By Dan Moren
June 23, 2020 4:41 AM PT
WWDC 2020: The little stuff you might have missed
Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.
As always, Apple’s WWDC keynote was jam-packed with more jam than a packing plant full of jam. We all saw the big top line items: Macs switching to ARM, iOS apps running on the Mac, cats and dogs living together. But the sheer loudness of that news drowned a host of other little interesting tidbits that are significant in their own right. Here are just a few of the ones that caught my eye.
Tap tap revolution
— Ben Geskin (@BenGeskin) June 22, 2020
As a new Accessibility option, iOS 14 allows you to trigger actions by double- or triple-tapping the back of your phone. While this is definitely useful for people for whom the touch screen is unwieldy, it also has surprisingly big implications for all users, in that Apple hasn’t really allowed you to define systemwide actions before.
Federico Viticci reports that you can even use this action to trigger a custom shortcut, which is kind of wild. Given how many Apple features have showed up as Accessibility options before becoming more robust features—hello, cursor support—it makes me wonder if this might be a harbinger of some more in-depth systemwide capabilities in a future version of iOS.1
App Store review process, reviewed
Even after last week’s high profile clash between the developers of email app Hey and Apple’s App Store review process, there was skepticism from many quarters—including yours truly—that Apple would do anything to address the weaknesses in its relationship with developers. And while the company remained mum during its keynote, it did announce that it would be making a couple of high profile changes.
First, developers can now not only challenge whether or not their app actually violates an App Store guideline, but they can also challenge the guideline itself.2 Of course, this means absolutely nothing until we see how the process actually works, but the possibility of overturning an App Store guideline is wild. This is like Apple creating a Supreme Court of App Review. (Though let’s not be too altruistic: I’m sure Apple hopes that it will short circuit the current process of going public, thus potentially saving them the bad PR of having people yelling about the issues on Twitter.)
Second, Apple says it will no longer hold up bug fix updates because of App Store review guidelines. Frankly, this should have always been the case—not only was this a bad policy for developers, but it was actively user-hostile, forcing customers into two bad options: keep using apps with annoying or potentially serious bugs or stop using the app altogether, all because of bureaucratic guidelines.
While these are moves in the right direction, I doubt they will be enough to stave off the government inquiries that are already underway, nor earn back all the goodwill that the company has burned with developers.
The Force will not always be with you
Apple effectively killed 3D Touch last year by replacing it with the haptic touch feature in the iPhone 11 line, but it looks like its old-friend/the-same-exact-feature-with-a-different-name Force Touch is not long for the world either. MacRumors reports that watchOS 7 is shifting developers away from using the Force Touch interaction, in favor of exposing those features in other ways.
Gotta say, I’m not broken up about that. Force Touch was clever, but too often it concealed features that were not easily discoverable. Moreover, I’m sure the technology to detect those harder presses took up space in the Apple Watch that could have been used for other things—battery, for example, or just making the Watch slimmer.
My question is, now that Force Touch/3D Touch are gone on the Watch and on future iPhones, will it also quietly be phased out on the Mac? (That is, if anybody even remembers that it’s actually there in the first place…)
Never taken a Shortcut before?
Apple’s Shortcuts automation system got very little time on stage (what there was was mostly linked to the new Wind Down feature), but the app itself did get a number of useful enhancements, including folders, copy and pasting actions within shortcuts, new automation triggers, and running Shortcuts on the Apple Watch, including triggering them from complications on the watch face.
Shortcuts got some very cool updates in iOS/iPadOS 14:
– Disable confirmation for automations
– New compact UI for lists, input dialogs, running shortcuts in share sheet
– Automatic categories for share sheet/Watch
– Copy & paste actions (!)
– New automation triggers pic.twitter.com/8j4iZ0pyks
— Federico Viticci (@viticci) June 22, 2020
These changes make Shortcuts even more useful for its most devoted users. It warms the cockles of my heart to see Apple continue to invest in the power and utility of Shortcuts, even if it doesn’t give them much time in front of the keynote audience.
Other feature tidbits
iOS 14 has a very cool new Accessibility feature that can recognize certain sounds, like fire alarms and animals, and then provide notifications to users. This is potentially amazing—and heck, life-saving—for hard-of-hearing folks who might otherwise not catch these sounds.
There’s now an NFC reader button in Control Center.
Game Center got a refresh! Who had that one on the bingo card?!
I’m sure there’s plenty more out there that hasn’t been uncovered, not to mention all the myriad sessions coming this week. But don’t worry, even though some times some things go slipping through the cracks, these two gumshoes are picking up the slack.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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