iPhone SE performance versus Android Flagships

Jerry Hildenbrand at AndroidCentral:

Apple has updated the little iPhone SE for 2020, and even an Android fan has to see that it’s a great phone at an even greater price of $399 for the base model. It’s essentially an iPhone 8 with one big difference: it has Apple’s A13 Bionic chip buried inside. And that’s a big deal for a number of reasons.

I expect that some people are going to tell me about single thread versus multi-threaded performance and how the A13 GPU isn’t that great or how iPhones have much lower resolution screens so the chips don’t have to work as hard. All this is true, but another thing is true: the A13 is a stronger chip than the Snapdragon 865 for daily use in every category — we’ve seen this applied in real life in the iPhone 11 already.

Jerry does a nice job summarizing the performance of the A13 Bionic in the iPhone SE against the Snapdragon 865 found in many Android flagship phones. While it’s not been a specs game for many years, in terms of raw specs, the iPhone SE outperforms top-of-the-line Android phones at a third to a half of the price.

What sounds less crazy, and great to consumers, is that by using the A13 Apple can support the iPhone SE for years — and this phone will outlive the iPhone 8 it is slated to replace for a handful of extrayears because of the new chip. Basically, if the iPhone 11 can get updated, so can the iPhone SE. This is cool to hear today, but it will be really important in three years when another version of iOS is released and your $399 iPhone gets it on day one.

Android devices, typically, still get less than 3 years of updates. And it can take months between the time a new version of Android is released and it is made available on supported devices. And many devices, especially lower priced ones, may barely see one major software update.

And yet, the $399 iPhone SE is likely to get 5 years of major software updates, including new features.

John Gruber, at Daring Fireball:

And on the flip side, what do you get for $400 in Androidtown? Amazon sells the Motorola Moto Z4 for $500. Let’s just spot the Android side $100. The Moto Z4’s single-threaded Geekbench 5 score is about 500. That falls short of an iPhone 6S, a phone from 2015.

For the same price, you can buy an Android that performs about as well as a 5 year old iPhone. An iPhone that still supports the latest version of iOS.

Where are the popular Android phones from 2015 now?

  • Samsung Galaxy S6 – Last software update was 2016’s Android 7 Nougat, made available in 2017, with the last security patch in September 2018.
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Latest supported version is 2016’s Android Nougat.
  • Google Nexus 6P – Google’s flagship for the year, it got its last update at the end of 2017 with Android 8.0 Oreo.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5 – Last update, Android 7 Nougat, in 2017

It’s pretty clear to see: If you need a phone on a modest budget, the iPhone SE is the smartest choice. Best performance with the longest support means you’ll get the most for your money.

‘Frolicking around in excess’

Matt Birchler, writing about what matters in a phone:

So when I see the $399 iPhone SE with 5 years of likely updates, with a really good single lens camera, and with it’s processor that’s faster than all 2020 $1,000+ Android phones, and will likely still be faster than all 2021 Android phones…well, it just looks like a good phone, and it makes it look like we’ve been frolicking around in excess for years now.

I’m one of those people with an iPhone 11 Pro. I enjoy Face ID. I like the ways I can interact with my phone without a home button. I like the triple camera system. I don’t regret owning it. But I also know it’s not for everyone.

For everyone else, people that are just looking for the best deal on a smartphone in general, Matt hits it right on the head: The new iPhone SE is likely the best purchase you can make right now. Maybe even the best purchase next year.

Portrait Mode and the Neural Engine on iPhone SE

Apple finally announced the successor to the iPhone SE. Also called the iPhone SE (and from here, the one I am referring to with that name), it built on the expectations that many were thinking: A reuse of an existing design with newer internals. This is exactly how Apple approached the first SE model. So it made since that the new iPhone SE followed suit.

Design wise, the iPhone SE is identical to the iPhone 8 that it replaced. But internally, it contains a lot of technology found in the iPhone 11: A13 Bionic chip with the third generation Neural Engine, support for WiFi 6, Gigabit class LTE, etc. It also made some changes from the iPhone 8 in line with the iPhone 11, such as the removal of 3D Touch.

But there are some camera differences with the iPhone SE, especially when compared to the iPhone 8, that made me really think.

