11.06.19

Apple’s three-legged stool at WWDC 2019

sidecar main -MH

Everyone has likely mentioned the notion of a “three-legged stool” at some point. You know how it goes: you need all three legs of the stool or it comes crashing down. Definitely true, but Apple seems to be viewing that notion in a different direction. Their approach seems to be “You need three different, but related legs to hold up a platform”.

That platform, of course, is the totality of the Apple ecosystem. In his opening keynote address on June 4th to the annual Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, known as the “WWDC”, Tim Cook spoke to the three components of what Apple does: “Hardware, Services and Software”. Many companies do one of those things and quite a few do two. You can count on one hand the companies that do all three, and that is why Google, Microsoft and Apple have split their new product announcements into separate events, rather than one. 

This time, at WWDC, having already done an event in March about services and typically doing their major iPhone, Watch and iPad announcements in September, it was all about software. After all, that is what developers need to know about to create the apps and programs that run on Apple products or access their expanding line of services.

We suspect that by now you will have read or heard about the top level announcements, but the goal here is to dig into the things that more directly impact the residential ecosystem.

For example, among the many new features in watchOS 6, coming this fall, will be the “Noise App”. More than just a traditional SPL meter, it will constantly monitor the audio environment and alert the user when sound levels are deemed to be too high. The is great for those who need to be conscious of high ambient noise. However, if the average SPL in a home theatre is above the threshold, will you be called by the client as the source of the high SPL? Be ready to either explain why movie and video sound tracks sometimes exceed normal limits. That way, unintended alerts may be avoided.

Noise Warn - MH

A somewhat related advance on watchOS 6 will be the ability to mount an app directly on the Watch without it being on the iPhone. Similarly, the App Store, itself, we be accessible directly from the Watch. That means your clients will be able to access their own SPL meter apps – but you will have not only that, but all the productivity apps you need, as well.

Apple’s “services” part of our ecosystem triad was revealed in detail at Apple’s last event back in March. A major part of that thrust will be the Apple TV+ service. At WWDC, the idea was to show developers how the service works with tvOS. 

Scheduled to roll out in general release this fall, tvOS 13, will be compatible with the current Apple TV 4K and the previous Apple TV HD model. As your clients use Apple TV in their systems, tvOS 13 will sport a new Control Centre that will allow family members to get their personalised content. Further, the addition of the latest Apple TV app, the ability to view onscreen lyrics in perfect sync with music content and content accessibility to include not only 100,000 iTunes movies and TV shows, but the original content from the Apple TV+ service when it launches.

For systems where an Apple TV is used for gaming, it is worth noting that tvOS 13 will allow games from the forthcoming Apple Arcade to support Xbox One S and PlayStation Dual Shock 4 game controllers. 

This may be a natural for those who already include an Apple TV in their system, but the software, apps and services may make it worth suggesting to those who are not currently Apple partisans. A great benefit for those in a retail environment, there will screen savers with native 4K HDR undersea videos shot by the BBC Natural History unit. They will be a great way to showcase 4K displays and will even be a superb source for the upscaling in new 8K sets.

While the new iOS 13 is obviously the software that powers iPhones, it will include a “Hand Off” feature that will seamlessly pass content and phone calls from the iPhone to a HomePod. HomePod will also be able to recognise whose voice is speaker and use that to deliver personal requests and messages, as well as pull up the specific user’s account. 

Combing privacy, security and total system integration, you’ll see “HomeKit Secure Video” as part of the package. This will enable end-to-end encryption for the video up to 200Gb from a single, compatible, security camera to be stored on iCloud for up to ten days. At an extra charge the storage may be increased to a 2Tb recording bucket and up to five cameras. This functionality will also be available across all Apple platforms and the web. HomeKit will also be embedded in routers, starting with Linksys, Eero and certain service provider routers, such as those provided by Spectrum here in the US.

For clients reluctant to use sign-in clicks that may capture, store and forward user data, the new “Sign In with Apple” feature will differ from similar processes from Google and Facebook. It allows the user to log in to an app by facial recognition without sharing personal data and location information. Log in email is also protected with the option of the app creating a random email address that then forwards the request to the user’s true address. Think of this as working the same way credit card numbers are transmitted with “Pay” apps. 

Of course, there is much more to the new iOS 13, but we’ll leave the reporting of those to the general, financial and enthusiast press and blogs. The goal here at HiddenWires is focusing on residential solutions and applications that others may miss. 

One interesting, but not unexpected announcement was the introduction of a new and separate “iPadOS”. To date, iPhones and iPads shared the same iOS, but the advanced features and larger screen size of recent iPads likely made it worth making the split. 

For those who use iPads as a system controller, the impact this will have on existing apps is yet to be seen. Indeed, cluing developers in as to how to use the new OS schemes is the whole reason for WWDC. Keep in touch with your hardware and software vendors to see if the new iPad OS will “break” any of your installations before doing upgrades! 

