Reda Lemeden

Reda Lemeden

Indie Developer & Designer

WWDC 2020: Session Notes

Instead of doing live reactions this year, I opted to jot down some notes during the Keynote and the State of the Union and share them in one go. So here goes nothing!

  • The home screen and springboard changes in iOS 14—App Library and Widgets—are clearly going towards adjusting the cognitive load in order to better surface the information that matters to the user at any given time. Let’s be honest, the icon grid has reached its peak usability almost a decade ago.

  • Another area that got a lot of attention in iOS 14 are the different interruptive modes in the user interface. In iOS 13 and earlier, receiving a phone call or activating Siri takes over the entire screen, making them effectively separate modes that interrupt the user flow. Starting iOS 14, these are replaced with lightweight overlays that preserve the current context.

  • App Clips are yet another aspect of evolving the app paradigm to better fit real world usage scenarios—the other two that come to mind are widgets and extensions.

  • The context preservation theme is salient in this year’s iPadOS update; not surprising given that context might be even more important on a large screen where multiple things could be happening at the same time.

  • The introduction of sidebars for in-app navigation in iPadOS 14 is another net win on the information density front. Sadly, App Library and inline widgets seem to be missing from the first beta.

  • I am very happy to see that pencil handwriting recognition works across the OS, supports Chinese characters (Kanji), and detects different languages in the same sentence. Alongside built-in translation, these are powerful new additions for language enthusiasts like myself. Update: It seems like Japanese is not supported in Beta 1. Bummer.

  • The reason Apple didn’t spend time talking about the ability to change the default browser and email client on iOS 14 is simple: most consumers couldn’t care less. If anything, antitrust regulators might be more into this one.

  • Built-in tracking control in Safari is looking to be intuitive and will likely make the current crop of content blockers obsolete; nothing beats what’s already there by default.

  • The macOS 11 Big Sur redesign is substantial. I have mixed feelings about different aspects, but I will leave that for later.

  • Control Center and the new Notification Center on Big Sur are welcome imports from iOS. The open nature of the Mac always allowed power users to devise ways to surface the information that matters to them (such as menubar apps), but for the majority of users, this is an accessibility upgrade.

  • The transition to ARM is going to be the first major architectural transition that I witness as an Apple platform developer. My main takeaway is that the timeline seems to be much more aggressive than anticipated.

  • WebExtensions API support in Safari is excellent news for people building browser extensions. For those not familiar, it’s a standard way of developing cross-browser extensions, currently supported by both Mozilla and Google.

  • On the subject of Safari, several features and improvements made their way in this release. I’m particularly excited about the CSS bits, such as support for the :is() pseudo-selector, system font families, and CSS Shadow Parts—a way to allow Web Components to expose internal elements to the outside for styling purposes. Oh and WebP support.

  • As part of the Web Authentication API implementation in Safari, you can now use Face ID and Touch ID for user sign-in on your Web apps. You heard that right.

  • The new SwiftUI app life cycle is nothing short of impressive. I have been upgrading all my unreleased apps to this new API—since it’s iOS 14 only—and it’s been eye-opening to see how far this declarative approach goes in getting rid of boilerplate.

  • Contextual menus are now generalized in iOS and can be invoked from any button without requiring a long press or adding an overlay on top of the view. This is my favorite new addition to iOS this year—by far. Action sheets were always clunky to work with, and popovers felt off on the iPhone. It’s worth noting that SwiftUI doesn’t seem to have access to this new API as of this beta (Feedback: FB7776866).

  • I am quite happy with all the WKWebView improvements that made it in this release. In particular, callAsyncJavascript will make bridging async JS and Swift a less painful affair. That said, some of these APIs, including the aforementioned, seem to be missing from the first beta.

  • Core Data didn’t get the overhaul many of us were hoping for, but it gained some useful APIs to help with batch operations. I’ll take that.

  • I am happy that we got a couple of sessions about unsafe Swift, an area that’s becoming increasingly important for those of us using Swift for server-side development (C library wrappers, database drivers, etc).

  • Speaking of server-side, it’s refreshing to see a session about using Swift on AWS Lambda. Apple has a lot of leverage when it comes to adopting Swift on the server, and sessions like these are a good sign that they are invested, at least to a certain degree, in promoting that.