Portrait Mode

The iPhone SE, like the visually identical iPhone 8, has a single camera on the back side. If you compare the specs between the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE, you’ll see no difference:

  • Single 12MP Wide camera
  • Wide: ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Digital zoom up to 5x
  • True Tone flash with Slow Sync

The iPhone 8 camera was really good, so keeping that same sensor, especially to reduce cost, makes sense.

But there’s something the iPhone SE has than its predecessor didn’t have:

  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High‑Key Mono)

The iPhone SE adds Portrait mode, something that initially came to the iPhone 7 Plus because of its dual cameras. Bringing this to a 4.7-inch iPhone like the iPhone SE is a first.

Now, this isn’t the first time a single camera iPhone has received Portrait Mode. The iPhone XR, released in 2018, had a single backside camera and supported Portrait Mode. If we compare the stats of the XR’s backside camera against the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE, we’ll see that it’s identical. However, there is a notable difference with the iPhone XR:

  • Portrait Lighting with three effects (Natural, Studio, Contour)

The iPhone XR only supports three effects in Portrait Mode on the single backside camera. What gives?

Apple explains in their press release:

iPhone SE features the best single-camera system ever in an iPhone with a 12-megapixel f/1.8 aperture Wide camera, and uses the image signal processor and Neural Engine of A13 Bionic to unlock even more benefits of computational photography, including Portrait mode, all six Portrait Lighting effects and Depth Control.

The neural engine in the A13 is able to do much better with the single camera sensor input to process all of the available effects for Portrait Mode. So much so that it enables all six effects on the single camera!

But it doesn’t stop there!

A First on an iPhone

Let’s compare the front camera on the iPhone 8, iPhone XR, and iPhone SE.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone SE both have identical specs:

  • FaceTime HD camera
  • 7MP photos
  • ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • Retina Flash
  • Auto HDR for photos
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps

Since it doesn’t include the TrueDepth camera system, which uses a camera and additional sensors to detect facial features and depth, the iPhone SE has Touch ID instead of Face ID for unlocking the device. It also makes sense that it doesn’t have Portrait Mode on the front camera.

Except it does.

  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High‑Key Mono)

Again, from Apple’s press release, just after the earlier quote:

Using machine learning and monocular depth estimation, iPhone SE also takes stunning Portraits with the front camera.

The iPhone SE is the first iPhone without the TrueDepth camera system with front facing Portrait Mode. It’s using a single camera, like the backside, to enable the same level of Portrait Mode, using the same cameras as found in the iPhone 8.

It’s amazing what the A13 Bionic chip is able to enable. It and the third generation Neural Engine definition power the most powerful smartphones in the world. In the words of Apple SVP Phil Schiller: “It’s a big deal.” And to be able to include their fastest chip in their cheapest iPhone? An easy win for Apple.

iPhone SE 2 Expectations

For months, rumors have circulated that Apple is doing another iPhone SE. But what is Apple’s goal with it? What can we reasonably expect, and why?

Is It Size?

Some think the SE 2 (or whatever it will be called; more on that later) is Apple’s chance to release another smaller phone into the line up. While it does give them the opportunity, that doesn’t seem like the role the SE 2 is to play. The reason for that is because that wasn’t the primary goal of the first SE.

Let’s look back at the original iPhone SE. It launched in the spring of 2016, roughly six months after the release of the iPhone 6S. When the iPhone 6S launched, the iPhone 5S, a then 2 year old phone, was the most affordable option, coming in around $449. The SE ended up replacing it, coming in at $399.

The SE retained the beloved 4-inch screen size that many loved. And while size made it an attractive purchase, there was another benefit. They were able to pack in the same features and specs of the iPhone 6S into the smaller design. But wait: didn’t it cost less than the iPhone 5s? How could they do that?

Reusability

Being based on the older design, it makes sense that, after having manufactured the 5-series for a couple of years, the cost of building the SE, as well as R&D, had been recouped more than a new flagship. The tooling required to build most of the SE were thus already working as a well oiled machine. Savings were easily found there, which could result in a lower price.

The rumored iPhone SE 2 will be no different. It’s likely to look like an existing design (iPhone 8, I’d say), but with improved internals. Yes, that means a newer set of internal components had to be designed to fit into that enclosure. But the cost of producing that enclosure no doubt will allow for a low price.

