WWDC 2021 wish list
To an Apple nerd like me, the WWDC keynote day is kind of my Christmas. Pound for pound, the WWDC keynote contains the largest number of interesting announcements and since they have such a huge software focus, they have a tendency to be very surprising since there aren’t any supply chain leaks.
I thought I’d share a little mind dump of things I’m hoping to see this year. With the exception of iPadOS, all of Apple’s platforms are quite mature and so my feature requests are getting kind of boring and specific. But at the same time, this platform maturity is a real opportunity for Apple to polish the shit out of its OSes, which there is absolutely room for them to do.
WWDC is mostly about software and developers, but Apple has a tendency to release new hardware at these events. Here’s what I’m hoping to see:
- At least one Pro Apple Silicon Mac! Probably the MacBook Pro. It seems like Apple will settle on having 2 different Mac chips, an entry level one, and a pro-level one. Given that the M1 is so tightly integrated and similar in architecture to iPhones and iPads, I really am interested to see how similar the pro SoC is architecturally.
- I want Apple to get back into the market of making its own displays. Apple is the only computer maker where 5K displays are commonplace, and they recently went into making a 6K display with the Pro Display XDR. I love the idea of that much screen real estate, but I don’t need the XDR tech. The display I most want to see is a non-XDR version of Apple’s $5000 Pro Display XDR. Ideally it comes in sizes of up to 32 inches with the same pixel density as the XDR display. 27 inches has been the upper bound for awhile; it’s time the biggest display got bigger. Ideally this “mass market” version of the display brings back features like a built in webcam (the XDR display doesn’t have one because the pros that would primarily need these displays actually can’t have a built-in webcam)
- I think it’d be cool to see Apple drop a completely unexpected device! Before HomePod was released people speculated that Apple might be making a home assistant with a built-in screen which would have been much less underwhelming than the HomePod that Apple actually released. And with the core technologies Apple has at its disposal, it would be relatively easy for them to spin up a new specialized iOS variant made specifically for a home assistant like this.
- on iPhone, PIP should have the option of a vertical split view where the video is on the top part of the screen and the rest of the UI slides down and is shortened. It’s a really specific feature but a floating PIP window is kind of useless on an iPhone and this is a really simple way to solve that.
- Make Messages history search actually work, especially now that we lost Chatology on the Mac. Seriously, have you ever tried scrolling back through one of your conversations with someone to find a thing you talked about a few weeks ago? It’s maddening.
- Fix that bug where I often can’t react to a message when I pull down the notification; it’s so annoying!
- ramp up privacy features in Safari. Make things work damn well with password managers. Put the neural engine in the iPhone to use with an AI-powered Reader mode that is uncannily smart at de-cluttering web pages
- A lot of advertisers will track your activity across multiple apps because they’ll see you’re using the same internet connection. iOS should allow you to direct all of a particular app’s network traffic through a VPN or proxy of sorts (iOS could let you do the same with private mode tabs, or automatically mark specific domains as getting this treatment). Bonus points if Apple offered their own free proxy that ran super fast in their cloud and worked transparently with the OS. This would severely limit advertisers’ ability to track you across different apps just because you share a network connection.
- In light of all the work Apple is doing to limit tracking and the ecosystem around that, I’d like to see Apple bake in support for something like Scroll but on a wider scale. Scroll (recently acquired by Twitter) is a subscription service that lets you pay a monthly fee to eliminate ads on dozens of web sites, and the web sites get money directly from you in lieu of the ad revenue.
I mentioned iPadOS as the one platform of Apple’s that isn’t mature, and that’s kind of a half truth; iPadOS and iOS are basically the same OS, but it appears to me that when Apple announced iPadOS forking from iOS in 2019, it was because Apple’s intent is for iPadOS to seriously start diverging from iOS, and I am seriously hoping that 2021 is the year that we start to see this separation bear fruit.
- Completely rethink drag and drop. Literally 90% of the time I invoke drag and drop on my iPad it’s accidental. When I intentionally invoke it the other 10% of the time, the drag and drop succeeds maybe 25% of the time. It’s abysmal.
- Take major UI elements that used to be exclusive to desktop and bring them to iPadOS, in a way that’s touch optimized. Some want full macOS on their iPads. I don’t necessarily want that; macOS has too much UI baggage. Instead, I want iPadOS to gain UI elements like windows that can be arbitrary sizes and positions and can overlap. I want app menus. I want standardized interfaces/conventions that make things like context menus accessible. These would all of course be touch-first, but the mouse and keyboard would also have first class support as an optional way to use things more efficiently.
