Had Apple’s WWDC keynote taken place in person, it’s easy to imagine the live audience breaking into applause for some of the previewed features. We would have applauded for everything we wrote about in “Ten “It’s About Time” Features from WWDC 2022” (6 June 2022). Then there would have been the points where a presenter’s script said “<pause for applause>” but would have been greeted by a silent crowd wearing puzzled expressions.
Not all of these features are necessarily bad, though some are, and others are just inexplicable. They’re WTF—what the f…eature was Apple thinking?
Apple Pay Later
Two-thirds of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and now Apple wants to help them buy more stuff they can’t afford with Apple Pay Later, which splits purchase prices into four interest-free payments. Which you have six weeks to pay off. Yes, you read that correctly; you must pay off your Apple Pay Later purchases in six weeks, making us wonder what the point is. We could see wanting to space out payments for an expensive purchase like an iPhone or Mac over 12 months, especially if you urgently need to replace a machine. But we don’t see how Apple sticking its toe in the Buy Now, Pay Later industry helps users make smart financial decisions, and it’s not a good look for Apple. What’s next? Apple Payday Loans?
Focus was the most confusion-generating feature of iOS 15 (see “Apple’s New Focus Feature May Be Overkill,” 20 January 2022), so we were hoping for an overhaul in iOS 16 that would reduce complexity. Sometimes Apple doesn’t get it right the first time and has to iterate the next year. Instead, Apple has doubled down and made Focus even more convoluted than before. In iOS 16, you’ll be able to add Focus filters, which let you display only relevant content, hiding entire calendars, email accounts, Mail accounts, Messages conversations, and Safari Tab Groups. Imagine the support questions:
“Why has my Gmail account disappeared on my iPad?”
“Where do my browser tabs keep going?”
“I was talking to my spouse in Messages, but now it’s gone!”
Making things even worse will be a personalized setup experience that suggests relevant apps, wallpapers, and widgets, along with the new capability to silence notifications from apps and people. Typical users already don’t know why their devices act in certain ways, and these Focus features will make the Apple experience even more unpredictable. If you’re willing to accept responsibility for Focus preventing you from receiving an important notification or hiding data, go nuts, but for most people, we recommend configuring Focus only for Do Not Disturb (while sleeping) and Driving.
Apple previewed a new digital whiteboard app called Freeform that it said would ship sometime before the end of the year. (In other words, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t appear with the initial releases of macOS 13 Ventura, iOS 16, and iPadOS 16.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with digital whiteboarding—it’s a huge category with entries from Google, Microsoft, and a slew of other companies—but why would Apple bother to get into the space? Only the most Apple-centric business or school would look to an Apple tool in favor of the Google or Microsoft productivity suites that dominate group collaboration scenarios. Anyone who does want to go beyond the standard tools already has a wide selection of alternatives. What can Apple bring to the table other than demo whiteboards that are way prettier than any competitor—or user—would ever create?
During the keynote, Apple put quite a bit of effort into demoing a massive update to CarPlay. Apple envisions that cars of the future will use screens for the instrument cluster and environmental controls, not just the infotainment system as today. As such, the next-generation version of CarPlay will enable users to reconfigure what information displays on each screen, customize the look, and more.
The only catch? Cars that support it won’t start appearing on the market until the end of 2023, which means that it could be another few more years—or more—before this level of CarPlay support is commonplace. Why is Apple talking about this years before it will be a reality, especially given how infrequently most people buy cars? We presume Apple is trying to establish its credentials in the car market ahead of the eventual release of the much-rumored Apple Car. Or perhaps Apple’s looking for an onramp into the automotive world by licensing a full carOS to carmakers?
Plus, this vision of CarPlay raises some important questions about car interfaces. It could be good if you could take your custom interface from car to car (especially rental cars), but will CarPlay surface everything that the car’s native interface can do? (We presume that cars will still have native interfaces, even if they’re equally screen-based.) And, to raise the usual bogeyman, what if your phone crashes or runs out of power while you’re driving? CarPlay is a great add-on, but we’re not sure we’d want to rely on it for safety-related features.
Customize Spatial Audio with TrueDepth Camera
This announcement came and went fairly quickly, but it had us scratching our heads immediately. The idea, it seems, is that spatial audio sounds more realistic if it can take into account aspects of the physicality of the listener that affect their perception of space. Apparently, this is a thing—called Head-Related Transfer Functions—and by capturing data using the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera, Apple could personalize the otherwise average HRTF that combines data from thousands of people. We’re not arguing that this is possible, but is spatial audio that big of a deal, and will personalizing make enough difference to justify training your iPhone (much less Apple’s development effort)? We have plenty of ideas for things Apple could do that would have a greater impact on more users—see “Five Enhancements for Future Apple Operating Systems” (19 May 2022).
Handoff for FaceTime
We hope that this feature—handing off a FaceTime call from one Apple device to another—was easy to implement because it’s hard to imagine it getting all that much use. Apple’s pitch sounds attractive but doesn’t make much sense under scrutiny. Who is going to get a FaceTime call while out of the house and then manage to keep it going while juggling keys and opening doors, setting down packages, and taking off shoes and coats, all so you can get to your Mac, wake it up, and transfer the call to a computer with a worse camera? (It’s marginally more understandable if the iPhone automatically invokes Continuity Camera to become your Mac’s webcam in the process.) We’d just hang up and call back. The main win here would seem to be switching an iPhone FaceTime call you’ve received while sitting on the couch to a Mac or iPad with better seating ergonomics, which is nice but not world-changing.
Safari Shared Tab Groups
Safari’s Tab Groups have never done much for us. Browser tabs are ephemeral items—we open and close hundreds of them every day—so there’s no benefit in organizing them. Worse, Tab Groups don’t even work well. If you have a tab group selected and then click a URL in another app, Safari responds by creating a new window for that tab instead of combining it with the current window’s uncategorized tabs. Plus, on one of my two Macs, when I accidentally close a tab in a Safari Tab Group and immediately press Command-Z to bring it back, it returns for a second or two and then disappears again, with no option to use Undo again. That doesn’t instill confidence.
Since the initial release of this article, we’ve heard from people who find Tab Groups useful, so our opinion certainly isn’t universal. But if you’re in our camp and want to work with a set of Web pages in a way that has more permanence, put bookmarks in a Favorites folder and Command-click it to open them all.
In this year’s operating system updates, Apple said we’ll be able to share Safari Tab Groups with friends so that everyone can add (and presumably close) tabs in the group while working together. It’s possible to construct a use case for why a group might want to put together a set of Web pages, but if you’re going to make that effort, wouldn’t you want some permanence, so one person’s accidental click or Command-W doesn’t destroy the tab for everyone else?
We’re not just being curmudgeonly here—many of the new features that Apple has slated for macOS 13 Ventura, iOS 16, and iPadOS 16 sound great—but when there are still plenty of potholes that need fixing, it’s frustrating to see Apple focus time and effort on ill-conceived features that we doubt will get much usage.