The one “downside” to people owning such a phone: It won’t look as flash as the iPhone 11 Pro (or whatever phones are debuted later this year). But for the audience Apple is likely targeting with this phone, I don’t think they care so much about flashy. It’s about getting the most bang for your buck.

I know I would love to see another $399 iPhone with the latest specs, and I know many others would, too. Let’s see what happens after one is announced.

Apple Arcade and multiple users

This past Spring, Apple announced a series of upcoming services. One of those is Apple Arcade, a service where users can pay every month to access a collection of exclusive games playable across Apple’s ecosystem.

There is quite a bit of excitement for this, and the games they’ve announced seem like a lot of fun. But there’s something that’s been bugging me.

Fun for the whole family

As an Apple family, it would be nice to have games that play on our Macs, iPhones, and iPads, as well as our Apple TV. But there’s an interesting question: how will that work with family members?

And yes, Apple did say this is for the whole family.

Sure, everyone can access and play these games on their device. But what about those on Apple TV? Right now, Apple TV has to be logged into an Apple ID, and its only one ID. At home, this is my ID. So it has access to my App Store history, and any games supporting iCloud sync up with my personal Apple account.

This would be all I need if I was the only one using the Apple TV. But I’m not. My son plays games on there. But if he wanted to continue playing a game on his iPad after playing on the Apple TV, we hit a snag: How does he do that?

Apple says you can jump from device to device with Apple Arcade. Is this for just ONE of the family members, though? I don’t think that seems fair OR fun.

Rather, I think this implies some other feature that must be coming: multi-user support.

Now, I don’t think iOS requires multi-user support. You typically find people having their own iOS devices in the family. But I DO think Apple TV needs to support the concept of user accounts. When it comes to Apple TV, it’s typically running on the biggest screen in the house, but it’s also likely a single device used by multiple people in a family. It’s time that it fully embraces that.

My son should be able to go from a game on his iPad to the Apple TV in the same way that I can go from my iPhone to the Apple TV. “Jump from [device] to [device]” shouldn’t be limited to specific family members.

If Apple is serious about Apple Arcade, I’d like to take it as a sign that Apple is serious about gaming in the living room. While they aren’t creating a console, the Apple TV can perform very much like one. And like modern consoles, it needs to understand the individual user using the device at the time.

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to see multi-user support in tvOS 13. It makes sense that it has to do that to fully embrace what Apple Arcade promises. And if Apple is serious about their Services, this is a vital component.

On iPads Replacing Laptops

The newest iPad Pro seems like a killer machine, and many reviews of it are quite positive. But a lot of reviews that I saw all came back with similar thoughts:

  • Ars Technica – “The iPad Pro raises the bar for performance, but has too many other limitations.”
  • CNET – “It’s got a big, laptop-like screen. It’s more portable than the last version. But it doesn’t solve the final few things I need to make it a true laptop.”
  • TechRadar – “(…)that would help elevate the new iPad Pro towards the level of a real laptop a little more.”

Everyone is expecting iPad to replace laptops at some point in the future. But what exactly are they wanting?

It seems the expectation is that, if iPad is the future of computing, that we’ll eventually not need laptops (and maybe desktops) because iPads will replace the PC category for what we do. Thus, iPads need to eventually do everything current PCs can do and more.

However, Apple itself gave a hint about that. And I don’t think any of that is a good expectation to have.

Here’s what Phil Schiller said in an interview with Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes:

Charlie Rose: Is there danger of one product cannibalizing the other product?

Phil Schiller: It’s not a danger, it’s almost by design. You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great that you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop. Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

When I read that, I see each segment in its own tier, competing with the one above it. But it doesn’t imply that one category would eventually eliminate the others. It just forces each tier to keep improving.

Let’s look at the notebook tier. You can split that into two segments: consumer and pro. How am I doing that? I’m basically looking at MacBook and MacBook Air, and comparing that against the MacBook Pro line. They all do similar things, but the Pro line has more power, more ports, and is typically used for a lot more work. But they’re all in the notebook tier.

In the iPad tier, we can simplify it between iPad and iPad Pro. iPad Pro gives you more capabilities and more features to do more work on it. The USB-C port in the new iPad Pro can enable a lot of new functionality now, and it has the potential to open up even more with iOS 13 and beyond.

Yet, it’s still an iPad. It’s on the higher end of the iPad tier, but it’s in no way meant to completely replace the MacBook Pro. Again, looking at Phil Schiller’s comments, it’s competing against the notebook. It’s not replacing the notebook.

