WWDC 2019 Roundup: Exciting New Tools for Developers and Engineers

one week ago by Tyler Charboneau

On June 3rd, Tim Cook and company took to the stage during Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The Apple WWDC typically showcases upcoming software updates, though Apple does occasionally unveil new hardware. This year was no different.

Professionals will soon benefit from powerful software enhancements to Apple’s software products. Additionally, users can harness impressive computing resources this fall. Many changes will also have implications for hardware and software teams invested in Apple’s ecosystem.

 

Apple CEO Tim Cook kicks off WWDC’s keynote. Image courtesy of Apple's YouTube channel.

 

Game Engineers and Developers Rejoice

We’re kicking things off with the Apple TV, notably, as the platform expands its foray into the gaming space. Apple has rolled out support for the Xbox controller, as well as PlayStation’s DualShock 4 controller. This hardware compatibility is sorely needed on a platform lacking intuitive gaming controls. Steam has recently launched their Steam Link app on Apple TV, bringing streamed console gaming to your living room. Similar functionality is also extended to iOS.

While these updates may seem consumer-focused, consider this: the player pool for these services has been expanded dramatically following yesterday’s announcements. Growing user bases incentivise continual game development. This allows engineers and developers to expand their reach into emerging markets via the Steam Link medium. Accordingly, we’re witnessing the rise of new hardware and software pairings.

These factors will encourage teams to design games that run harmoniously on wide swathes of new hardware. That includes compatibility with Apple TV’s own capabilities and those of various smart TVs worldwide. This will make gaming more accessible overall.

 

Bringing Enhanced Privacy Tools and IoT Safeguards

Apple’s ecosystem would mean little without easy integration of native app components and adherence to privacy best practices. Apple holds development teams responsible for protecting user data via App Store regulations. Guidelines instruct app makers to include key components aimed at preserving the benefits of macOS, iOS, iPadOS (more on this later), watchOS, and tvOS. Accordingly, Apple has taken this another step further in 2019 by introducing the Sign in with Apple API.


Software chief Craig Federighi waltzes on stage to discuss upcoming changes to iOS. Image courtesy of Apple's YouTube channel.

 

We’re accustomed to quick login buttons offered by Google and Facebook. Apple’s new approach gives developers the power to shelve these popular methods in favour of a native solution. Developers must now include a 'Sign in with Apple' login button in their apps. No personal data is collected nor stored remotely by outside entities—a welcome change.

Apple stepped into the IoT realm with HomeKit’s iOS 8 debut. Since then, the company has partnered with an ever-expanding list of companies to bring that framework to smart devices. However, these third-party devices often stream data to the cloud, where it’s analysed and stored on servers.

This information is vulnerable, a drawback which has formed the crux of the IoT’s criticism following its inception. Apple is taking steps to galvanise its HomeKit framework with the introduction of HomeKit Secure Video. Smart devices with HomeKit will now allow users to review and store data (like surveillance video) locally. Video feeds and other data are streamed to iCloud and scrambled. Early partnerships with Netatmo, Logitech, and Eufy are helping this technology hit the ground running.


Craig Federighi discusses common shortcomings of internet of things systems. Image courtesy of Apple's YouTube channel.

 

While device monitoring is possible on the go, Apple and third parties cannot read personal data. Accordingly, engineering teams will work with these APIs and frameworks to design-compliant systems. This also extends to a new industry: networking. Companies like Linksys, Eero, and Spectrum are creating new HomeKit-enabled routers. These routers apply firewalls to connected HomeKit accessories, shielding them from attacks and vulnerabilities. In these cases, hardware and software teams will work in unison to create next-generation networking primed for the expansion of IoT.

 

“What’s a Computer?”

We alluded earlier to one of WWDC’s biggest surprises: the introduction of iPadOS. This adds an additional development fork to Apple’s ecosystem, relegating iOS to the iPhone, AirPods, HomePod, and iPod Touch. Apple’s iPads, as stated by Craig Federighi, are built using iOS as a foundation. However, additional features in iOS 13 make the new OS essential.

Third-party developers are able to integrate split view and other features into their iPad apps. Developers will now approach Apple’s tablet lineup with new goals and flexibility. In addition, they’ll be able to better utilise the iPad’s hardware with a more capable operating system.


The new iPad home screen, with tighter icons and pinned widgets.

 

Desktop-grade Safari brings web-development capabilities to the iPad, expanding its usability. Engineers and developers who utilise the iPad may now use it as an extended display. In addition, touch inputs via Apple Pencil are synced either wired or wirelessly to a connected desktop - a boon for productivity. The iPad also includes mouse support.

 

The New Mac Pro—Power for Professionals

As an engineer, developer, etc., you have these awesome new software capabilities at your disposal. What platform do you use to jump into serious work? For those with extremely-demanding workloads, Apple has released the new Mac Pro. It’s the Pro’s first design refresh since 2013—debuted a staggering 1,992 days after its predecessor. This is a workstation that even blows away the needs of prosumers. Animators, audio engineers, and those in technical or creative fields now have a computer that can handle any task imaginable. On the development side, these systems can even run numerous device emulators in tandem.


Tim Cook unveils the new Mac Pro, alongside the new Pro Display XDR.
 

