Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

WWDC and My Wish List

Now that the dust has started to settle on WWDC 2020, I thought I would see how my wishes fared this year.

[Stuart Breckenridge] guesses [the next version of MacOS] will be named Anacapa. My money is on Avalon.

My guess of the name “Avalon” took into account my assumptions about the transition to ARM processors. When the Mac transitioned to Intel, it simply received a new build of 10.4 Tiger, and I thought that a similarly low-key shift would be in the cards. I was wrong. I like the name, though — Big Sur feels appropriate, as does the change to MacOS 11.

Some indication — anything — that Siri is a priority. The wholly-generated voice that shipped with iOS 13 is a welcome improvement; it sounds so much better, particularly with more complex words.

But Siri’s ability to respond accurately and as expected remains terrible. I know that all voice-based assistants have their weak spots, but my experience with Siri is that it cannot be trusted to do anything more than set timers and create reminders.

While out for some errands today with my iPhone running iOS 14 plugged in and running CarPlay, I received an incoming message. I asked Siri to read it; after it did, it asked if I would like to reply. “Yes,” I said. It asked “what would you like to say?”, and I responded “thank you” because I wanted to thank the sender. And Siri decided that I meant to thank it instead of sending a message, so it replied “don’t mention it”. No response text was sent.

Despite its somewhat confused presentation, I like the new look of Siri. I also like that it has, according to Apple, twenty times more facts than three years ago.1 But, nine years after its debut, Siri remains Siri: it listens to my voice pretty accurately, articulates words well, and is entirely unreliable for anything I ask of it to a point of disobedience.

An indication that “iPadOS” is more than just a name. It seems to me that a great reason to rename the iPad’s operating system is to indicate that it is no longer a bigger and slightly different version of the operating system that’s used on the iPhone. I’d like to see evidence of this.

There seem to be no changes to the multitasking system nor any difference in the way it kills background apps. But I think we saw clear indications that Apple wants to treat iPadOS as its own system. Across iOS and iPadOS, Siri no longer takes over the entire display and neither do incoming calls — while this is nice on the iPhone, it’s fantastic on the iPad. Official support for sidebars is terrific, too, as is its new MacOS Spotlight-like search field.

My other wish for WWDC is a noticeable focus on quality: fewer bugs, less waiting, better fit and finish, and no catastrophes when upgrading. The tick-tock cycle of feature-heavy releases followed by refinement versions is a horrible strategy that does neither effectively. I would like to see this acknowledged in some regard as an ongoing priority for every release. That’s not going to happen, but that’s what wish lists are for: the things you really want.

This can only be assessed fairly based on the public release of each operating system this autumn. In the first week, though, these first builds are promising. I don’t think it is advisable to put any of these betas on your daily carry devices, but they all feel far more solid than most of the operating system releases for the past year. A good sign.

  1. Those numbers are pretty precise. It is unclear to me whether this is a big leap specifically for this year, or if it simply indicates that Apple is frequently adding more fact-based responses. ↩︎