This seems confirmed in The Verge’s review of the new iPad Pro:

(…) when pushed on the iPad’s limitations, the company insists that the iPad is still an ongoing attempt to build the future of computing, not a laptop replacement.

Sure, you can review the new iPad Pro against a laptop and see what it can and can’t do. But looking to see if it’s a complete notebook replacement is futile. Sure, it may replace a notebook for some people. If someone just used a laptop for email, news, and staying in touch with family, then an iPad can definitely do all that that person wanted a laptop for. But, implied by Phil Schiller’s own words, there will always be things that a notebook or desktop do better that can’t be done by an iPad. Always.

As the iPad Pro gains more features, I’ll continue to be interested in reviews showing how people can do work on it compared to laptops. I know there are some that live the iPad life already. But I’d also be interested in seeing things from the other angle: How improvements in devices like iPad Pro drive changes and improvements to the Mac line.

The notebook is essentially defending itself from constant attack from the iPad tier. It has been from day one. As each tier improves, so do the tiers they are competing with. iPhone and iPad eventually lead to the inclusion of multi-touch on the Mac line, which I think was a very important addition. Those kinds of influences will only continue.

But whether or not an iPad replaces the notebook tier for you has no relevance to whether or not iPads will replace laptops in general. They won’t. Apple has said it as part of their own intentions. And eight years of iPad history can prove it, too. Notebooks will remain. Desktops will remain. Their differences in UI/UX will remain.

Just like any advancement in iPhone doesn’t threaten the existence of iPad, or any Apple Watch can’t kill the iPhone market, iPad won’t kill the laptop. They’ll just keep getting better and better.

It’s all about survival.

Clips, iOS 10.3, and the future of 32-bit apps

In March, alongside a few hardware announcements, Apple also unveiled a new media sharing app called Clips. Clips was released today. Reviews seem mixed. But I’m not here to talk to you about Clips.

iOS 10.3 was released to a vast majority of iOS devices on March 27. It was a huge behind-the-scenes update that migrated iOS devices to Apple’s new file system.  But I’m not here to talk to you about iOS 10.3.

What I am here to talk to you about is 32-bit app support. It’s definitely coming to an end. And this might affect some apps you like using. For me, some of my favorite games fall into this category. Want to see which of your apps won’t work on future iOS versions? Head to Settings > General > About > Applications to see the list.

You might’ve gotten a glimpse of this even without going to the Settings app. One other change in iOS 10.3 noted by people before and after release: Apps not compiled for 64-bit present an alert to the user upon launch. This alert says that the app in question will not work with future versions of iOS.

Now, why did I mention Clips earlier? Because Clips has some notable requirements. Sure, it requires iOS 10.3. That’s the latest OS release, and its no surprise that Apple will target the latest release with its latest apps. But the hardware requirements don’t include all devices running iOS 10.3. Specifically, Clips only works on 64-bit devices. Don’t believe me? Check the bottom of the Clips site and try to find a 32-bit device in the list of supported devices. You won’t find any.

Another big tip: iOS 10.3.2 is available for developers to test. It is only available for 64-bit devices.

The writing is clearly on the wall: 32-bit apps will soon be unsupported in iOS. But while some think iOS 11 will be the big cutoff, it may be sooner than most people realize. If you see your favorite apps in that list in your Settings app, consider contacting the developers of those applications. Urge them to update their apps.

I know I don’t want to lose my favorite games.

 

On Apple’s new new iPad

This week, Apple announced a few new or updated products via press release. One of those was a brand new iPad model. Known only as iPad, it’s an update to the 9.7-inch iPad model but staying below the new Pro line in terms of functionality.

There’s been some confusion as to the iPad’s name, as well as Apple’s approach to its design and price. But if we take a moment to analyze its name, I think we can put the rest of the details into place.

Apple is calling this simply iPad. Specifically, it shows up as iPad (5th Generation) ((For instance, in the list of supported devices for the new Clips app.)) on Apple’s site, which is leading to issues on Wikipedia, as the iPad Air was unofficially known as the 5th generation iPad. Why is Apple calling it the 5th generation iPad?

