Apple aims to simplify the Mac App Store with a redesign

Apple is rolling out a redesign of the Mac App Store to bring it more in line with some of the experiences it’s focused on with the iOS App Store, which the company showed at its annual developer conference this year.

Apple is following-up on a redesign of the App Store on the iPhone, which changed the approach a little bit to highlight Apps with some editorial components and stories. The company says it is bringing over a lot of features and learnings from the iOS App Store, including whether an app was named editor’s choice or the app’s ranking. All this includes a new API to make it easier to leave reviews for the apps to try to spin up that feedback loop that helps surface the most popular or useful apps.

The UI is getting a complete redesign, with a new discovery tab to find editorial content around Mac apps, including stories and collections. You’ll also be able to see what’s popular in the top charts. Apps are bucketed together in some new tabs like work and developers. All this helps Apple figure out where to bucket all these apps to tailor to what people are looking for when they enter the App Store — whether that’s just generally clicking around or looking for new developer tools

Discovery has always been a critical problem for developers, and as the iOS App Store was flooded with millions of apps, it can become more and more difficult to stand out. Apple has iterated a lot of the iOS App Store, and it makes enough sense that it’s trying to port the parts of that experience that work over to the Mac App Store it launched a few years ago. It also offers Apple a playground to test new ideas that it could turn around and apply to to the iOS App Store.

While the Mac occupies a small slice of the company’s actual business, shipping a few million units a quarter, it still represents an important component of its user base. The Mac helps keep users locked into Apple’s ecosystem which branches beyond just phones and laptops, creating a continuous tissue between all those devices and keeping them on the Apple refresh cycle. Apple said it’s written more than 4,000 stories for the new Today tab for the iOS App Store.

The next version of macOS is macOS Mojave

Apple isn’t done with macOS just yet. The company presented the next version of macOS at the WWDC developer conference. With macOS Mojave, Apple is leaving the mountain metaphors behind.

“Today we’re excited to take Mac a huge leap forward,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi started with dark mode. With a single setting, you can invert the colors of everything. Even the background of the Finder, Calendar or Photos is black, not just the Dock or menubar. Apple had to redo all the buttons and color schemed across the operating system. If you find white documents too aggressive, dark mode is for you.

With the next version of macOS, the wallpaper and desktop will adapt depending on the time of they day, from morning to afternoon and night. On the desktop, macOS can automatically stack all your documents in the Desktop folder by format.

In the Finder, there’s a new Gallery view. It works a bit like the old Cover Flow feature, but with a flat design and metadata. It can be quite useful for a folder of photos for instance. In the metadata column, there are customizable actions using Automator. You can create a PDF, add a watermark, etc.

Quick Look is also getting an upgrade with iOS-like markup. You can draw on a photo, trim a video and more from a Quick Look window. In the Screenshot tool, you can now record quick videos.

Apple is expanding continuity between your Mac and iPhone. For instance, in Keynote, you can right click and add a photo using your iPhone. It’ll launch the camera app on your iPhone.

Apple News is coming to macOS. In case a web browser is not enough, you’ll now have a dedicated app with your selections, your sites and your recommendations. The Stocks app is also coming to the Mac. Voice Memos is coming to the Mac for quick audio recording as well.

And finally, Home will be available on the Mac to command your home with your voice, control your security cameras, trigger your connected lights and more.

Apple is adding new privacy protections. In addition to location data and address book access, the company is adding camera, microphone, message history, backups and Safari data privacy popups. In Safari, the browser is going to block Facebook like buttons and prevent those widgets from loading third-party Javascripts. You’ll need to grant explicit access. Safari will also try to prevent fingerprinting by making you look like a Mac with the default plugins, the default fonts, the default everything.

As expected, the Mac App Store is getting an update. It’s true that iOS got all the love on this front. Last year, Apple redesigned the App Store on iOS, but the Mac App Store stood still. It’s been completely redesigned with a left sidebar, a user interface that looks more like the iOS App Store. There will be editorialized content, video previews and new categories.

Apple is working on a new tool for data scientists. With Create ML, you can train a model without being a machine learning expert. It lets you manage a test set and use your local machine for small projects.

“We would like to give you a sneak peek of a multi-year projet,” Federighi said. Apple is basically going to let you port iOS apps that use UIKit on the Mac. This way, iOS developers will be able to port their apps much more quickly. It doesn’t mean that it’ll look like an iOS app. The new Apple News, Stocks, Home and Voice Memos use this macOS version of UIKit. Big buttons have been replaced with macOS-like menus with very little code changes.

Developers won’t be able to use UIKit for macOS apps just yet, but it’s clear that it could revive the app ecosystem over the coming years.

