WWDC 2020: Day 1 Takes

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.
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