Ultimately, I think we can consider the iPad itself having ended as a product line with the 4th generation iPad. When a new 9.7-inch iPad model debuted in 2013, it came with a new name: the iPad Air. This began a new line of Air model iPads. These models kept pushing the envelope forward in terms of weight, thinness, and power. I still think the iPad Air 2 is a very capable iPad, even if Apple no longer advertises it on their website.

Apple's two iPad Pro models

Apple’s two iPad Pro models

That said, the iPad Pro line is yet another new line of iPads. The fact that the iPad Pro 9.7-inch model happens to have identical dimensions to the iPad Air 2 just shows the evolution of that sleek, powerful design.

With the Pro moniker, Apple is clearly targeting the iPad Pro towards those wanting to do more with their iPad. Looking to do serious work? Here’s an iPad that also supports a convenient Smart Keyboard and state-of-the-art Apple Pencil.

The iPad (4th Generation), the predecessor to the iPad (5th Generation)

The iPad (4th Generation), the predecessor to the iPad (5th Generation)

What about the consumer? That’s where the iPad (5th Generation) comes in. This iPad isn’t a new Air model. This isn’t related to the Pro models at all. Instead, this is the follow-up to the iPad 4. As such, it’s able to get away with a few things.

First, we can revert to the design of the iPad Air. Sure, it means the iPad is thicker than the Air 2. But it still is a great size and, more importantly, is still close to 1 pound in weight. That makes this iPad one you can hold for a longer period of time than the iPad 4 (or older).

This older design also shows up when we look at the various technologies used in the iPad (5th Generation). The display is still of Retina quality, but it lacks the anti-reflective material that’s built into the latest iPads. We also see Apple resorting to the older antenna bands for the LTE models.

However, despite having some older technologies in this new model, they can also throw in some very capable internals. The A9 chip, while technically over a year old, is still more powerful than what’s in any other consumer-targeted iPad model. This puts it on par with the iPhone SE, another iOS device considered to be for those looking at a more price-friendly option.

This leads me to the second point: price. Because Apple is using a mix of older technologies and designs along with semi-newer chipsets (which, as a volume purchase, likely cost less the more Apple integrates them into products), they can also release this iPad at an amazing price: $329 for 32GB. That’s the lowest any new 9.7-inch iPad model has ever sold for.

The lower price leads me to two conclusions:

  1. Apple is going to create two tiers of iPads like they’ve done for years with the MacBook line. The average consumer will go for a powerful-but-not-too-powerful MacBook, while professionals will grab the MacBook Pro. Similarly, the iPad line will be what most consumers will need. And at a new lower price point, there’s very little reason for someone to get one of these iPads, especially as an upgrade from an older model.
  2. The iPad Mini will never again have the top-of-the-line specs. Right now, the only iPad Mini left in Apple’s lineup is the iPad Mini 4. The only configuration is a 128GB model for $399. I still think the iPad Mini line has a place with certain audiences, but at best it will share the same specs as the new consumer iPad line. At worst, it will disappear completely.

Overall, this new iPad will be a very positive thing for Apple. The lower price should bring in new iPad owners, as well as move those with anything older than an iPad Air 2 to upgrade.

3D Touch – The Future of Apple’s Interfaces

This post originally appeared in NotedTech on 31 August 2016.

In 2014, Apple announced the Apple Watch. While many were expecting a shrunken iPhone on your wrist, Apple instead focused on a new experience. The Digital Crown, for instance, let users scroll their content without blocking most of the screen with their finger. To add further interactivity to apps, they also introduced something new: Force Touch.

In 2015, Apple added Force touch to the Mac lineup with the new MacBook, updated MacBook Pros, and the new Magic Trackpad 2. Later that year, the iPhone 6s was launched with a Force Touch capable display, branded on iOS devices as 3D Touch.

On each platform, the concept of Force Touch or 3D Touch acts a bit differently. For instance, with watchOS, Force Touch is really a required element to provide more interactive options without sacrificing screen space. On the Mac, default implementation seems to duplicate 3-finger taps while providing a few useful improvements, such as making use of the Taptic engine to provide feedback to the user’s finger.

On iOS, at least with iOS 9, the introduction of 3D Touch seemed like a gimmick to some. Live Photos required 3D Touch to move, yet can be activated by a long press on older devices. On the home screen, a hard press shows app shortcuts. And the concept of peeking and popping into content lets user quickly glance at information before committing to loading a certain view.