Apple unveils new screen time controls for children

Apple this morning announced a new set of parental controls for iOS devices at its WorldWide Developer Conference this morning in San Jose. The company had already acknowledged back in January that it had new, more robust parental control features in the works, following an open letter posted by two large Apple shareholder groups, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

The letter from the influential, activist shareholders mentioned recent research from child development experts whose studies have found links between the use of electronic devices by kids, and negative effects on concentration, emotional health, sleep and empathy. One study even found a link between time spent on devices and teen suicide, with teens who spent three or more hours per day on devices at higher risk than those who used them for an hour or less.

In addition, the letter argued that managing children’s device usage isn’t just the parents’ responsibility alone – they also need help from tech companies on the matter.

The shareholders suggested Apple task an executive to focus on these digital wellbeing features aimed at children and parents, and include new setup menus in Apple software that better allow parents to tailor the functionality of the device to the child’s specific ages.

Apple responded by saying updated parental controls were coming, and it rolled out a “Families” page on its website with educational materials for parents.

The company today unveiled for the first time what these new controls would look like, and how they work.

Now, there’s a new activity report for parents and kids that shows how much time is spent using the device and the apps, and parents will have the option of creating screen time allowances for kids.

Another “downtime” option will help kids to unplug, and parents can limit app usage by category or individual whitelisted apps. That way, parents can make sure critical apps will still work even during downtime, like the phone app.

Currently, Apple’s existing set of parental controls on iOS (found under General –> Restrictions) in iOS takes an all-or-nothing approach, where parents toggle on or off Apple’s own apps, configure which apps, music, books, and videos can see based on their ratings. They can also configure various privacy settings related to things like location sharing, advertising, speech recognition, and many others. And parents can configure what the child can or cannot do on the device – like download apps or disable “Do Not Disturb While Driving,” for example.

Meanwhile, other tech companies’ parental control systems have evolved to include more functionality related to screen time.

Amazon, for example, offers controls that allow parents to set educational goals that must be met before games can be played, and allows for setting time limits and filtering of content by age. Google’s Family Link, which publicly launched last fall, also focuses on screen time settings.

With the new controls, Apple is playing catch up a bit to an industry that had already made screen time and age filters a key focus. But it’s still an important step, given Apple’s power to set trends.

The addition of the new parental controls is part of Apple’s larger focus on digital wellness, which includes the arrival of new time management features for adults, as well, arriving in iOS 12.

Apple introduces watchOS 5

Kevin Lynch from the watchOS team introduced the next version of watchOS at Apple’s WWDC keynote. It’s been a slow and steady rise for the Apple Watch. It’s by far the most popular smart watch, and it’s becoming slightly more useful every year.

This year is no different. There’s a new workout type for yoga, another one for hiking. You can now challenge your friends for a 7-day competition.

But I’m even more excited about automatic workout detection. If you grab your bike and your heart start beating more rapidly, your Apple Watch will track your workout automatically. You’ll also get notifications to end a workout.

As rumored, Apple is introducing a new Walkie-Talkie app for Apple Watch users. You press to record a message, release to send it. Your friend will receive a notification. That could open up interesting professional use cases. Cellular Apple Watches make this feature more useful too.

The Siri watch face is getting more integrations thanks to Siri shortcuts. You can receive a Citymapper suggestion for instance.

When it comes to the actual voice assistant, you won’t need to say “Hey Siri” anymore. You can just raise your wrist and start talking.

Apple has ported WebKit to watchOS, which opens up a lot of possibilities. You can view web content from your watch. Apple is adding native podcast support and background audio on the Apple Watch too.

Overall, Apple tackled a lot of low hanging fruits. But it’s a compelling pitch and makes the Apple Watch more essential than ever.

Apple unveils a new set of ‘digital wellness’ features for better managing screen time

Apple has become the latest tech giant to prioritize digital wellbeing. At its Worldwide Developer Conference this morning, Apple announced a series of new controls that will allow iOS users to monitor how much time they spend on devices, set time limits on app usage, control the distraction of notifications, and control the device usage for their children.

The addition of these features was previously leaked by Bloomberg, but the details on how they worked wasn’t yet known.

In the upcoming version of the iOS 12 software for iPhone and iPad, Apple will include a series of features focused on digital wellness, starting with an upgraded Do Not Disturb feature that will help people who tend to look at their iPhone at night, and then find themselves distracted by the excessive notifications. With Do Not Disturb during bedtime, you can configure so your iPhone doesn’t show your notifications when you look at your phone at night, during hours you customize.

