At Apple’s WWDC 2016 keynote, the tech giant announced iOS 10 and watchOS 3, the latest versions of the operating systems that power its iPhone and Apple Watch.
While the next version of Apple TV’s new OS was also revealed during the keynote, alongside the fact that the superb but U.S.-only streaming service SlingTV is coming to the company’s set-top box, Apple’s two mobile OS upgrades arguably stole the show. The subtle yet significant shift towards allowing more third-party support in Messages as well as Siri, indicates the Cupertino, California-based company’s walled-garden approach to consumer products may be breaking down and becoming more Android-like, albeit just slightly.
iOS 10 adds often-requested features such as opening Siri up to third-party developers and also makes the same shift with Messages, allowing developers to create software for its messaging platform through a variety of easy to install in-app plugins.
On the watchOS 3 side of the spectrum, Apple added sorely needed improvements to its wearable operating system. Apple Watch apps now load seven times faster and can be stored in the wearable’s memory for longer periods of time.
With OS 3, the Apple Watch’s side button also now opens a dock that closely replicates the multitasking panel featured in the iPhone and iPad. A new relaxation-focused Breathe app, as well as the ability to share and compete with friends through Apple’s Activity app, a prominent feature in Fitbit’s app since launch, were also revealed during the keynote.
I sat down with a variety of developers at WWDC this week to discuss how they intend to take advantage of the new features Apple has added to iOS 10 as well as watchOS 3.
Messages, powered by iOS 10
One of the more interesting iOS 10 announcements coming out of the keynote involved Apple opening Messages to third-party developers, putting the app in direct competition with other instant messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and Kik. Through these new features, Messages’ core functionality is expanded considerably, creating an entirely new platform for Apple and its development partners.
Greg Spiridellis and his company’s silly, yet extremely popular platform JibJab, a service that allows users to impose different faces on animations, is poised to launch Messenger integration when iOS 10 releases to the public this fall.
“Users want to create something more than just an emoji but, ‘do I really want to leave, go make something, and copy it to the clipboard and come back and paste it?’ That’s a lot of friction,” said Spiridellis, discussing the difficulties he feels people experience when using JibJab’s standalone iOS app.
“Messages extensions are awesome for us because in two taps users can access our product right within the conversion. They don’t have to think about leaving and coming back… There’s even an expanded view which in essence lets you create any feature functionality you can within your standalone app, right within the Messages experience,” said Spiridellis.
Spiridellis also alluded to the fact that his company plans to add new features to JibJab as a result of its integration with Messenger, though he did not delve into specifics.
On the other side of the iOS ecosystem spectrum, Albert Lee, MyFitnessPal co-founder, one of Under Armour’s various fitness-focused applications, plans to take advantage of Siri’s new open development API to allow users to control the app with voice commands, creating a more seamless experience. Under Armour purchased MyFitnessPal in 2015 for $475 million.
“We’ve heard from our customers that it’s hard to really interact with the app when you’re running. The phone is in an armband or in your pocket and your hands are sweaty… So we’re actually going to be integrating with Siri through SiriKit, to basically voice-enable a lot of the key functions of the app,” said Lee.
Lee says he believes adding voice commands to Under Armour’s suite of applications will actually result in more accuracy, which in turn helps the company’s suit of apps deliver better fitness insight to users.
Other iOS apps, including ride-sharing service Lyft, which isn’t available in Canada and still “has no plans” to launch north of the U.S. boarder anytime soon, will allow riders to book rides directly through Siri, taking advantage of the voice assistant’s new open API. With the arrival of Watch OS 3, the U.S.-only ride-sharing service also plans to launch an Apple Watch app that features subtle animations thanks to SpriteKit Integration and new background updates.
watchOS 3 lays the groundwork for the Apple Watch 2
While iOS 10 adds a number of new features to Apple’s operating system, watchOS 3 on the other hand, feels like a complete overhaul, as well as preparation for the impending launch of the Apple Watch 2, which will likely occur this fall or early next year.
Kayla Itsines, one of the most recognizable social media fitness personalities with more than 5 million Instagram followers, plans to launch an Apple Watch app to coincide with the release of watchOS 3 this fall. According to Tobi Pearce, the company’s CEO, the “Sweat with Kayla” new Apple Watch App is designed to take advantage of watchOS 3’s new competitive fitness features.
“The activity tracking section of the watch now allows third-party apps such as our own to attribute workout data to the activity from the day… Now if you complete a workout, you can sync it through the Activity App,” said Pearce.
Dexcom, on the other hand, the developer behind a prescription blood glucose monitoring app that requires a device to be attached to the wearer’s body via a needle, plans to take a more subtle approach to watchOS 3 with its application.
“One of the most dangerous things for someone with Type 1 Diabetes is for their blood sugar to go low, especially at night when they’re asleep. If you don’t realize it and it goes low enough you will end up in a coma and the hospital. The fact that we have notifications that go off and will wake you up is important,” said Jorge Valdez, CTO of Dexcom.
Valdez says that since his company already has a pre-existing watchOS 2 app, the watchOS 3 version of Dexcom is focused more on taking advantage of the OS’ new background updates, as well as refining the app’s interface so it’s more intuitive.
“We haven’t been able to make Complications until now because background refresh was too slow and you would get more value on the phone than on the watch and obviously that’s bad. Now the refresh rate is fast enough to keep up with our five-minute interval,” said Valdez.
According to Valdez, watchOS 3’s dock, which allows users to keep several apps active and constantly refreshing in the background, is a huge step in the right direction for Dexcom and similar health-focused medical applications that rely on frequent updates.
“Now when you click on an app, you’ll get an update in two seconds. Before you’d sit there for seconds and seconds watching the little wheel spin and no one has the patience for that,” said Valdez.
Paul Virapen of Wooga, a mobile-focused development studio, says that watchOS 3 will finally allow developers to create gaming experiences built from the ground up for the Apple Watch. Speed is also a factor Virapen emphasizes, explaining that background app refreshes
“One thing you’ll notice about this compared to current watch apps is the graphics are a lot richer and the animations are more detailed. That’s only possible because of watchOS 3’s SpriteKit,” said Virapen.
In his studio’s watchOS 3 game called Fish Time, users fish by manipulating the watch’s digital crown and lure catches based on timing and swipe gestures. Players are able to either actively fish with the app open, or take the “incremental games” approach to the experience, choosing to come back later in order to have a greater chance of catching a rare fish.
“Three of the main features for us as a game developer on watch is SpriteKit because it allows us to create much richer graphics, controls like gestures and digital crown access and the app dock, allowing up to 10 apps to remain in memory at one time with no load time for the apps anymore. Players can literally be in and out and play a game session in five or 10 seconds now with no delay what’s so ever,” said Virapen.
“That’s huge for games.”