On Android, some said that the idea of detecting pressure on the screen was an old concept. Yet, looking at what was introduced early in the Android SDK showed those functions to be based more on the size of the tap than the actual pressure. In other words, it wasn’t truly making use of a pressure sensitive display.

That’s not to say that no Android device has a pressure sensitive display. Huawei beat the iPhone 6s to market with the Mate S and its pressure sensitive display. Yet, despite launch in 2015, we have yet to see many major flagship Android devices come with that feature. Even the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7 devices this year fail to include that functionality.

Following the introduction of the iPhone 6s, word began to spread of Android manufacturers coming out with their own displays. The recently released Android N was said to include support for their own implementation of 3D Touch, but the feature has now been reportedly moved to a maintenance update to the OS. Do Google, Samsung, and other Android manufacturers just think this is a useless gimmick?

If we look at Apple, however, we see a different picture. iOS 10 seems made for 3D Touch. The lock screen experience, and notifications in particular, truly benefit from 3D Touch. Having been running the iOS 10 developer beta on my iPhone 6s, I can say that my use of 3D Touch has greatly improved over iOS 9. In fact, when I switch to a non-3D Touch device, such as my iPad Air 2 or an iPhone 6 Plus used for app testing at work, I find myself trying to hard press the screen to perform certain actions.

While the implementation isn’t complete on the Mac, I fully suspect Apple will be making further use of Force/3D Touch on all of its devices. In fact, I would be surprised if this year’s iPad updates didn’t include some level of 3D Touch. And the rumored MacBook Pro update? It’ll definitely have a Force Trackpad. But in the coming months and years, I’d suspect Apple will add more 3D interactions to macOS.

All of this shows something that Apple excels at: taking their control of the hardware and software of the iPhone to make a unique experience. If Android supports pressure touch in the future, not all manufacturers will. It’ll introduce another level of fragmentation to their ecosystem. Yet, for Apple, adding this capability to their line is no trouble at all, and I’m convinced that the use of 3D Touch will only improve with each generation of Apple’s operating systems from now on.

Looking back: Highlights of WWDCs gone by

This post originally appeared on NotedTech on 12 June 2016.

With just one day until WWDC 2016 begins, I wanted to do something different. While everyone is making guesses and wishlists for this year, I wanted to look back at recent WWDC keynotes, their announcements, and what stood out for me.

2010, THE BIRTH OF RETINA

Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone 4

While much has happened since 2010, there is a lot that still stands out to me. While not the last WWDC keynote by Steve Jobs, I think his performance here was better than the following year. Personally, I see this being related to his health, as he seems more frail in 2011. Overall, Steve here was well composed and was able to throw in his fair share of jokes among various announcements. He was a natural on stage. While no replacement, I think Craig Federighi is the best Apple currently has when it comes to bringing back Steve’s flare.

Among other things this keynote is known for, the first is the introduction of the iPhone 4. It was the last time a new iPhone would grace the WWDC keynote. The iPhone 4 was a first in a few areas for Apple: An LED flash, a front facing camera, and the Retina display. We take all of that for granted now, but none of that existed on previous iPhones at the time.

Of course, one thing we’re quite used to now are leaks and rumors. Unfortunately for Apple, a test iPhone 4 was also leaked before the announcement, leading to the press having clear shots of the final device. But Steve handled it well on stage: “Stop me if you’ve already seen this.”

Alongside the iPhone 4 came something else that a lot of Apple users are likely quite familiar with: FaceTime. While not the first video communication system, it became the easiest way to start a video conversation with another Apple user. Since the initial introduction, we’ve seen FaceTime come to all of Apple’s mobile devices, and FaceTime Audio makes for a clear alternative to a standard phone call, especially in a WiFi-only environment.

Overall, this keynote stands out to me as one of Steve’s best. Between dealing with the announcement of a leaked product, jokes about whether or not Apple would approve their own apps, and handling WiFi problems in the middle of a demo, Steve still gave an entertaining, informative, and captivating presentation. (Well, all but the iAd demo. RIP iAds.)

2011, THE YEAR OF ICLOUD

The iPhone was 4 years old; the iPad was just over 1. Despite the relatively short lives of those devices, there were plenty of technologies to bring back to their parent platform. The 2011 keynote saw a 4th preview of OS X Lion, something Apple had been beta testing for months. This brought a few technologies and improvements from iOS, including more iOS-styled interfaces and FaceTime. It also was the first OS X update distributed exclusively through the new Mac App Store.