Let’s run down the technical specifications:

  • Up to 28-core Intel Xeon processor (starting at 8 cores)
  • 6 ECC memory channels running at 2933MHz (12 DIMM slots)
  • Up to 1.5 terabytes of system memory
  • 8 internal PCIe slots (4 double, 3 single, ½ slot with I/O)
  • X16 PCIe connector, plus PCIe, DisplayPort, and power (form the “MPX” Module)
  • Up to 2 AMD Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs per MPX, with up to two MPX modules per system (single AMD Radeon 580X standard)
  • Infinity Fabric transfer link for Vega II Duo configuration, 5x faster than PCI bus
  • Up to 56 teraflops of graphics compute and 128GB HBM2 memory
  • Afterburner hardware acceleration for 6 billion pixels processed per second
  • 1.4kW power supply, 3-fan cooling system supported by robust heatsinks

That’s a staggering amount of power for even the most taxing workflows.

Enterprise options are available thanks to available rack-mounted configurations. The Mac Pro also supports up to 6 HDX cards and can power six 6K displays simultaneously. Apple states that rendering happens on the fly, meaning engineers won’t have to wait on their Mac. This facilitates faster project completion. Unity, Pixar, Foundry, Avid, RED, Autodesk, Adobe, Epic, and Blackmagic have announced support for the platform. These are major players in engineering and creative fields, a testament to how capable these new systems truly are. For example, the 28-core Pro can compile via LLVM, Clang, and compiler-rt 3.1 times faster than the previous generation Mac Pro. This increased productivity keeps teams agile.

The Mac Pro is designed to be modular and flexible. Users have 360-degree access to its internals for easy component swaps and customisations. This gives professionals unfettered freedom to select specific hardware that works for them.

 

MacOS Introduces Simple, Cross-Platform Development

MacOS is also receiving a major update.

Now named 'macOS Catalina', new enhancements to the OS are bringing major changes to the majority of Apple’s software products. We previously discussed Marzipan, a cross-platform development initiative. It seems that has been rebranded as Project Catalyst: Apple’s effort to streamline development across the Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

 

Craig Federighi introduces Catalyst, a cross-platform initiative.

 

Developers can easily port iPad apps to the Mac. The benefits of this are boundless. Development teams can maintain a unified codebase that contains minute differences based on the platform in question. This starts within Xcode. A simple Mac checkbox in your editor will automatically insert platform-specific UI/UX (user interface/user experience) elements into your code. This decreases development time, slashes testing time, and reduces pesky bugs. Catalyst aims to save engineers and developers time, money, and resources during the software development life cycle. One development team can maintain an app across all platforms. These benefits extend to third parties, who’ll also enjoy simplified processes.

 

Augmented Reality and Swift Enhancements

A leading technology currently, augmented reality (AR) seeks to redefine how we interact with our devices and surroundings. Apple has made impressive inroads with ARKit, and has now introduced ARKit 3. In addition, the company has developed RealityKit, a new framework focused on improved 3D modelling and engineering. Engineers now have a supplemental suite of features and effects. These aim to make experiences more immersive while unlocking lots of potential for development teams. These are available thanks to new APIs.

 

Apple’s visual compilation of new development and engineering features.

 

AR engineers have access to a new Reality Composer app on macOS, iOS, and iPadOS. This introduces expanded collections of objects and animations integral to interactive environments.

AR is intended to be as realistic as possible. Additional people-occlusion features facilitate the creation of immersive experiences. This rendering, in conjunction with native technologies like Metal, allows developers to include human subjects within life-sized visuals. This can extend to games and numerous other app types. Reactions and object rendering occurs in real time.

 

Introducing the SwiftUI Framework

Apple’s own programming language, Swift, is currently on version 5.0. However, Swift engineers and developers have occasionally grappled with Apple’s development tools. Which making apps for multiple devices was possible, that process wasn’t always simple. With the unveiling of SwiftUI, Apple is hoping to reverse that narrative.

As you might’ve guessed, SwiftUI is written in Swift and aims to massively condense the amount of code required to program apps. This makes testing and implementation a breeze, similar to Catalyst. The framework provides UI previews and updates in real time. It also introduces a drag-and-drop style of development, which is more approachable and intuitive. One-step conversions are a breeze, and Xcode automatically translates UI changes into real code within your editor.

App previews are available in different device views—even for the Apple Watch. If required, developers can port these pending apps to a live device and interact accordingly. This is exceptional on the engineering side, allowing for realistic testing and deployment. SwiftUI meshes well with Apple’s other frameworks and supports rapid UI construction. It also supports Dark Mode. Lastly, the framework is available across all platforms via a common API, assembling tools in one unified location. Swift UI aims to make development easier as Apple’s development ecosystem becomes friendlier overall.

 

Honourable Mentions

Siri integration is now available with third-party CarPlay apps, including Waze;

The Apple Watch has its own App Store, granting developers greater visibility; and

Environmental-monitoring tools are available for health-conscious developers and engineers, as demonstrated with Apple’s Noise app.

 

All in all, we’re excited to see other changes as they become available during Apple’s new development cycle. The ecosystem is quickly evolving, with numerous quality-of-life improvements for developers and engineers. Along with excellent hardware, 2019 and beyond are indeed promising.

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