In addition, this feature will include a new morning wakeup screen, that’s similarly bare of notifications so you are “gently eased into your day.”

In Control Center, you can configure when Do Not Disturb will end, as well.

Meanwhile, Apple is also introducing better ways to manage your notifications. Siri will even suggest to you which notifications you should turn off, based on which apps it knows you’re no longer using.

But even more useful, perhaps, is support for grouped notifications. That means notifications will not just be grouped by app, but also by topic and thread. You can tap into these groups and look at those from a particular app, and you can triage all those grouped notifications with a single swipe.

Another part of Apple’s digital wellbeing features includes reporting over how you spend time on your device.

This involes a weekly activity summary that shows you how you used your iPhone or iPad during the week. This full activity report will show you how much time your spending on your device and in apps, and how that breaks down per day. You can also see which apps are sending you the most notifications, so you can make better decisions about which apps’ notifications you may want to disable.

And another feature lets you set time limits for apps that take up your downtime, which you’d like to be more thoughtful about, in terms of your usage. When your time is about up, you’ll get an alert, and when the time is up, a new “Times Up” screen comes up. You can extend your time, if need be, Apple notes.

Other new features are aimed at families who want to control screen time for their children.

This includes an activity report for parents and kids, and the option of creating allowances for kids. A “downtime” option will help kids to unplug, and parents can limit app usage by category or individual whitelisted apps. That way, parents can make sure critical apps will still work even during downtime, like the phone app.

All this is configured by parents remotely from their own device, says Apple.

Apple is not the first tech company to rethink its responsibilities around device addiction.

At Google’s developer conference just a month ago, the company introduced its own set of time management tools for Android users. Its tools help users track screen time and app usage, and include new features like a “shush” mode which turns on Do Not Disturb by flipping the phone over, and a “wind down,” color reduction mode for bedtime.

In addition, other major tech companies have begun to consider digital wellbeing when updating their products.

For example, Facebook earlier in 2018 changed how its News Feed operates to reduce users’ time spent on the site in favor of wellbeing. And Facebook-owned Instagram just introduced its first time well spent feature, by informing users “you’re all caught up” when they’ve viewed all the new posts.

The idea is that people don’t know when to stop when in comes to devices and apps, and lack information and tools that can help them make decisions about how much time they want to spend on devices, versus how much time they’re actually spending.

The movement around digital wellbeing is a fairly recent shift for Silicon Valley, where companies until now have encouraged the design of software and apps that continually engage and addict users, without considering the psychological cost. Stress, anxiety, insomnia, distracted thoughts, inability to concentrate, emotional issues and more have been the result of these companies’ desire to keep users glued to their devices.

But now some early tech execs are pushing back.

Former Facebook president Sean Parker has openly worried about what social media was doing to kids’ brains and admitted Facebook was designed to exploit weakness in the human psyche to addict users. A former Google exec Tristan Harris launched a coalition of technologists and activists called the Center for Humane Technology, which aims to encourage the implementation of new design principles that help to put users back in control of their technology usage.

As the rumblings around digital addiction escalate, other trends are emerging as well – like the booming business for “mindfulness” apps and those that help users practice self-care, which includes putting the phone down and taking care of our other needs. Some have put this into practice in an extreme way, as of late – Simon Cowell said he actually gave up his mobile phone entirely, and feels so much happier as a result.

With its own new tools, Apple has the ability to set a new tone for the industry as a whole, given how others copy its designs – right down to the iPhone X notch. But in this case, mimicry would be a good thing.

The creation of a new culture around technology usage which stops measuring “time spent” and repeat sessions as metrics of success, would be something that ultimately benefits everyone.

Apple is adding group FaceTime video calls to iOS 12

Apple is adding the ability to FaceTime more people onto a video call, allowing more than a dozen people to be on the call — and tapping an increasing interest in group video calling stemming from apps like Houseparty

As far as features go, this was a pretty natural addition to the FaceTime App. Houseparty exposed a lot of interest in this area, allowing multiple friends to spin up a video chat. But it’s also a technically strenuous proposition running multiple livestreams, and Apple does seem uniquely positioned to absorb the technical overhead (and costs) of running multiple FaceTime streams all at once. Houseparty allows up to 8 people streaming in a video call at once, though the last significant update we might have heard from Houseparty was some tweaks to notifications in January last year. Houseparty said it had 1 million users in November 2016.

The app spreads out each stream as a series of tiles that will move around based on who is engaging on the call at the time. When someone speaks, the tile automatically gets larger automatically as a way to try to highlight whoever is talking to create a more robust experience. The whole goal is to try to make it easier to video call with a lot of different people all at once in a way that still feels pretty social.

