WWDC 2018: Software rules the roost

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Apple? The iPod? iPhone? Mac? Apple TV? Perhaps for those of us old enough to remember even the old Apple II (I actually had one of those in the form of the Bell&Howell “black Apple”). In reality, as we’ve moved into an app-driven world where “content is king,” Apple is as much a software and services company as it is a purveyor of hardware.

After all, it wasn’t that many years ago when the company’s name was changed from “Apple Computer, Inc.” to simply “Apple, Inc.” back in 2007.

Anyone looking for current evidence of the increasing software-centricity of Apple would find concrete evidence in the presentations at the annual Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) held during the first week of June. There was nary a mention of hardware of any flavour. To paraphrase a famous quote from the 1992 Clinton Presidential Campaign, “It’s about the software, stupid!” After all, without software, hardware is a box of chips and wires.

Given the broad swath of Apple market categories there was news on many fronts, but some will be more important to our world than others. Foremost among them would be reveal of tvOS 12. Scheduled for release on an unspecified date in “the fall,” it will bring with some it some critical improvements for Apple TV 4K.

front view of Apple TV 4K iPhone X screen

While the tvOS 11.4 release at the end of May added AirPlay 2 for stereo pairs of HomePods and multi-room audio, tvOS 12 will bring much more. On the audio side, it brings Dolby Atmos capability, complementing Dolby Vision that was part of the Apple TV 4K from launch. That means the Apple eco-system with hardware and software will offer both Dolby formats. However, given that tvOS 12 will not be available until the fall, it is too soon to speculate as whether or not that will be the case at introduction. Completing the package, just as Apple updated existing content purchased through Apple from HD to 4K, the same no-charge upgrade will be offered for Atmos-enabled titles.

Another interesting addition will be the availability of apps to deliver “complete carrier” packages from cable and satellite services. By using IP-based broadband delivery the end-user no longer needs a carrier-specific set top. As an example, where I live in Los Angeles, Spectrum, the local cable company has and widely promotes the availability of an app so that they don’t need to pay for an expensive end user terminal. In one or two room, what is still called “cable TV” is actually ported to the TV via a Roku app.

With tvOS 12, Apple TV will add that capability, first here in the US with Spectrum. As an added benefit, when the unit recognises that I am using Spectrum’s broadband service it will automatically sign on and authenticate for the service package subscribed to with no further interaction. This is more than a US-based feature, as it will initially be available for Canal+ in France and Salt in Switzerland. Expect more carriers across the globe to follow too.

A final, and equally important update will be to add custom-centric control capability. With tvOS there will be hooks for integration with Crestron, Savant and Control4. For more basic users, the Apple TV remote app will be available for iPhone and iPhone.

A final nod to our world will be the addition of HomeKit to the Mac universe when the new MacOS “Mojave” rolls out.

Of course, no Apple event would be complete without a new iOS for the core iPhone and iPad product lines. Thus, also coming this fall will be iOS 12. Among the features it will add will be increased capability to control and limit device usage, a “Group Calling” feature for FaceTime that will allow up to 32 participants in a single conversation, a 2x increase in app launch time, new versions of the News and iBooks apps, integration of location-aware suggestions for Siri that will learn your routines and offer reminders and make suggestions based on your activity pattern, and a new “Shortcuts” feature that will function along the lines of an old fashioned remote macro in that it will allow Siri to integrate with and provide cues to other apps. For example, it will tie to the Tile app and its devices so that you can ask Siri to “Find my keys”, and the device will locate them and report back.

“A new version of ARKit 2 will enable the participation of up to four players in the same AR experience…”

Rounding back to more entertainment applications will be a large focus on Augmented Reality (AR). A new version of ARKit 2 will enable the participation of up to four players in the same AR experience to expand the field of play. There will also be a “Measure” app that will let you easily look at a real object, measure it, and then properly place it in an AR experience. Useful for developers, but for those using AR as a sales or demo tool it will also speed and simplify specialised content creation. Finally, a new file format called “USDZ” for “universal optimised scene description” is on the map. You might describe it as something analogous to a PDF, making it easier to combine physical and digital worlds with a common file type.

Once again, there was no mention of any of the hardware related to all of this; nothing along the lines of Oculus, Gear VR, Vive, Cardboard or Daydream. The intent here is to use phone or iPad for view, manipulate and play. Clearly, this could be construed as yet another way to spur iOS device sales by offering tools and content that are not available on competing devices and OS schemes.

On the Watch front, the new Watch OS5 will have a range of additions that will assist in meeting health and exercise goals. However, perhaps the most interesting new feature for Watch OS5 will be a “Walkie Talkie” feature. This “watch-to-watch” communication takes messaging one step further by permitting one to directly “call” and communicate. This will be an interesting way to reach staff when they are out on a job.

Along with the mention of a complete absence of hardware announcements, it is my custom when reporting on these sorts of events to list the things that were NOT spoken about. Here, that includes the fact that there was no mention of anything pertaining to HomePod, although the availability of AirPlay 2 and some of the enhancements to Siri might apply there.

Similarly, while there was much made of 4K and IP delivery for Apple TV, as well as the announcement of more live news and sports (at least for the US), there was no hint as to whether any of the 4K services already running will be available for Apple TV 4K in the EMEA region. In other words, don’t count on viewing the World Cup in 4K through an Apple TV. One rumoured function that Apple was silent on was wireless charging. Perhaps we’ll see that with the new iPhone introductions in September.

Of course, there was much more at WWDC that space does not allow us to cover. However, at the bottom line, these feature advancements and additions, along with those detailed from Google I/O combine to pave an interesting road ahead in terms of what is best for clients and prospects and what the options will be to deliver that. Suffice to say, you’ll read more about that here over the months to come.


Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group or follow him on Twitter @captnvid.