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By Simon Allardice |

WWDC 2014 Report: What’s New for Apple?


Apple’s yearly Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) has long been a place where Apple makes major announcements of both hardware and software.

But the keynote at this year’s event, which began this morning in San Francisco, included no new hardware announcements: no new iPhone, no iPad, and no sign of any long-rumored iWatch or Apple TV.

Instead, the focus was fully on software: new operating systems, updates to applications, and big changes for developers, including the surprise announcement of a new programming language, Swift.

As expected, Apple announced new versions of both Mac OS X and iOS.

Last year’s OS X was Mavericks; this year it’s OS X Yosemite. As with the last few releases, it’s more of an evolution than a revolution. There’s an updated, cleaner interface—new design, new icons, and updated apps, including improvements to Mail, Safari and Spotlight.

Many of the OS X additions provide much-improved integration with iOS devices, including:

  • Airdrop—the ability to easily send information and documents from an iOS device to a Mac.
  • Handoff—to begin working on documents or emails on an iOS device, then seamlessly switch over to using the equivalent application on a Mac to continue working on them—or the other way around.
  • Instant Hotspot—simply and easily use an iPhone as a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot for your Mac.

OS X Yosemite is free, and will be released in the fall. If you’re in Apple’s Developer program, the preview release is available today. And for the first time, over the summer there’ll be a public beta program for non-developers. Find out more at apple.com/osx/preview.

On to iOS 8. In the keynote, Tim Cook referred to this as a “giant” release, and for developers, “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store.”

For someone just using iOS 8, the changes won’t seem overwhelming. With last year’s major update to the user interface with iOS 7, the UI for iOS 8 looks almost identical. There are improvements to built-in apps like Mail and Photos, and a new technology called QuickType providing intelligent predictive text—making context-sensitive guesses while you’re typing to make it quicker to send messages.

A new built-in app included in iOS 8, the Health application, can track anything from blood pressure and cholesterol to general activity and even sleep habits. While this would seem a likely app to tie in with the theoretical iWatch, it isn’t just an Apple-only app; it can be integrated with third-party wearable devices like those from Nike or Fitbit, and—with your permission—securely send health data to your medical provider.

For developers, the changes are much more significant.

There’s the new programming language, Swift. Designed from the ground up for Apple development, Swift is a clean, object-oriented language with built-in support for modern programming language features like generics, tuples, and functional programming features. Swift can be used in your projects either in addition to, or instead of, Objective-C.

Supporting Swift is a new version of Apple’s programming IDE: Xcode 6.

There are welcome improvements to the App Store, including better search options, the ability for developers to create “App Bundles” (selling multiple apps with one click) and “App Previews,” making short videos of the app viewable from within the app store.

Earlier this year, Apple acquired the company Burstly, which made a beta testing platform called TestFlight. That will now be included in iOS 8, as a built-in method for developers to invite users to beta test apps.

There are always new APIs in any new release of iOS, and iOS 8 is no exception. The new frameworks include:

  • HealthKit—the technology behind the new Health app in iOS 8, available as a framework for use in your own apps. It’s a secure, managed way to manage health and fitness data.
  • HomeKit—an API for working with home automation. This provides a standardized way for your iOS devices to control devices like lights, thermostats, or garage door openers.
  • CloudKit—a major framework for dealing with the server-side elements like asset storage and document storage.
  • Touch ID API—you’ll be able to use the Touch ID sensor in your own applications.

And while apps have always been “sandboxed” in iOS—separated from other applications—the new Extensibility features in the iOS 8 SDK allow your apps to offer services to other apps, so you can share files or perform actions on output from another app.

In the graphics area, a new 3D framework, Metal, improves performance for complex graphical rendering tasks, and there are improvements to the SpriteKit 2D game framework added in iOS 7: Light sources, field forces, per-pixel physics, and inverse kinematics. Additionally, the SceneKit 3D framework, previously only available in Cocoa, is now available in iOS to add 3D scenes to your games.

As is usual with Apple, nothing about this is indeterminate vaporware—it’s all available now in beta, though you’ll need an Apple developer account to get access to Xcode 6 and the developer documentation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got courses to revise and write!

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