Only another week for everyone to get in their wish lists and predictions for WWDC 2016. I’m not going out to SF this year, and will be following along at home. Safe travels to everyone who’s headed out there, of course!
Now, a couple things I’d love to see…
Drop the iPhone 4s!
This one is a gimme, but if the 4s somehow survives the cut and is supported in iOS 10, you’re going to hear a scream from developers and (especially) designers around the globe.
Over the (northern hemisphere) winter, we got MathElf migrated from iPad-only to a universal app, and time and again, our worst design challenges came from getting everything to fit on the iPhone 4s. Even the 5 series with its extra half-inch provides enough breathing room to share a design with the 6s (and, given the release of the SE, the 5’s 4-inch size will be with us indefinitely). But the 4s is a problem. With a keyboard in place, the 4s typically has room for maybe three major UI elements (like, a nav bar, a text field, or a button). Compare the 480×320 iPhone 4s to the 736×414 6s Plus… it’s literally one-half the pixel count, meaning that many designs that fit on 4s tend to leave enormous gaps on the 6s Plus.
The 4s is also one of only two models with just 512 MB RAM, and the only one of those that’s Retina (the other 512 MB device is the first gen iPad mini). We hit a crashing bug that only occurred on 4s because of memory pressure caused by rasterizing scale of one of our
CALayers, and it took us like a week and a half to find. It is a nightmare device to support in 2016, and the sooner it’s retired, the better it will be for developers and users.
Lay off with the platforms, already
Has anyone noticed how many third-party development platforms Apple is supporting? There are the four obvious ones: OS X, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS. But in terms of getting developers to adopt your APIs, protocols, or what have you, a lot of other things count as platforms. CarPlay, for example, needs buy-in from developers and auto-makers (and the auto aftermarket). Same goes for HomeKit and the people who make appliances and home electronics. HealthKit for healthcare. ResearchKit too. ApplePay for retailers. The News app for publishers. iBooks too. iTunes for music, movies, TV, and podcasts. Apple Music. And probably others I haven’t thought of.
Outside of the pure development platforms, a lot of these are existing industries that Apple wants to insert itself into as an intermediary. That’s got to be tough, and doing so many at once is even tougher for a company that long prided itself on its ability to say “no.” Are they being pushed into some of these by needing to keep up with Google, Facebook, and others? Are they turning into just me-too products? I think it’s fair to be worried about the lack of focus.
NSXMLElement in iOS
This is quick and easy. Foundation’s
NSXMLElement was introduced in OS X 10.4, but has never been ported to iOS. On iOS, we have to either use
NSXMLParser (which is a nightmare for the 99 times out of a 100 that you don’t want an event-driven parse) or pull in a Cocoapod with a decent Obj-C/Swift XML parser (or use Janie’s libxml wrapper).
This is a selfish request: I might change the sample project in the next edition of the Prags’ iOS book that requires XML parsing (can’t use JSON, alas), and I really don’t want to be writing hold-your-nose
NSXMLParser code and prose in chapter 6 of a beginners’ book.
Start over with Mac desktops (or give up?)
Of course, there will be a new laptop at WWDC. There always is. It’s so regular an occurrence, it’s boring to spend time ballyhooing it. But what about desktops? Across the board, the Mac desktop line is terrible. MacRumors’ buyer’s guide is only the beginning of the story.
The Mac Mini hasn’t been updated since late 2014. The Mac Pro hasn’t been updated since late 2013. And the low-end iMacs use slow 5400 RPM spinning-disk HDDs. I set one of these up for my Dad a few months back and was shocked at how slow it was to boot or launch applications. Would it kill them to make the Fusion Drive standard across the line?
The only good desktop Mac available today is the top-of-the-line iMac. Everything else is a goddamned embarrassment: terrible values for the price and clearly products of neglect. In fact, I noticed yesterday that Ramjet is now offering tower-style Mac Pro 5,1’s retrofitted with new CPUs and 1 TB SSDs, and they are arguably more compelling than Apple’s brand-new Mac Pros (and cost $2,000 less!). It takes you back to the days when Power Computing’s Mac clones made a mockery of 1995 Apple’s Performas and 5000-whatever models.
If Apple can’t be bothered to make adequate desktop Mac hardware, maybe they could license someone else to do so?
Crowdfund the App Store
A few months back, my Nostalgianomics post, a rant about App Store economics, got passed around enough that my AWS bill went up $10 for the month from all the traffic. Obviously, it’s a hot button topic (albeit one I’ve been bitching about for ages). To summarize my point there: App Store users won’t pay for functionality, which means no productivity apps, which is bad for iPad, because it’s then hard to point to iPad being anything more than games + streaming media + web-and-mail (all of which can be done equally well on cheaper Android and Windows tablets). Maine’s public schools evicting iPads in favor of laptops would seem to back this up.
Saving productivity apps on the platform is in Apple’s self-interest, if it cares to keep the iPad viable at all. I’d kind of figured they’d start writing their own apps for it by now, like they did with the the pro media apps for OS X back in the 2000s (Final Cut, Logic, Aperture, etc., and yes I know some of those were acquisitions, but the point still stands: they took software matters into their own hands).
Now here’s a wild idea: if the problem is that developers want to make useful apps for iPad but don’t see it as financially viable, what if we could front-load the risk into a fundraising campaign? What if I could say “I have a great idea for a podcast creation app, but I can’t risk defaulting on my house or my kids’ healthcare to write it on my own time and then put it on the store and hope for the best. So, if y’all actually want it, kick in $25,000 and I’ll start coding.”
Apple wouldn’t have to run the crowdfunding themselves. In fact, it would probably work better to just set up a partnership with Kickstarter by which it would be possible for project creators to generate an unlimited number of codes for backers to redeem the app on the store. I mean, literally, that’s all I think you’d need here, and it might really open things up again for non-crap apps.
That said, it would be a very obvious admission of weakness, and it’s much better PR to just show the slide of that big $4 billion check of payouts to developers, even if nearly all of it goes to crappy in-app-purchase exploitation games that nobody should be proud of.
Fix the Watch
I really do like my Apple Watch, but largely the only things that work for me are the notifications, health tracking, and Siri. Some of the built-in apps remain buggy, like how the Friends app (or whatever you call the wheel you reach by tapping the side button once) deletes my wife from my friends list once a day. She is not going to be happy about that.
Then there are the third-party app APIs. Last night, at my daughter’s dance recital, I tried using Shazam to identify some of the music the groups were dancing to. Every time, it said I needed to enable the mic on my iPhone, even though I’d already done so (and could Shazam songs from the phone itself just fine). Twitterrific has not been able to load my mentions in months, and seems to exist largely as a flappy-bird animation, interrupted after 20 seconds by an error message.
Shazam and Twitterrific are best-of-breed apps on the iPhone, but their Watch apps are straight-up non-functional. Do we think the developers suddenly lost their mojo, or is it that the Watch APIs and internal systems simply do not work reliably enough to build third-party apps atop?
Honestly, I have really low expectations for WWDC this year. I guess the upside is that there’s a nearly limitless opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. And if there really doesn’t turn out to be anything to get excited about… well, I’ve got all summer to play Muv-Luv on my new Windows 10 tablet, I guess.