Follow Up: The Thing That’s Missing from Apple (+ WWDC Thoughts)

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I suppose there isn’t a better way for me to address WWDC’s announcements without addressing my post last week on Steve Jobs, given how this keynote focused very heavily on major refinements, some of which being ground-up revisions.

Last week I made the argument that Apple was missing and needed a visionary and communicator, and that the needle in its compass was vibrating at an increasing rate. That’s the impression Apple had given me up till Monday morning before the keynote. This keynote brought a ridiculous number of improvements across each of their platforms, a big chunk of which being obvious fixes to jarring, yet heretofore unspoken problems in the Apple ecosystem.

Let’s go through the keynote to illustrate what I mean. The Apple Watch, as I explained in my post, has been mostly directionless since its announcement about a year and a half ago. Apple seemingly turned a 180, revamped the software, and announced watchOS 3 at WWDC, claiming in their promotional material it makes the Watch “feel like a whole new watch”.

They’re not wrong: apps can now load much, much more quickly if we take the demos at face value. Serenity Caldwell points out in the live WWDC episode of RelayFM’s Connected that the “Friends” button below the Digital Crown is now a “Dock” button, and that with this change, Apple is bringing familiarity and functionality instead of being headstrong with an arguably fundamental and internally-beloved feature of the initial Apple Watch concept. It’s not unfamiliar to when Jobs was in charge (e.g. MobileMe, Ping). I think watchOS effectively transforms the current Apple Watch into an Apple Watch 2, a massive undertaking onto itself, but even more impressive considering it being only one of many redesigns announced at the keynote.

Apple Music was also redesigned. I didn’t get the impression that the UI was drastically improved, given I’m not an Apple Music user, but the fact that they felt that the current design was bad enough to warrant a redesign in one year indicates, again, a relentless drive for execution.

I was also impressed at the changes made with iOS 10. If you look around enough, you’ll notice that almost everything about it is different — I don’t think Craig Federighi was exaggerating when he said it was their biggest release ever. Sure, iOS 7 brought on a cosmetic redesign, but not many notable changes besides that (and Control Center). This update completely changes the homescreen, lets 3D Touch takeover almost every aspect of the OS, makes it an even better payment device with increased Apple Pay integration, and beefs up iMessage in a world of WeChat and Snapchat.

It also helped that Federighi presented. He channeled a lot of Steve Jobs, not just verbatim in some cases (e.g. “It’s like magic…”,“One more thing…”) but in his ability to address and demonstrate the implications of the new features and improvements made to macOS and iOS to everyday users. He even went straight to demo, which Jobs did a number of times when he felt it was needed and was possible. Sounds simple, but it’s a difficult thing for even Apple to convey a clear message when the product itself is fundamentally flawed and not ready — see the Apple Music presentation at last year’s WWDC.

What I think these announcements imply in aggregate is not just greater execution — we already know today’s Apple has the capacity for that — but also greater vision. The roles of each device is not totally clear yet, but WWDC was a leapfrog step towards identifying those roles now that the software is more capable, thus making their devices more usable. WWDC showed that Apple can still be proved wrong, and that they are willing accept that, rethink, and redo everything when the need is made obvious — that, I’d argue, takes a lot of self-awareness, and a lot of vision. I’m glad we can now see that.