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This Week in Apps, Apple WWDC review: Blurred lines, new APIs and a brand-new Lock Screen

This Week in Apps is the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

  • Posted on 11th Jun, 2022 19:03 PM
This Week in Apps, Apple WWDC review: Blurred lines, new APIs and a brand-new Lock Screen Image

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. App Annie says global spending across iOS and Google Play is up to $135 billion in 2021, and that figure will likely be higher when its annual report, including third-party app stores in China, is released next year. Consumers also downloaded 10 billion more apps this year than in 2020, reaching nearly 140 billion in new installs, it found.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that was up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

WWDC Wrap-up

This week, Apple wrapped up its first in-person WWDC since the pandemic began, and while there were no big surprises — like the first look at Apple’s AR smartglasses, for example — the company did announce a solid lineup of new products, services and software. It introduced new MacBook Airs and Pros, its M2 CPU, updated operating systems, Xcode Cloud and tons more developer tools.

Blurred lines

Image Credits: Apple

One theme that jumped out was how Apple is continuing to blur the lines between its different platforms. In macOS Ventura, it’s turning the System Preferences app into a new System Settings app, which looks just like the Settings app you’d find on the iPhone. Meanwhile, Apple’s new iOS 16 Lock Screen is gaining widgets that are inspired by Apple Watch’s complications — and in fact, developers can use the latest version of WidgetKit to build for both the Lock Screen and Watch using the same code.

M1 iPads running iPadOS 16 can take advantage of external displays and the clever multitasking feature, Stage Manager — one of the more exciting software developments to emerge from the event. Stage Manager offers resizable, floating and overlapping windows, plus a way to organize other apps’ windows off to the left side of the screen. It represents one of the biggest pushes yet to make the iPad more of a replacement for a computer, and less of a big-screened iPhone — hence the increased demand for processing power. But now the question users must ask is whether they need a computer at all, or would an iPad and an extra screen do?

Image Credits: Apple

And though Apple didn’t show off any big new projects in terms of hardware, there were suggestions that it’s working toward an AR future when it announced the new ability to integrate ARKit with its Nearby Interaction framework, allowing developers to build more directionally aware AR-powered apps that seem to lay the groundwork for its rumored AR smartglasses.

Plus, for everyone who still dreams of an Apple Car reveal, Apple instead gifted us an updated version of CarPlay that sees Apple working with automakers to integrate a new version of CarPlay that extends to the vehicle’s entire instrument cluster, instead of just the infotainment system. Hopefully, this is not what the rumors meant by an Apple Car! Of course, it will be years before this is actually available to consumers in their vehicles.

Image Credits: Apple

iOS 16 gets messy updated

As for iOS 16, Apple’s Lock Screen update and personalization features are the stars of the latest release. On the one hand, it’s great to have easier access to glanceable information that doesn’t require you to first unlock your iPhone. The new “Live Activities” will be useful too, as they can telegraph real-time information — like an approaching Uber or the latest sports scores — directly to your Lock Screen. This could minimize the need to launch apps for quick updates.

Access to this new screen real estate could inspire a new category of apps, too — the way that the launch of Home Screen widgets drove new apps like Widgetsmith and Brass to the top charts.

But on the other hand, I have this nagging feeling that the iPhone’s user interface is starting to get a little too messy and overcomplicated, while other parts of the experience are undercooked.

Image Credits: Apple

For starters, you can now customize your iOS 16 Lock Screen with a long press that pops you into a new editor interface where you can pick from Apple’s own photos and live wallpapers or your own images, then select your Lock Screen’s widgets, fonts and colors.

Given this new feature is all about redesigning your iPhone’s main interface, it’s disappointing to see Apple failed to deliver a variety of options for beautiful, built-in wallpapers. By comparison, the latest Android release includes some dozen-plus themed wallpaper collections, each with numerous images, as well as a large collection of animated wallpapers. Apple’s default options are embarrassing by comparison. Live weather and space wallpapers? Emojis? A single Pride rainbow option? Those same bouncing bubbles we’ve had for years? Even the options that are new don’t feel very inspired.

Considering Apple is asking us to think about our iPhone’s interface design with this feature, it missed the chance to blow us away with new imagery as the centerpiece for our custom designs which then coordinate with all the new widgets, fonts and colors as fully fleshed-out themes. (And don’t even get me started on how Apple’s app icons don’t match our new themes!)

Image Credits: Apple

Then there are the notifications that now scroll up from the bottom — but only on the Lock Screen. If your phone is unlocked, you still pull down from the top. Frankly, I’ve never liked that there are two different screens to see based on which side of the iPhone notch you pull down from at the top of the screen. It’s personal preference, of course — but I think Android does this better with its own control center that sits above the notifications, all in one view that’s pulled down from the top.

It’s not that we can’t learn to adapt to all these changes and new gestures; it’s just that it feels like it’s time to simplify these things.

For instance, now that we have Home Screen and Lock Screen widgets, it’s probably time to ask if the right-swipe gesture to unlock the “Today View” is something that still needs to exist? It feels like unnecessary clutter at this point. (Sorry Today View fans.)

It’s also much more confusing than it should be to set a different background for your Lock Screen than for the Home Screen, since doing so isn’t a function of the new Lock Screen editor. Instead, you have to return to Settings to adjust the Home Screen’s wallpaper.

In other words, Apple seems to have approached the Lock Screen makeover as if it’s some standalone entity to customize instead of part of a larger iPhone theme and design system. That needs to change. And yes, I am going to point out that by the time the new iOS 16 Lock Screen launches, Android’s theming system and design language Material You will be a year old. You know, the one that lets you personalize the entire Android interface including the lock screen, notifications, settings, widgets, interface elements and even apps. We are not going to talk about how long Android has had widgets.

But yay, new Lock Screen I guess!

Image Credits: Apple

New APIs and developer tools

As for the new developer tools, there were some interesting updates emerging from this year’s WWDC.

Notable new APIs included RoomPlan — to tap into lidar for scanning indoor spaces; WeatherKit — a Dark Sky replacement that offers 500,000 calls/mo free with your Apple developer membership, then pricing that starts at $49.99/mo; LiveText to grab text from photos and paused video frames (video!!!); Focus filters — to show users relevant information based on the Focus mode they’re in; PassKeys to replace passwords with Face ID or Touch ID; ARKit 6, now with 4K video; Metal 3, WidgetKit; App Intents and others.

Image Credits: Apple

What’s great about these tools is that they offer the ability to not just build better apps, but build different types of apps, in some cases. That’s needed, because the App Store doesn’t feel as fresh and exciting as it did in earlier years when we were excited about the concept of running apps on a phone. APIs unlock developer innovation and we’re looking forward to seeing what these new APIs inspire.

Another interesting addition was Developer Mode, which could be laying the groundwork for sideloading if Apple is forced to allow this against its will — though today that’s not the case. Keep an eye on this one.

Image Credits: Apple

There was a lot more from WWDC, including useful updates to Apple’s own apps like being able to unsend messages, schedule emails, pay for purchases later with Apple Pay, track weather natively on iPad, keep up with your medication in the Apple Health app, use the Fitness app without an Apple Watch, better control your smart home and other updates — including little iOS 16 features Apple didn’t even tell us about.

And it teased a forthcoming app, Freeform, that’s an open, collaborative notetaking app that works with Apple Pencil.

This Week in Apps, Apple WWDC review: Blurred lines, new APIs and a brand-new Lock Screen View Story

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