Daily coverage of Apple’s WWDC 2019 conference, by John Sundell.

A Swift by Sundell spin-off.

Keynote review: The biggest developer news since 2014

The opening keynote of this year’s WWDC was arguably the first since 2014 — when Swift was announced — that brought even bigger news for developers than it did for end users. With the new declarative SwiftUI framework, and its reactive data partner Combine — Apple is setting the stage for their next generation of developer tools, across all of their platforms.

Right out of the gate, it was clear that this was going to be a keynote packed to the brim with announcements — with an incredibly quick pace and well-planned segues between feature updates, demos, videos (including the first proper trailer for one of Apple’s upcoming original TV shows) — all leading into a steady walkthrough of Apple’s new operating system lineup, consisting of tvOS, watchOS, iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Come this fall, tvOS will gain multi-user support and — in a quite surprising, but highly welcomed move — compatibility with the Xbox One’s and Playstation 4’s game controllers (which is big news for Apple Arcade — the upcoming all-you-can-play game subscription service launching this fall).

Apple Watch will take big steps towards becoming a more independent device — with its very own App Store, featuring apps that can be distributed and run without an iPhone counterpart, and new networking and audio streaming APIs.

With iOS 13, Apple is once again putting a heavy focus on performance — with boosted app download and launch speeds, as well as other optimizations — including making FaceID snappier. The new dark mode looks great, with black backgrounds that look tailor-made for the iPhone X generation’s OLED screens — and core system services like the share sheet have been streamlined with new designs and functionality.

The new “Sign in with Apple” single sign-on feature looks fantastic — but it’s going to be interesting to see just how many data-hungry apps that’ll actually adopt it — given that it heavily limits the amount of user data that gets shared with third party apps (which is great for users, but it remains to be seen whether Mr. and Mrs. Big Data will be equally enthusiastic).

Siri is getting a new, fully algorithmically generated voice, which interestingly makes her (or him, if you’re so inclined) sound less robotic. She’ll now also read your messages right into your AirPods — and you can instantly respond as well — really cool! As Stacktrace listeners will know, I’m a big fan of talking to Siri through my AirPods when I’m out and about — so I can’t wait for my already very sci-fi-feeling interactions with my digital assistant to start feeling even more futuristic.

I realize that I’m skipping ahead a bit here — but it’s time to meet our first true star of the show — iPadOS. While this new dedicated iPad operating system still closely resembles iOS (which I guess should now become iPhoneOS again?), it finally gives the iPad a much-needed overhaul in terms of how it manages apps — both on the home screen, and while multitasking. On the home screen, widgets can now be revealed by swiping sideways, and iPadOS also unlocks true multi-window support for both Apple’s and third party apps — making it possible to open multiple documents through the same app, or to move parts of an app (such as the compose window in Mail), to another multitasking space.

Anything can now be marked up with the Apple Pencil, and the new PencilKit framework enables us app developers to more easily integrate the pencil into all sorts of apps. Text editing has also gained super-powers in the form of gestures for copy, paste, and undo — and speaking of super-powers, Safari now more closely resembles its Mac equivalent, rather than being a sized-up version of the iPhone app. Oh yeah, and there’s now USB file support, which I’m also hoping will make it possible to natively use other USB accessories (such as microphones) with the iPad.

I can sum up my first impressions of the new Mac Pro and its Pro Display XDR partner with a single word: Wow. With an enormous amount of power, high level of modularity, multiple exhaust vents and… wheels — it almost looks like Apple took the hypercar analogy quite literally. The new Mac Pro is undoubtedly becoming the crown jewel of the Mac lineup — but just like jewels, it does come with a quite hefty price tag. Regardless, it’s incredibly delightful to see Apple back in the high-performance let’s-break-all-the-benchmarks-records game when it comes to their Mac lineup — and that design, just gorgeous!

With this year’s release of macOS we’re taking a trip to Catalina, California — and finally breaking up iTunes’ many different responsibilities into multiple apps (it did seem that Apple was going for an iTunesOS there for a while!). Device management goes to Finder — and Music, Podcasts and TV all move into new, dedicated apps. SideCar lets the iPad become both a second display for the Mac, as well as a drawing tablet — neat! — and Voice Control looks like it’ll take accessibility and assistive technologies to a whole new level (again inspiring lots of sci-fi feelings), by enabling a Mac to be controlled verbally using close to natural language. Really impressive!

Next, let’s talk about Marzipa… I mean Catalyst. Simply check a checkbox in Xcode, and an iPad app will become a Mac app — sounds incredible — and I can’t wait to play around with it myself. But more importantly, it does look like substantial improvements have been made to the underlying technologies that power Catalyst since the release of last year’s suite of iOS app ports. More controls look Mac-native, and — at least from what we’ve seen so far — apps look less like iOS Simulator windows, and more like proper apps, which is great news. It remains to be seen exactly what the limits and caveats are when it comes to Catalyst, but it looks like we’re heading in the right direction.

ARKit is continuing its march forward at an impressive pace. A new ‌People Occlusion feature enables humans to seamlessly blend into an Augmented Reality world, and ARKit is now truly at room scale — as demonstrated by an impressive Minecraft demo from game studio Mojang. But perhaps most importantly is that Apple is taking big steps towards making it easier to not only consume AR content, but also to create it — with the new RealityKit framework, and its associated Reality Composer editor, which also runs on iOS. While AR will most likely not reach its true potential until it’s running on some form of dedicated glasses-like hardware, it’s still really exciting to see such a huge amount of progress be made year-over-year.

Which leads us to the, undoubtedly, biggest news for most developers this year — SwiftUI. Declarative UI development — which enables the various components of a UI and the data they render to be described, rather than programmed step-by-step — has become really popular over the last few years. However, while there are a lot of benefits to adopting a more declarative programming model — from less statefulness, to more composable and testable logic — building good declarative abstractions on top of heavily imperative system frameworks (such as UIKit and AppKit) is really challenging, even though many companies have attempted to do so.

It’s therefore really exciting to see Apple introduce a first party, fully integrated declarative UI framework in the form of SwiftUI — which both offers a much simpler API for defining various views and controls (including custom ones), and also seamlessly integrates with another new framework — Combine — to enable model data to be bound to views using a reactive set of APIs.

SwiftUI is also fully cross-platform across all of Apple’s operating systems (including the Apple Watch!), making it a huge upgrade for developers. And, since its API is written in Swift, it also adopts several modern Swift features and conventions — which will enable apps using it to make full use of Swift’s type inference capabilities and low verbosity features, most likely resulting in code that’s both easier to read and write.

I’ll cover SwiftUI, Combine — and several of the other new frameworks, features and tools that Apple showed off as part of their opening keynote — in great detail, all throughout the week, right here on WWDC by Sundell.

Overall, I think that this year’s WWDC keynote perfectly walked the line between showcasing great end user features, while also telling the developer part of the story. While any WWDC keynote should, in most cases, be viewed as more or less any other Apple press event — given their wide mainstream media coverage — it was so nice to see developers being put front and center at this year’s opening event.

From the grand reveal of the Mac Pro, to huge improvements to frameworks like ARKit, and transformative changes to the ways UIs are built for all of Apple’s platforms — I think it’s fair to say that this was the biggest WWDC keynote for developers since Swift was introduced in 2014.

Thanks for reading! 🚀