It also was the year we saw the Mac demoted. Initially, the Mac was the hub of your digital life. Now, with the introduction of iCloud, the Mac was to be a device in the same manner as an iPhone or iPad. While some would say Apple has a ways to go on delivering that vision, it all began with 2011.

The iCloud of five years ago was missing a few of the features we’ve come to love recently. But while not having features like iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo Library, or iCloud Music Library, it did introduce a few useful features to Apple users. Calendar, Contact, and Note syncing quickly made those apps much more useful. iCloud Backup made iTunes a little less necessary for device owners. And iTunes Match, while not necessarily an iCloud feature, provided an option to access your music on devices without syncing with your Mac or PC.

But as great as that all is, iOS 5’s big feature to me, besides iCloud support and Notification Center, was iMessages. Looking back, it’s hard for me to imagine now having iMessages. Yet, five years ago, it was just being announced. This feature would lead to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch being more useful as social devices. Suddenly, someone could message a friend with just an Apple ID and WiFi. Gone were the requirements of needing a cellular connection or a phone number to message others.

As this was Steve’s last WWDC keynote, it also is the last time we saw Apple’s CEO delivering the majority of the event.

2012, FORSTALL’S LAST

From the beginning, iOS development was lead by Scott Forstall. If WWDC 2011 was Steve Jobs’ last, 2012 was the last for Forstall, though no one could have known that at the time.

Ultimately, Tim Cook’s Apple was to be one based on cooperation and collaboration. While we don’t know all of the inner workings at Apple, some anonymous reports made out Forstall to be a polarizing force. Steve Jobs was able to hold onto his reins, but after Jobs’ death, he just couldn’t fit into the culture Cook was putting together.

One item in particular that Forstall presented on stage was Apple’s new Maps app in iOS 6. From the start, some users had issues with it. Google Maps, which had been on iOS up until that point, had been around longer than Apple’s service, leaving Apple trying to catch up. But even though it was inferior to some, the new service also brought turn-by-turn navigation natively to the iPhone. That, along with Flyover, made Apple Maps a shiny new application. Forstall’s pride is clearly seen as he demos it.

iOS 6 also brought Passbook, one of the initial steps ultimately leading to Apple Pay with iOS 8. Looking back, it’s possible to see Apple working on new ideas one piece at a time. Here, Passbook provided a way to put cards and codes into a single app. Next year, with the iPhone 5s, Apple would introduce a required piece of hardware side in the form of Touch ID.

On the Mac, OS X Mountain Lion brought Notification Center, iMessages, Game Center, and Notes. It was pretty clear that iOS was starting to lead when it came to new features. The Mac would eventually get iOS apps and features once they were created to fit the Mac’s interface mechanism.

And speaking of the Mac, WWDC 2012 was the birth of Retina on the Mac. The MacBook Pro with Retina started with only a 15-inch configuration and started at a price higher than the existing MacBook Pro models. But it also showed something very clear: Retina was the only way to go with a display. The new model also took some pointers from the MacBook Air in terms of removing older technologies and moving parts. Gone were the SuperDrive and spinning hard drive. Everything was flash, solid state, and ultimately made for a sleeker, more powerful MacBook Pro. In the end, it was the first of many transitions for Apple’s Mac line. And after having moved to solid state and Retina, I’ll never go back.

As iCloud began to mature, it also was starting to become clear that the iOS and OS X platforms could start doing more together. Things weren’t perfect yet (and still aren’t), but it was beginning to seem like there were more and more benefits to working across all of Apple’s devices.

2013, THE FIRST REDESIGN

Many months before WWDC 2013, rumors were flying around the various Apple blogs: iOS 7 was going to be a major redesign. Gone were the shadows, gradients, and textures of iOS 6. Everything was going to be flat.

While somewhat true, there was more to the story. Sure, plenty of textures disappeared with iOS 7, but they also disappeared from many of the apps found in OS X. The first non-cat release, Mavericks, boasted simpler UI, though it still reflected the window chrome found since Snow Leopard. Instead of seeing a calendar that might as well have been ripped up from someone’s desk, it was a clean looking Mac app.