- Replace the springboard with something new. Given that iPadOS didn’t get the App Library last year that iOS got, I’m guessing this was because Apple had bigger things in store for the iPad, and wasn’t just a side effect of iPadOS forking off of iOS.
- Proper multi-monitor support is long due on iPad, especially now that you can buy an iPad Pro with a Thunderbolt port
- A target display mode that works over the Thunderbolt port. This is a nitpick on my part but if you’ve ever used Sidecar you’ll notice that your iPad’s rendering your Mac’s screen as an H.264 stream. Even with a cable it looks atrocious. There’s no way that this isn’t a bee in some Apple engineer’s bonnet, and I hope that engineer took a chance to throw this feature in.
- a Terminal app that uses containers/virtualization for developers. Ideally the containers can be shared or be accessed with multiple shells, and ideally these containers are accessible to apps. This could allow for someone, for instance, to make a programming text editor for iPad that has integrated terminals that let you run your code, and also would allow you to run servers and other background stuff. Bonus points if we can lock these containers to only run on the efficiency cores. Because all these UNIX-y things would be running inside of containers, they’d be safely sandboxed off and isolated from the rest of the OS, and you’d be able to do pretty much anything you want inside the containers.
- I want enough APIs to exist that a tool like Alfred could exist on iPad. That would include things like global keyboard shortcuts, ability to bring up floating panels, an app having the ability to index a bunch of things in the background, and ability to run certain scripts that kick off automations of stuff.
- Make Files app actually work, make it closer to a Finder app for iPadOS. I recently was trying to do some work with the Files app and it’s just pathetic. It makes me seriously question people like Federico Viticci who use iPad as their full-time computing platform; it’s just terrible to use and it’s really only useful to grab a single file quick.
- Add ability to have workouts based on sustaining target heart rate for a period of time
- Apple Workouts app should add workouts for elliptical
- Ability to launch shortcuts from the watch by holding it up to an NFC tag
- Keep speeding things up! Some things I know are just slow because the transition animations are purposefully slow. I think a lot of those nowadays can probably be eliminated.
- Complications that can update reliably! Right now it’s a total crapshoot and if you have complications that are meant to display important and current information (like your blood glucose) you can’t glance at the complication and count on it being current.
- APIs for custom watch faces. Come on, it’s time.
- Above all I hope that engineers have swept through and just fixed a ton of bugs. I have personally reported several Big Sur bugs that haven’t been touched as of 11.4.
- make the PIP window have buttons to skip ahead and backwards, giving it feature parity with the iOS PIP window
- Streamline the security permissions dialog system. The current system makes it cumbersome to give apps necessary permissions to do things. I get why they do this, but when I’m walking a non-expert Mac user through this process I cringe.
- macOS apps are full of permission dialogs that prompt you for your password, but aren’t ones that I trust. I think some actually might be capturing my login password from me and storing it without me knowing, instead of actually using the appropriate APIs to request an escalation of privileges. That, to me, is a huge security issue. There should be system-backed passwordless dialogs that can only come from macOS and that can’t be faked.
- let merchants send the receipt to your Apple Card without the need to know who you are
- Solution to let you put your ID/drivers license in Wallet app
- I want to see better background APIs for iOS and iPadOS. Support for apps to do arbitrary things in the background has been around for years but when that happened, iPhones were substantially less powerful and as of right now I don’t think I know of a single third party app that is using background APIs to load things in the background and doing it well. I want to see newer, more robust versions of these APIs that can make better use of more powerful hardware but without being huge resource drains (for instance, maybe making use of efficiency cores)
- Streaming video push notifications for security devices. My Ring notifications would be 100x more useful if I could just swipe down and immediately see a preview of the motion event inline
- iCloud data should become fully end-to-end encrypted. Frankly, it’s ridiculous how hard Apple is beating the privacy drums of things like iMessages knowing full well that it doesn’t matter since your iCloud backup likely contains a lot of that same data and is fully accessible to Apple.
To be clear, these aren’t predictions, they’re just a wish list. If 30% of these come true on Monday, I’ll be pretty delighted. If over 2/3 of these come true, you might say I’ll be on iCloud nine.