If there's one reveal people were hoping for at WWDC, it was Apple's long-rumored music service. On this count, Tim Cook delivered, promising to “change the way that you experience music forever" with a new streaming platform. It's entering a crowded market, and Apple seems to be banking quite a bit on star power and exclusive access — Drake showed up to promote Connect, a platform that lets artists upload music or photos for subscribers; Apple is touting radio stations where a "team of experts" picks music instead of an algorithm; and Canadian artist The Weeknd wrapped everything up with a song.
Flashy as the whole thing was, though, it followed two hours of low-key but fairly solid tweaks to Apple's software products, from new versions of OS X and iOS to updates of its car, home, and watch software. This fall, Apple product users of all stripes can look forward to a lot of refreshed apps and, if the company delivers on its promise, all sorts of Siri integration. They might not make headlines quite as well, but little changes like Maps public transit support can make a big difference in the long run, too.
Meet OS X El Capitan
OS X 10.11, otherwise known as El Capitan, is more about tweaking the OS X experience and improving performance than redesigning the whole interface. Safari, for example, now allows you to "pin" sites, so they'll load instantly from the landing page. It also lets you mute audio in tabs without entering specific pages. Spotlight allows you more extensive and integrated search capabilities: you can look up sporting event tickets, weather, and upcoming events using natural language. Improved windows management means that you can automatically split your screen between apps and store multiple desktop layouts in a navigation bar on top. And Metal, the optimization tool Apple first introduced for mobile processors last year, will supposedly now give El Capitan a performance boost.
Surprise, surprise, iOS 9 is here too
Much like the new version of OS X, iOS 9 is less about radical change than making refinements. The Notes app is gaining more functionality (like drawing!), while Passbook has become "Wallet." Newsstand has become "News." HealthKit tracks more data, including UV exposure and menstrual cycles. iOS 9 is supposed to even take up less space on your iPhone, and it offers a "low power mode" to squeeze three extra hours out of the battery. The iPad, meanwhile, has new productivity options — among other things, users can open two apps side-by-side on a single iPad Air 2. Developers can get their hands on all the new features when Apple drops the public beta — its first ever for iOS — in July. The final version will be available in the fall.
Siri gets 'Proactive'
Reminiscent of Google Now, the iOS "proactive assistant" initiative uses the data on your phone to give contextual advice and options. That means scanning email and putting invitations directly into your calendar, or automatically offering an energetic soundtrack to your morning run. Siri now suggests individuals you may want to call, apps you may want to use at a certain time of day, and breaking news you may want to read. While this bears a fair resemblance to Google's tools, Apple is playing up its privacy advantages, promising all your data will stay on the phone instead of in the cloud.
Apple Pay in the UK
Apple Pay launched last year, and at this WWDC, Apple announced some new partners, including Trader Joe’s and JC Penney. Payment processing company Square will also be launching a new Apple Pay-compatible reader this fall. But the most important announcement might be that it’s moving outside the US: Apple Pay will be coming to the UK in July. Besides eight banks and a variety of British brands, it will work with the London transportation system — something no American public transit authority has managed so far. Apple's Passbook service, meanwhile, is turning into a service called Wallet, and Apple Pay itself is getting support for rewards cards.
Apple Maps finally has public transit directions
One of the biggest strikes against Apple Maps has been its lack of public transit directions, but that's changing. In iOS 9, Maps will support bus, ferry, subway, and train routes. Apple is actually trying to one-up the other transit apps on the market by mapping subway stations to offer a more accurate estimate of travel times. Transit maps are being released for select cities: Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Shenzhen, among others. There are a few more tweaks as well. If you search for nearby stores, for example, Siri will tell you whether they support Apple Pay.
Newsstand is out, News is in
Apple is taking an app most people hide in an "other" folder and making it useful: Newsstand is out, "News" is in. It’s an app that lets you read articles from all sorts of publications — essentially a combination of Flipboard and Facebook’s instant articles. You can follow publications or topics, or have the News app suggest new content based on what you read. Some publications will even be able to design their stories specifically for News, too. It looks extremely slick — especially the natively designed articles. Apple didn’t say when News will be available, but the new app will roll out in the US, the UK, and Australia at the start.
The Apple Watch gets a big software update
Less than two months into its life, the Apple Watch has a new operating system: watchOS 2. It has some more options for watch faces, including the cutely named "Time Travel," which gives you an overview of upcoming events in addition to what's going on at the moment. There’s a little bit more interactivity overall — you can, say, reply to emails instead of just reading them. Developers will have more control; they can make apps that play back video and audio using the watch speakers, and there’s full support for HealthKit and HomeKit. Naturally, some of the latest improvements to iOS 9 — like transit directions in Maps — cross over to the Apple Watch as well. Developers have access to the latest watchOS today; like iOS 9, it's coming to consumers in the fall.
HomeKit can control more of your home
HomeKit, Apple’s smart home platform, is being expanded beyond its current limited functionality — it will now be capable of adjusting window shades, motion sensors, and security systems. Currently, HomeKit is tied to Apple TV, but it sounds like soon enough, you’ll be able to use your iPhone or iPad as well, as long as it's connected via iCloud. It’s a basic system, but integrating HomeKit with your iPhone makes HomeKit instantly accessible to a much wider user base.
Car makers can build their own CarPlay apps
Like iOS 9 and OS X, Apple’s auto operating system got some big upgrades today, too. The most important is that CarPlay will allow auto makers to develop apps that control your car’s features. Going forward, you won’t have to leave the CarPlay OS to do things like turn the heat on. CarPlay will also now support high-DPI screens at multiple display sizes, meaning manufacturers are free to design around CarPlay any way they see fit.
And one more thing: Apple Music
Apple saved its new music service for the end of its keynote, and even dusted off the Jobs-era saying for its debut. At first blush, it sounds like Apple Music has all the necessary features. You can stream your favorite artists, watch music videos and exclusive clips in HD, and listen to curated playlists. There’s also a feature (called "Connect") that lets unsigned artists upload their music. Apple’s even created a global radio station called Beats 1 and hired Zane Lowe to run it. You get all that for $9.99 per month, and there’s also a $14.99 family plan option that lets you share Apple Music with up to five other people. That gives Apple a slight edge when it comes to pricing, but Jimmy Iovine, Drake, and Tim Cook didn’t mention much else that sounds all that different from the services Apple Music will compete against. It will be available on iOS starting June 30th and — maybe most importantly — it’s also coming to Android this fall.
In more ways than one, this year’s WWDC echoed Google’s recent I/O keynote — both companies are building increasingly expansive, smarter, and responsive ecosystems for everything from your wrist to your car. But the two events were also defined by small improvements. Sure, Apple Music could shake up the streaming marketplace, but the event emphasized iterative changes: a more powerful OS X and iOS, a smarter Siri, a more full-featured Apple Watch, and better-supported mobile payments. As for the hardware that will be running all of this, we'll have to wait until later this year. And while no one really expected otherwise, Apple's plans for one major piece of tech — the TV — remain elusive.
Verge Video: Apple's incremental improvements at WWDC 2015