OS X Mavericks also brought efficiency and performance improvements. While a focus of many OS updates, the particular focus showed that Apple wanted users to get the most out of their Mac, even if it was worth upgrading.

Mavericks also brought a price change: free. While Microsoft has offered free Windows 10 updates for now, they will eventually go back to a paid model. But Apple’s approach, likely offset by them making money on hardware and not software, means they can provide these updates to as many users as possible.

The biggest news of the keynote, of course, was iOS 7. While things seemed flatter, a lot of it ultimately seemed to be shaping up future UI for Apple. Of course, this wasn’t clear at the time. But looking back, the changes in iOS 7 ultimately lead to Apple changing OS X’s appearance in 2014, allowed for the dark but familiar UI for the Apple Watch, and brought similar changes to the Apple TV with tvOS.

I believe iOS 7 was more than just a quick redesign of the OS. I think it was purposeful planning for the future. Apple knew they wanted to go into a new direction with the Apple Watch and likely had some plans for the new Apple TV. They also were planning larger iPhones for the following year. All of that would benefit from ‘simplifying’ the operating system’s appearance.

And speaking of bringing things together…

2014, EVERYTHING COMES TOGETHER

The first iPhone was famous for ‘running OS X’. While true in a certain fashion, ultimately iOS (initially “iPhone OS”) was an offshoot of OS X running on a different processor architecture. Thus, while having similar roots, for several years both were developing their own features. In 2014, both were brought up to a level that let them work almost seamlessly with each other.

To me, the 2014 WWDC keynote is the best with regards to useful user and developer features and announcements. There are just so many wonderful things that were announced that year:

  • OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 both included features like Handoff and Continuity, making it easy to pick up a task from one device to another, send SMS from any device, or take a call from any device.
  • iCloud Drive enhanced iCloud into something similar to Dropbox, making it easy to store documents between multiple devices.
  • Extensions to iOS, letting developers create third-party keyboards, share extensions, notification widgets, and more. In a way, this was a precursor to WatchKit with the initial launch of the Apple Watch, as communicating with a Watch app was no different than sharing data with a widget or extension.
  • iCloud Photo Library, and Photo enhancements in iOS 8, made it very easy to store all of your photos in one place while still keeping them accessible to all of your devices.
  • HealthKit, providing a single store for applications to share health data.
  • HomeKit, making it easy to control multiple smart devices in the home through Siri.

Even after announcing all of those great features, Apple still had more to give to developers with the introduction of Swift, their new programming language.

As an Apple user, this was my favorite keynote. OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 truly made it worth living entirely in the Apple ecosystem. It always gives me a good feeling when I can show off features like AirDrop, Handoff, and Continuity to owners of Apple products.

As a developer, both iOS extensions and Swift were exciting. And given that WWDC is a developer conference, it makes sense that Apple would focus on software and things directly pertaining to developers and their apps. Apple would never make us sit through an awkward half hour of a non-developer related service at WWDC…

2015, MULTITASKING (OH, AND APPLE MUSIC)

Okay, maybe Apple would make a rather long intro for something not related to developers and software at WWDC.

The big item in 2015, and the one that I use often, is iPad multitasking in iOS 9. Split View, Slide Over, and Picture-in-Picture made the iPad a more useful device. So long as an iPad has a 64-bit processor (A7 chip or newer), some form of multitasking is available.

While not as notable of a feature for some, OS X El Capitan also included split screen support for full screen apps. As someone that uses full screen apps constantly across multiple displays, this was a great feature.

Thankfully, the 2015 keynote ended after all of the software talk.

Okay, it didn’t.

Seriously, though, Apple Music seemed out of place for a developer conference. Still, Apple will make the most of their public events. And for a lot of people that I talk to, Apple Music is a great service. Me? I like my local music library, consisting of songs and albums I’ve accumulated since I was a teen. I’m not ready to trust my music needs to the cloud just yet.

2016, THE YEAR OF…

So how will I remember 2016? As this isn’t a post about my wishlist or thoughts on rumors, I’ll leave this blank. Once WWDC 2016 is behind us, then I’ll go back and say exactly what my highlights are.

If there is anything on my “wishlist”, though, it is that this year’s event is as good as 2014. That’s my current favorite. Between new user features and developer enhancements, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I only hope I’ll feel the same after Monday morning.