Houseparty, for example, sits at around #10 on the App Store for the social category and still a top-200 app, according to App Annie. It has a 4.4-star rating in the App Store and was last updated at the beginning of June, according to the App Store. So it’s still chugging along, though it does seem like Apple may nullify an app like Houseparty if it hasn’t locked in a huge and engaged fan base. 25 million App Store and Google Play users worldwide have already downloaded the app, according to app analysis firm SensorTower.

The next version of iOS tends to come out around the time of the next Apple event, which usually happens around September. Apple announced a stream of updates to iOS in its next version, iOS 12, including FaceTime group chats.

Apple adds camera effects like stickers, filters, and Memoji to messages

Apple is invading Snapchat’s territory with new effects that let you embellish what you shoot through the Messages camera. Today at WWDC, Apple announced that iOS 12’s Messages camera will offer a variety of sticker packs, style transfers like a “comic book” filter, drawn shapes, and both Animoji and the new personalized avatar Memoji.

These effects will also be available in FaceTime, which now supports group video conversations with up to 32 people. That could spell trouble for dedicated group video chat apps like Houseparty and Facebook’s Bonfire, as well as bigger apps that offer it like Snapchat.

These effects could make people who want more visual communication choose Apple’s native messaging app rather than third parties like Snapchat, Instagram Direct, or Facebook Messenger. The new features will be available in iOS 12 that launches today.

Stickers were previously only available in message threads where they’d appear on a white background. But now you can overlay them on photos, videos, and FaceTime. That opens opportunities for new fashion stickers that let you add sunglasses, hats, mustaches, clothes, and more that only make sense when stuck to your selfie.

Apple is starting far behind here. Snapchat’s been adding creative features since 2013, and Instagram joined in with its clone of Stories in 2016, followed by Facebook in 2017. They’re all now equipped with GIFs, color filters, augmented reality, and more. Animoji and Memoji are the Messages camera’s biggest differentiators, so Apple may need to aggressively promote the ability to overlay these on imagery if it wants to steal attention from Snap and Facebook.

App Store hits 20M registered developers and $100B in revenues, 500M visitors per week

Microsoft may have just acquired developers’ favorite code repository GitHub, but it is Apple where many of them are making a lot of money at the moment. Today at WWDC, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook announced that there are now 20 million registered developers on iOS, and collectively they have made about $100 billion in revenues, with the App Store bringing in some 500 million visitors per week.

“We’re also happy to announce that this week we’re going to achieve another huge milestone,” Cook said in his presentation. “The money that developers have earned through the App Store will top $100 billion.”

The figures underscore how Apple’s attention has continued to swing more firmly into its developer ecosystem and app marketplace, which is becoming a stronger engine of revenue generation as overall smartphone purchasing slows down in more saturated markets.

He also said that Swift, the programming language Apple developed and uses for its apps, is also picking up some strong momentum.

“It’s the fastest growing programming language out there,” he said. “Apple developers are using it in huge numbers, in fact over 350,000 apps have been written in Swift in the app store. We believe that coding is an essential skill and believe it should be offered by every school in the world. Learning to code has so many benefits, it developers problem solving, critical thinking skills.”

Apple introduces iOS 12

Apple announced the next version of iOS at its WWDC developer conference. While iOS 12 won’t be available before the fall, it’s always interesting to get a sneak peek at the next version of iOS.

Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi first talked about some numbers. 81 percent of iOS users are currently running iOS 11. 6 percent of Android users are currently on the last version.

“For iOS 12, we’re doubling down on performance,” Federighi said. iOS 12 is going to be available on all devices that currently support iOS 11.

It’s interesting the Federighi talked about iOS 12 on the iPhone 6 Plus. Apps launch 40 percent faster, the keyboard comes up 50 percent faster and opening the camera is 70 percent faster.

You get the idea, the big new feature of iOS 12 is performance and optimization.

But it doesn’t mean that Apple didn’t think about new features. Apple has created a new file format for augmented reality called USDZ. Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis talked for a couple of minutes to announce that Adobe apps are going to support USDZ.

Apple is launching a new app to educate people about augmented reality. This app is called Measure and works pretty much like popular third-party app MeasureKit. While Apple says USDZ is a file format for augmented reality, Federighi also showed a USDZ 3D file in the middle of an Apple News article.

And the company is also updating ARKit with multiplayer augmented reality. You can get the same augmented reality experience with multiple devices. The company invited Martin Sanders from Lego to talk about ARKit. You can point an iPad at a Lego set to add virtual buildings and objects, and recreate a tiny little city.

