Some folks call it an operating system. Other people see it as the guts. My mother refers to any computer she’s interacting with as Windows. Call it what you want, but what’s at the core of any device you’re using is a platform whose bells and whistles act as the digital tools in your modern digital utility belt. The platform gives the user the ability to interact with the world in any way that the developers working on that platform see fit.
In 2012, David Weinberger wrote an article for Library Journal titled “Library as Platform,” in which he defined a platform as “a set of resources—services, data, tools—that enable independent developers to create applications.” He suggested that libraries should see themselves as public platforms that develop knowledge and community. At the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC20), the company focused its presentation on multiple platforms—iOS, macOS, watchOS, and iPadOS—and delivered a number of new features, tweaks, and key adjustments that will help every Apple developer and user interact with the world in new and exciting ways.
Last year’s WWDC was heavy on the little things, but at this year’s event, Apple rolled out some big changes—both in terms of functionality and looks—for its various systems. Apple’s iOS 14 brings some striking modifications to one of the world’s most-used mobile landscapes. Widgets may not seem like huge news for a mobile OS in 2020, but home screen widgets for your iPhone are here, and they’re going to change how you interact with your phone. No longer will you have to do things such as open an app to see what the temperature is before you head outside. With widgets, you can have your weather report always there on your home screen. This addition changes the layout of the now-standard iPhone home screen, with apps and app folders dotting the landscape. Now you’ll have widgets in the mix as well.
Another big change to iOS is the addition of App Clips, a feature that will allow iOS users to access certain functions of an app without having to download it. Think about it this way: You’ve got an app that basically acts as a glorified loyalty card. Do you want this app on your phone all of the time? You’d probably like to offload it so you have some more storage. With App Clips, now you can delete the apps you barely open. App Clips will give you the ability to access certain features of those apps with QR codes and near-field communication and will even work with Apple Pay.
Conversations are a core feature of the mobile platform, so Apple didn’t skimp with updates to Messages. There’s a focus on group chats in the latest update, and users can now pin their favorite chats to the top of their Messages app to easily access them. You can also direct a message to friends in a group chat. In addition, Messages will have an inline replies feature, making it easier to understand what GIF reaction goes with what comment.
To round out the iOS talk, let’s end with picture in picture, a neat feature that gives iOS users a chance to multitask while they take FaceTime calls or watch videos. Now Apple will allow you to minimize a screen in FaceTime or Netflix and continue watching as you click through to other apps.
All of these key features carry over to the iPad, so let’s jump to that.
At WWDC 2019, Apple rolled out an iPad-specific version of its OS, dubbed simply iPadOS. The company hasn’t forgotten about that platform and has now made the move to iPadOS 14. Like on the iOS platform, iPad users will have access to widgets. But it’s the addition of the sidebar that is the highlight of iPadOS 14, a little tweak that improves navigation dramatically. In 2019, it looked like Apple was positioning the iPad toward more of a laptop-esque feel, and now, in 2020, the addition of a sidebar reinforces that idea even more. While the iPad isn’t quite a MacBook killer just yet, what we’re seeing is a merging of the two mobile platforms.
We can’t forget about macOS. Its latest version, Big Sur, gives you all of the bells and whistles mentioned previously for the other OS updates, but on a bigger MacBook scale. In addition, Apple made a huge announcement that it will begin producing its own ARM-powered silicon chips for MacBooks. This move will further unite the Apple platforms, making it easier for developers to have iOS and macOS apps living side by side.
And last but not least is the Apple Watch. This device’s longtime focus on health remains at the core of its current OS update. In the new watchOS 7, users can enable sleep tracking, and the very popular Activity app has been completely updated and renamed Fitness. In perhaps what are the neatest parts of this platform update are that the Apple Watch now has the ability to track your movement while dancing and to time how long you are washing your hands. Handwashing is of course relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ability to track movement via dance gives all of us a chance to bust out our old Dance Dance Revolution pads and get moving to the sweet sounds of disco once again.
As with any other WWDC presentation, there were a number of announcements that were not big enough to warrant their own write-up, but are worth mentioning. Apple unveiled CarKey, a system that allows you to use your iPhone to unlock your car. Coupled with Apple’s already existing CarPlay, this feature makes you wonder if the company has got an Apple Car right around the corner. In addition, Apple Maps is getting updates for cyclists, helping them identify key routes to take, and for electric vehicle drivers, providing information on where the nearest charging stations are located.
With iPadOS 14, Scribble is now available for Apple Pencil users. This very neat new feature will automatically convert handwriting into typed text. Apple’s smart home system didn’t get any big, flashy changes to its platform, but the company did announce that the standards used by developers to make tools for it are now more in line with the standards offered in similar products by competitors Google and Amazon.
The takeaway from WWDC20 and Apple’s focus on its platforms is simple: The company wants you to live in Apple Land. It wants you to look at its great mobile devices. If you’re interested in a tablet, it probably has the best out there with the iPad. And if you’re still tied to an old-school computer or laptop, you probably don’t want to miss out on the MacBook. For Apple, the key to the future is the platform: It’s the biggest tool in its toolbelt, and it’s the one that will bring all of its users into the system and hopefully keep them there for many years to come.