Developers and other testers have gotten their hands on the preview releases of the next major versions of each of Apple's four platforms -- the newly-renamed macOS Sierra (formerly OS X 10.12), iOS 10, watchOS 3, and tvOS 10. Beyond the announced feature set seen during the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, there have been a number of discoveries of unannounced changes, additional (minor) features, and other small tweaks and surprises. While they may change (or even be withdrawn) before the final release, here are some that caught our attention.
Among the most noticeable changes beyond those shown at WWDC, the introduction of a Music app "complication" that can be added directly to selected Watch faces will likely please users who use the Watch to control either music stored directly on the wearable or to control the Music app on an iOS device. Likewise, the ability to disable (or enable) Watch screenshots can be controlled from the Apple Watch app on iOS 10. Users can make screenshots of the Watch on any version of watchOS by simply pressing the "Friend" (soon to be "Dock") button and the Digital Crown simultaneously.
There is a new Reminders app for the Watch, along with a Find My Friends app, and a new Heartrate app. Mentioned onstage were the new Breathe and Home apps. There are some minor changes to the Activity app, and the Face Gallery custom watch face building program has been revamped. There are many new complications now available for adding to existing and custom faces, such as a Workout or Weather Outlook complication that uses icons to alert users of impending changes in weather.
The "Friends" function (also known as Digital Touch), previous invoked by pressing the lower button on the Watch, has been replaced with the new Dock function, but the quick access to one's top group of frequent contacts has not been removed, but instead shifted to the Messages application. The Digital Touch functionality is also being added to iOS and macOS under Messages. In addition, the Maps view on the Watch has been changed to make icons in the app easier to see, and for apps that still take a while to load in watchOS 3, an "application loading view" will appear.
OS for Apple TV jumps to v10
The fourth-generation Apple TV did not get a large portion of onstage time during the presentation, with the major bullet points all covered. Beyond the "marquee" features of the new Siri Remote app for iOS 10, the Dark Mode option for the interface, searching for videos by topic, YouTube searching, Single Sign-on, HomeKit support, the option of automatic app downloads, and expanded accessibility options (many of which are shared with the upcoming iOS and macOS upgrades), remaining updates or changes are relatively minor.
The tvOS 10 release appears to offer greatly-expanded Bluetooth device support, app badging, notifications support, multiplayer gaming, expanded dictation and Siri in more languages, some changes to the aerial-view screensaver, and an intriguing new discovery that any existing Apple Watch devices on the network are pre-paired automatically with the Apple TV. On top of all this, we previously reported that Apple had reversed course and no longer requires all apps and games on the Apple TV to support the Siri Remote hardware device. In addition, the accessibility portion of Apple TV has gained switch controller compatibility.
Sierra: the new macOS release
Both macOS Sierra and iOS 10 got longer tours of their major features, and Apple clarified after the keynote a few points shown on slides during the event, such as the forthcoming new Apple File System (a replacement for the 30-year-old HFS that will be fully implemented in a future release, but supported in Sierra). Not mentioned but recently discovered is that Apple has reintroduced RAID support into Sierra's Disk Utility, which will please advanced users.
There are a number of security-related changes, and we have previously reported on a significant change to Gatekeeper in macOS that makes it (slightly) harder to install apps from unregistered (with Apple) developers. It will still be possible to do so, but will likely require the brief extra step (of right-clicking and specifying "Open") each time the unverified app is updated. This will have an impact on developers of free apps and utilities that choose not to pay the $99-per-year developer fee, such as Joel Barriere of OnyX fame.
Smaller tidbits that haven't been mentioned (or were only seen extremely briefly on slides summarizing other features) include the ability to set a default text size in Notes, the ability to easily change the voice used in Siri (and other preferences, such as how to invoke the feature), much longer lists of things that can optionally be archived to iCloud (or removed entirely with the Cleanup app), the fact that all internet plug-ins -- including Apple's own QuickTIme -- are disabled by default in favor of HTML5 usage where available in Safari. Users will be prompted to activate the plug-ins on pages that require it, but the plug-ins must be kept up-to-date or they will be disabled.
And then there's iOS 10
Because iOS 10 had (by far) the longest feature list, it also got the most stage time. Yet, testers have uncovered a metric ton of unannounced stuff, and reports in this area are still coming in at a furious clip. Some changes are shared across the platforms, like the accessibility, privacy, and security changes, but there is still much more. One of the most amusing (and even exciting for some users) is undoubtedly a little thing, but will set some hearts a-flutter: Maps will make a note of where the user parked their car, and let them know.
Among those accessibility new features are a option called Magnifier, designed to help those with limited vision. It employs the camera to magnify images and can also make the controls in the Camera app bigger. Another function is known as Dwell Control, which helps users with limited movement -- giving them control of navigation controls in the various OSes through headband controllers or even eye movement. These and many other changes in iOS 10 should make for a dramatic improvement in Apple's already highly-rated accessibility controls.
Other improvements include iOS 10 now requiring permission from the user for apps to access the media library, correcting a potential security issue. Another "little" feature that will probably be a big deal to many users is that Mail in iOS 10 (and in macOS, most likely) will recognize when an email comes from a mailing list and provide a button for simple unsubscribing. In an election year, this is simply a genius feature. We will be testing iOS and macOS on some older hardware -- for iOS 10, we'll try it on the iPad (fourth generation) and the iPhone 5c, specifically to get a feel for whether users of older gear should upgrade when the time comes.
Other items we noticed: the iPad can be used as a "home hub" for HomeKit devices, Mobile Safari now supports inline video viewing on the iPhone (not automatic full screen or handing off to another app), Mail and Notes change to a default three-pane interface on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and -- at least for now -- Game Center (the app) is no longer present in iOS (the functionality is still present, but unless the app returns in later betas, the service may be deprecated over time).
There is much more, of course, but we will take a closer look at the major and minor features of iOS 10, macOS Sierra and more in a series of Hands On features over the coming days. Also in the works is a pair of articles on how well iOS 10 performs on a now low-end iPad fourth generation, and the tail-end of macOS Sierra's compatibility list -- the 2010 MacBook Air.