“Over a trillion photos are captured on the iPhone each year,” Federighi said. Apple is updating search with iOS 12. While you’ve been able tp search for objects or categories, such as cars, dogs, beach and hiking, it’s been hard to find. Apple is going to add suggestions to improve discovery.

Apple is reusing an Apple Music idea and adding a “For You” tab. It’ll show you old albums, memories, photos with people you care about and more. For You can also suggest you to share photos with friends and family members. When you share them, it looks like it creates a link that you can send in iMessage. The other person will also get a suggestion to share photos back. It’s like shared albums, but a bit refined.

As for Siri, Apple is introducing shortcuts. It’s not just for voice, Apple is also adding shortcuts on the lock screen or in the search screen for instance. If you’re running late for a meeting, you’ll get a suggestion to send a text to the other person. Shortcuts on the lock screen are like app suggestions, but with more specific actions.

Apple will open up shortcuts to third-party developers to store information or set up shortcuts. Developers will be able to put an “Add to Siri” button in their apps. For instance, you can store your flight details under the “flight to Portland” shortcut. So if you ask Siri that phrase, you’ll get your flight details.

The Workflow team has been working on the Shortcuts app. It’s just like the automation app Workflow that Apple acquired a couple of years ago. But you can also configure connected devices using Shortcuts, and trigger shortcuts using the HomePod. So there you go, Apple is back in the voice assistant game with this new ecosystem of shortcuts.

Apple is also redesigning Apple News and the Stocks app. There’s a new sidebar in the News app to improve navigation. You’ll also get a sort of Yahoo Finance in the Stocks app with share prices, headlines, after-hour pricing. The Stocks app is coming to the iPad too.

As for iBooks, rumors were right. Apple is adding audio books to iBooks (and removing them from the Music app). And the company is also rebranding iBooks to Apple Books. Finally, Apple is adding support for third-party navigation apps in CarPlay.

After this quick rundown of Apple’s new apps, Federighi presented the other pillar of iOS 12 — smarter notifications, do not disturb improvements. If you turn on Do Not Disturb at night, you won’t get a wall of notifications if you want to check the time in the middle of the night. You can also set Do Not Disturb until you move to another place.

And developers cheered like crazy when Federighi presented grouped notifications. It’s a good way to stack similar notifications from the same app. You’ll be able to configure your notifications directly from the home screen.

Many accused Apple of not paying attention to the addictive aspect of smartphones. With Screen Time, your phone can give you an overview of things you do with your phone so that you waste less time mindlessly scrolling through feeds. You can also set up a time limit to receive a notification when you’ve been on Instagram for a while for instance. Obviously, Screen Tim means better parental controls. You can limit some apps, track your kid’s usage and more.

But let’s talk about the most important feature of iOS — animojis. Apple is adding new characters — a ghost, a koala, a tiger, a T-rex. Your phone will now track your tongue.

More importantly, you’ll be able to create your own Memoji. Apple is basically copying Snap’s Bitmoji (or the Xbox avatars or Nintendo’s Miis…). You can create your own avatar, add accessories and change clothes.

In Messages, there are new camera effects that work a bit like Instagram’s or Messenger’s filters, blending your Memoji on top of your face.

Switching gear a bit, Apple is overhauling FaceTime. You can now create a FaceTime group with 32 people. You can now switch from an iMessage conversation to a video chat without having to open another app. This is long overdue, and Houseparty is not going to be happy. It’ll also work on macOS and on the Apple Watch for the audio part.

How to watch the live stream for today’s Apple WWDC keynote

Apple is holding a keynote today at the San Jose Convention Center, and the company is expected to unveil new updates for iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS and maybe also some new hardware. At 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris), you’ll be able to watch the event as the company is streaming it live.

Apple is likely to talk about some new features for all its software platforms — WWDC is a developer conference after all. Rumor has it that Apple could also unveil some MacBook Pro update with new Intel processors.

If you have the most recent Apple TV, you can download the Apple Events app in the App Store. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old events. Users with old Apple TVs can simply turn on their devices. Apple is pushing out the “Apple Events” channel so that you can watch the event.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV, the company also lets you live-stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed works in Safari and Microsoft Edge. And for the first time, Apple says that the video should also work in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

So to recap, here’s how you can watch today’s Apple event:

  • Safari on the Mac or iOS.
  • Microsoft Edge on Windows 10.
  • Maybe Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
  • An Apple TV gen 4 with the Apple Events app in the App Store.
  • An Apple TV gen 2 or 3, with the Apple Events channel that arrives automatically right before the event.

Of course, you also can read TechCrunch’s live blog if you’re stuck at work and really need our entertaining commentary track to help you get through your day. We have a big team in the room this year.