Today at its annual developers’ conference, Apple predictably promised a wide array of small and large hardware and software upgrades across its whole line of devices — TV, Watch, laptop and desktop computers, and phones and tablets. The full keynote got into the tech specs and details that largely interest developers more than consumers, but some of the highlights will directly interest Apple users.
Apple and Amazon Make Up
As the rumor mill had predicted, it seems that Amazon and Apple have finally settled a years-long running feud, and Amazon Prime Video will soon be available to Apple TV users.
There’s no firm date on when AppleTV users can stream The Man In The High Castle to their dystopic hearts’ content; Apple CEO Tim Cook said only that it will happen “later this year.”
Amazon also confirmed it with a Tweet, but likewise said, “We’re working on it now and expect it later this year. We don’t have any specifics to share regarding a date.”
Nor has Amazon said whether it will once again start selling Apple TV hardware, which it stopped doing in 2015.
Presenters stressed Apple’s iMessage platform as a way to do everything you need to — including full, instant integration with Apple Pay.
You’ll be able to instantly send money to anyone you’re messaging with from your Apple Pay account, and receive cash from them in turn, presenters demonstrated. And your messages will be context-sensitive: if someone says “You owe me $20,” that’ll show up with a nice little underline and automatically prompt you to select Apple Pay from your auto-complete bar.
iMessage will also have full integration with all of your (sponsored) stickers, photos, and everything else.
If this sounds a little familiar, that’s because it’s almost exactly what Facebook launched in 2015, a few months after it kicked chat out of the main Facebook app and into its dedicated Messenger platform.
It’s also arguably an attempt by Apple to use iMessage to break into the “everything app” space that Facebook is already trying to reach.
Privacy as a Selling Point
Apple gathers and stores a lot of data when you use its products. But one theme it kept stressing today across all its new features was one of privacy.
The company announced a new edition of Mac OS, High Sierra. (Its current desktop OS is Sierra.) And after only a couple of nudge-nudge, wink-wink marijuana-related dad jokes about the name, executive Craig Federighi talked up two changes to the upcoming version of the Safari web browser.
First: Apple knows you hate auto-play video, so it’s going to block that by default. Safari “detects the sites that shouldn’t be playing video and puts you in control – you can always push play,” as Federighi put it.
Second: Safari will ship with a tracking prevention system built in. Federighi mentioned the kind of ad that always seems to follow you from site to site and device to device because it uses tracking beacons. Safari, he said, “respects your privacy” and will come with intelligent tracking prevention, which “uses machine learning to identify trackers, segregate the cross-site data so now your privacy, your history is your own.”
Unlike Google competitor Chrome, Federighi stressed, Safari won’t block ads. You’ll still see them all. They just won’t, theoretically, be as informed by your web history as what you’re used to getting.
Additionally, throughout the presentations for all of the cloud-based and mobile apps, Apple stressed encryption and privacy repeatedly as a selling point. Using upgraded iMessage to send your friend $20 instantly through Apple Pay? You’ve got privacy. Syncing a screenshot across three devices? Privacy.
Apple executives closed out the keynote by formally announcing the smart speaker the tech world had largely expected.
Apple’s new speaker is called HomePod (not to be confused with the third-party HomePod “wireless stereo” in-home streaming device a third-party company tried selling back in 2004), and will ship in December of this year.
The HomePod is a lot like the competitors, Google Home and Amazon Echo. It works pretty much like every other smart speaker on the market, from the outside: You trigger an action with wake-word, “Hey, Siri,” and then it flashes lights to acknowledge your voice and plays what you ask for or answers your question.
But where presentations from Google and Amazon tend to focus more on Alexa or Assistant’s home utility, connection to the HomeKit and the Apple ecosystem was an afterthought for Apple. Instead, it touted the HomePod as an actual music listening device, designed to be small and unobtrusive but, primarily, to make your tunes sound good.
This is, after all, how Apple became the juggernaut it is today, the presenters noted: By making a splash with the iPod and changing the music market more than 15 years ago.
Privacy was also a significant talking point during the HomePod presentation. Siri only listens after you say the wake-word, presenters stressed, and your communications with it are encrypted and marked with a unique token, not your name or ID.
The HomePod will sell for $349 when it launches before Christmas — about three times the cost of a Google Home ($109) or twice an Amazon Echo ($179).
You can see the replay of the full two-and-a-half-hour keynote on Apple’s WWDC site.