance improvements and refinements. (That’s a good thing.)

Not on the menu, yet, is new hardware. Last year’s WWDC brought the iMac Pro and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro among other updates, but for now the company’s focus is how the 20 million Apple developers worldwide can take advantage of software.

New versions of iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS are expected to ship in the fall. The top new feature touted by Apple Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi was performance in iOS 12, reducing the time it takes to do commonly repeated tasks like launching apps and working with the keyboard—essentially making devices more responsive overall, even older models such as the iPhone 5s and iPad Air.

Of course, there are some new features, too. FaceTime calls can now include up to 32 people at a time, augmented reality (AR) is maturing with greater ability to recognize what the camera sees (such as vertical surfaces, to the point where a new Measure app will report approximate real-world dimensions just by specifying them onscreen) and Memoji, a way to create animated versions of yourself to use when chatting—think of Mii avatars on the Nintendo Wii, updated for iPhone and iPad.

In my last column I wrote about parental controls, and I’m happy to see that new Screen Time features are coming to help track time spent in apps and online. You can set timers that limit apps or categories (such as games), and the timers apply across devices; you can’t use an iPhone for an hour and then pick up an iPad for another hour. This feature isn’t just for managing kids’ usage, since it could help all of us who spend too much time looking at screens or getting lost while reading social media.

The standout, to me, was Siri Shortcuts. Combining the existing machine learning features with automation and Siri will result in being able to set up chains of helpful workflows.

I know, that sounds dry and technical, so let’s imagine it in practice. When you leave your house to go to work, the lights are turned off, the heat turned down, and your iPhone asks if you’d like to order a coffee to go from Starbucks since you often do at that time of day. You order and pay from the notification, and then, after you see how long it will take you to drive to work, your favorite podcasts or music are set to play during the commute.

You can set specific Siri trigger phrases, such as “I’m headed to work” or “Hey Siri, how is it Thursday already?” that set the shortcuts in motion.

On the Mac, the changes in the new macOS Mojave are modest. A dark mode may help tired eyes or simply appeal to folks who like the new look. Stacks in the Finder are a great idea that, I admit, I’ll put to use right away: instead of a desktop cluttered with icons, Stacks groups them by type or label.

Apple has also made the Quick Look feature more powerful with the ability to edit and mark up items in Quick Look view.

Overall, the company is sticking to its stance on privacy, limiting the ability of apps and websites to track your browsing history and overall safeguarding your data.

I’ll need to replace my original-model Apple Watch to use watchOS 5, which drops support for the “Series 0” (including all those $10,000 gold models) but that’s okay. The new watch system finally implements the Walkie-Talkie feature teased with the first model’s introduction, adds the Apple Podcasts app (and hopefully support for third-party podcast apps) and lets you remove the need to say “Hey Siri” before issuing commands—just raise the watch.

The activity features are also incrementally improved. You’ll be able to challenge friends to activity competitions, and runners can finally get pace alerts, rolling miles and cadence measurements. My favorite enhancement might be the laziest: when the watch notices that you’re no longer moving, it will prompt you to end a workout. I’m notorious for starting outdoor walks and realizing two hours later while sipping coffee that the watch still thinks I’m exercising. It will also ask if you’ve started a workout when it detects activity that looks like exercise.

Apple developers are now testing the new operating systems and updating their apps, so we won’t see anything concrete until late summer or fall, but it’s always good to have stuff to look forward to.

Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to More Practical Mac columns at