Many also use an iPad in their business as a laptop substitute or portable work and drawing/graphics surface. Here, improvements to Split View, Slide Over, a more desktop-like Safari browser, dramatically improved file management and selection, and improved text editing will make the update a must. iPad OS will even (FINALLY) allow use of USB thumbs drives, external hard drives, SD memory cards and direct transfer of image files from cameras. Regrettably, no support yet for use of a mouse or other pointing device. Oh, well. There’s always next year!

cat music screen - MH

All of this leads us to the worst kept secret from the usually tight-lipped Apple. The rumours were accurate that the forthcoming OS for Macs, now named Catalina, will bring the breakup of iTunes. Since its inception iTunes has been a unified service with music, podcasts and video content all under the same program and interface. Yes, it will also have many of the security, privacy and apps similar to those for tvOS, iOS and iPadOS, but to the general public, the “breakup” is what captured all the headlines.

Once Catalina is released to the wild iTunes will be split into three related apps: Apple Music, Apple Podcast and Apple TV. Once that happens a Finder will be used to sync content between the Mac and an iPhone or iPad. Rather than select content through the old iTunes app, each of the three new content-specific apps will be used to separately search and play out their respective content category. You manage/buy/download music, podcasts or TV and movies through their own app. When you think about it, that makes sense.

That leads to the more client-centric questions: “What will happen to my existing content stored via iTunes?” and “What about iTunes on other devices?” 

Relax, the content isn’t going away. Virtually all existing content will simply be carried over, parsed into it’s appropriate app. The user will just search and access it through a different front-end interface. Clicking on a file for existing content will simply open it in Apple Music. With a bit of explanation on your part, this will hopefully be simple and transparent, but you are strongly advised to play with it yourself before migrating over live client systems.
 
Where content goes on other devices and OS is a bit different. In iOS, and presumably iPadOS, the Music, Podcast and TV apps will take over content management, but the iTunes Store is said to be kept on as the portal to getting new music and video. The same should hold for tvOS, but we’ll all have wait to try this first hand for final confirmation of how this will all work in the real world. 

What about non-Apple iTunes users? After all, although my wife has a MacMini and an iPhone, I have a Windows 10 laptop and an Android phone. I’m certain that I’m not alone in that use case.  For now, Apple says that the current Windows versions of iTunes will remain unchanged. We’ll all just have to wait. 

Two other interesting Catalina advancements were announced. For those who use MacBooks will be the “Sidecar” function. That will let you use an iPad as a second screen to the Mac. How cool is that! Even better, along with the three new apps that replace iTunes, Catalina will support 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos playback. The “HTPC”, or “Home Theatre PC” has long been the province of Windows PCs, but perhaps these features in Catalina will shift the HTPC wind in Mac’s direction.

To paraphrase the old cliché: “All software and no hardware makes one a dull installer.” Yes, software was the reason for WWDC, but there was one big, and here I mean literally big, hardware announcement. For those who use Mac products in business, either for graphics or video/audio work, the new MacPro is a computer with mammoth hardware capabilities. With configurations that range up to as much as 1.5TB of system memory, 28 processors, as much as 1.5 TB of system memory, and when outfitted with video card expansions, it will be able to simultaneously handle up to three 8K streams or 12 4K streams. Is music your game? How about up to 1,000 music tracks at the same time!

To view the content the new MacPro can create, Apple will offer a 32-in monitor with 6016x3383, “6K” video capability, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 1,000 nit constant brightness and 1,600 nit peak brightness. P3 colour and 10-bit colour are among the other things that round out the feature package. It will go HDR one step better with Apple’s “Extreme Dynamic Range”. Thus, the model is called “Pro Display XDR”.

However, the new MacPro and Pro Display XDR monitor are not likely to be found as home theatre products. The base model MacPro with an 8-core Xeon processor, 32GB memory, a 256GB SSD and a single Radeon Pro 580X video card lists at $5,999, but most users will probably add options that could easily increase that by a factor by 4x or more. The monitor will start at $4,999 for the standard screen, but you need to add $999 for the stand or $199 for a VESA mount. A bit above my budget!

So, what does this all mean to you, and your business? Take a step back and see if the new OS varieties and versions will require new client hardware. For example, iOS 13 will not work on iPhones before the iPhone 7. In your existing client installations will the new software “brick” any the third-party software use on Apple products?  

Only you can answer those questions. Fortunately, you have some time to think that over. While there will be “developer” or “beta” versions of the software described above from now and through the summer, general releases are all scheduled for the autumn. Take that time to do some experimentation and system reviews. Try the upgrades and formulate you plans now, as all of this points to an interesting year ahead for the Apple universe.