Apple announces Apple Music and native Watch apps
Its own News app and updates to OS X and iOS filled an unusually-packed lineup of new software
At the keynote speech of Apple's WWDC converence in San Francsico, Tim Cook announced that developers would be able to make native apps for Apple Watch, and that new versions of its OS X and iOS operating systems were on the way.
But it was the traditional "one more thing" that most interested the crowd at Moscone West: Apple Music, its new streaming music service.
All-you-can-eat music will be $10 a month, with the first three months free of charge. It will launch in 100 countries, and there'll be software for Windows and Android as well as Apple's own hardware. A $15 monthly plan covers up to 6 people sharing an account.
"These guys really do think different," said producer and Beats Audio founder Jimmy Iovine, introduced by Cook, recounting the history of digital music and the industry's travails.
He recounted a conversation with Cook and Apple executive Eddie Cue: "Can we build a better ecosystem, with the elegance and simplicity that Apple can do?"
Evidently, their answer was "yes."
Apple bought Beats Audio about a year ago for $3bn, its largest acquisition of all time. Though known for its ubiquitous headphones, it was Beats' nascent music service and industry placement that savvy analysts saw as Apple's target.
Apple Music, Iovine said, would bring a human touch to the discovery services found in competitors: "If you love music without restrictions, you're going to love it."
It'll be accessed through a minimalist-looking new mobile app.
"We're going to find out about your musical taste," Apple's Phil Schiller said, demoing the app's discovery features. " … we're going to take all this info you've provided…and make recommendations just for you."
Schiller pitched the service to new artists, but there wasn't much in the way of money talk concerning royalties or traditional promotion.
At a keynote unusually densely-packed with new software announcements and upgrades, Cook got out of the way quickly, eager to give other executives time to show their new stuff.
"I'll dispense with the usual updates," Cook said—though he did point out that the App Store had recently seen its 100 billionth download—"other than to tell you that everything is going great."
Time for version 2
The new version of the Watch OS will allow developers to create applications for the tiny gadget that don't rely on software running on nearby iOS devices.
"For us, this is a giant moment," Cook said. "This is how we felt when we launched the App Store."
Customizable watch faces, new health features and other enhancements will come with the next version of the Watch software, but it is the ability to make new software from scratch—like any other computer—that will power app sales.
Also announced was News, a new app that feeds users with the latest stories, based upon their preferences, favorite sites and magazines.
"We think this offers the best mobile experience ever," said Apple Vice President Susan Prescott, touting its beautiful typography and clean, uncluttered layout.
In a demo, the News App was seen to be free of advertising. Though similar in appearance to reader apps such as Flipboard, the range of publisher relationships announced suggest that Facebook's own recently-unveiled new publishing platform is the real target.
To cheers, Apple's Craig Federighi announced that Swift, Apple's new programming language, will be going open-source.
Federighi said that the new version of OS X will be named "El Capitan" and focus on performance improvements.
"We've made deep architectural improvements," he said, describing improvements in rendering improvements and app responsiveness.
Metal, a new API for graphics hardware already deployed on iOS, will result in faster games and graphical applications. Adobe has already committed to using it in the Creative Suite, but it was down to game devs from Epic to show off the shiny new magic.
Of other OS refinements, some of them were clever—shake the mouse pointer like you're trying to find it and it'll get bigger for a moment—and some comprehensive, such as radical changes to Safari's UI.
One hot feature: a way to shut up background music quickly rather than having to hunt through tabs looking for the offending embed.
El Capitan's Spotlight search will understand natural language searches ("documents I worked on last year") and Mission Control will get more full-screen tools, Federighi said. Other new
features include better multi-display windowing.
Developers will have immediate access to the new operating system, and a public beta will be opened in July. The launch date is scheduled for September.
iOS 9, Federighi said, would focus on refinements and customer data security improvements. Siri's word error rate is down 40 percent in the last year, and iOS9 will see the voice assistant responding more effectively to complex requests—such as photos from a particular trip.
Siri—and iOS9 in general—will also be more 'proactive', learning user behavior and readying anticipated actions, he said. Another typical proactive feature: on incoming calls, unknown numbers will be searched for and a guess made about who the caller is.
It will also intelligently tell you what potatoes are good with.
Federighi said that the device still "stays under your control," promising that the underlying stream of queries, requests, searches and other potentially identifying information generated by the new features will remain private.
Apple Vice President Jennifer Bailey announced that Apple Pay will be introduced in the UK in July and see more merchant-based loyalty and rewards cards. Passbook would also be renamed Apple Wallet.
Apple Maps would also get new features of use to pedestrians, especially public transit maps, walking directions and accurate walking times from point to point.
"We've taken special care to get the details right," Federighi said.
iPad users will also gain true multitasking tools—with iOS 9, they'll able to use more than one running app at once using a sliding interface widget, and watch videos picture-in-picture inside other apps.
Other behind-the-scenes upgrades include new game development tools and hooks for more home security and health gadgets, and cars.
Bookmark this page! We're headed over to Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, and Xeni will be posting on anything cool that comes
Besides the anticipated announcement of a new $10-a-month music service—the long-awaited fruit of Apple's year-ago purchase of Beats Audio—it's also expected to show off lots of improvements within iOS, its mobile operating system. One particularly interesting rumor: Apple's new typeface, San Francisco, may go system-wide. One particularly boring rumor: the next version of OS X.
There aren't high expectations for hardware announcements, it being WWDC and all, but numbers might well be touted for newer products such as the Apple Watch and new MacBook. There's hope for a new Apple TV, though, even if it's likely to remain unrequited.
WWDC is Apple's annual software-focused conference in San Francisco, running all this week.
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