The big day – or the big first day – of WWDC arrived this afternoon, with the audience in San Jose getting an extensive tour of the most exciting things Apple has to offer its large and global community of developers.
The day's big news, and the announcement from which all others were derived, was the latest iPhone operating system, iOS 12. Under the big umbrella, developers got their first peek at the new, improved and expanded Animoji line-up, saw Siri get an IQ upgrade and even heard that the era of underperformance for older devices is over.
Siri's big upgrade mostly entails a series of shortcuts that will allow users to create customer commands. The Shortcuts app lets users create voice commands that set off a chain of actions, such as a travel command that easily provides all of the details for a trip, or using the phrase "I'm going to the gym" to instruct Siri to find directions for the best route and pull up a preferred workout playlist.
Siri, as of the latest developments, is also looking to develop into a somewhat more proactive AI-based assistant. For example, according to use cases demonstrated at WWDC today, Siri can now suggest a user's preferred morning order around the time of day when they usually buy their coffee. It will also remind a user to call his or her mother on her birthday, or draft a suggested text to the boss when it realizes that its owner has missed the beginning of a meeting.
The news was particularly notable, especially for those wondering when Siri would take a stronger competitive stance against Alexa and Google Assistant, both of which are consistently ranked as more useful and knowledgeable than Siri.
Siri is pushing back with the goal of expanding its functionality, though Apple notes its extreme concerns around protecting privacy – and that does create some complexities in keeping its voice AI competitive in the market.
And speaking of staying competitive, Apple also announced a slew of tracking capabilities so users will have a clear picture of exactly how much time they are spending in some digital destinations each day. The new function can also alert users when they are perhaps spending a bit more time on Facebook than they intended. The updates also include more robust do-not-disturb modes and parental controls for children. The move comes just a few weeks after Google unveiled a slew of Android updates focused on digital wellness. The parental controls expansion is also significant, given that investors questioned Apple's motives in making screen time potentially addictive and actively deleterious to children's progress.
Because Apple, intelligently, is all about programming in a highly personal experience – right down to the animojis. Last year, we met the cartoon persona we could become: a fox, a unicorn or even talking poop. This year, Apple has both expanded the roster, and upped the ante.
Users can now make animojis of themselves.
Perhaps. But as a feature only available on its iPhone X – and as a product that works only with Apple's Messenger platform – it creates the kind of lock-in Apple needs, particularly as the market becomes more saturated and as they are not the only top-line phone in the marketplace. Increasingly, Apple is reliant on features – and their ever-expanding App Store – to drive revenue.
Which means Animoji innovations may be on the deck for a while.
Apple also took another swipe at Facebook yesterday - an any other sites that track their users across the web. Going forward, Apple announced it will give user the ability to stop platform like Facebook and Google from tracking them with like and share buttons.
"We've all seen these like buttons and share buttons," Apple software VP Craig Federighi said at the company's annual developer conference. "Well it turns out, these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not. So this year, we're shutting that down."
Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos questioned whether the move was "just cute virtue signaling" or an actual attempt to protect privacy.
"Privacy means people know what they're signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly," Fomer CEO Steve Jobs said. "I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. ... Let them know precisely what you're going to do with their data."
Current Apple CEO Tim Cook has returned to this theme in recent months
In an interview with CNN's Laurie Segall on Monday, Cook said, "
I think that the privacy thing has gotten totally out of control and I think most people are not aware of who is tracking them, how much they're being tracked and the large amounts of detailed data that are out there about them ... We think privacy is a fundamental human right."