WWDC Roundup: New Features, News App, iPad Multitasking, New Music Services

Maybe I'm easily impressed, but one more time I came away from an Apple event stunned by their vision. Apple is always moving ahead, making its products better and more useful and launching into new areas. The biggest surprises for me today were all the new iPad features in iOS 9, the News app, Siri's increased intelligence, the visionary breadth of Apple's music service, and a new worldwide radio station. Other announcements were as expected: native apps for the Apple Watch, transit directions in Maps, Apple Pay expansion, and more. Let's take a look at some of the details.

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Music

As expected, Apple announced a new subscription music service that will launch on June 30 in over 100 countries. It will cost $9.99 per month for individuals and $14.99 for up to six family members. Each family member will be able to have a separate account. With so many such services already available, how will Apple's be different? This is where the vision comes in. Apple's demo of the recommendations feature was impressive. You'll be able to quickly tap to identify genres and artists you like. Then based on that, on your existing playlists, and on music you've purchased, Music will make recommendations for playlists, artists, and albums. These recommendations are not simply computer-generated. Apple actually has handpicked experts that help determine recommendations and that help select what comes next when you're listening to music.

The Connect feature of Music is going to help Apple's new service really stand out. It lets artists connect with listeners. They will not only be able to release new music directly to iTunes, but also post comments, photos, and lyrics, post behind-the-scenes videos, and more — all of it happening within Apple's new Music app. Apple touted the app as unifying all the bits and pieces of your music-related life: music you own, music you want to listen to, recommendations for new music, keeping in touch with the artists, and more.

The biggest surprise was Beats 1, Apple's new 24/7 global radio station. It will offer music, interviews, guest hosts, news, and culture. In other words, a real radio station, with original content. The same radio station will be heard by everyone worldwide.

In introducing the new Music app and service, Tim Cook used Steve Jobs's signature "one more thing..." And it certainly was in keeping with the tradition of an exciting new direction.

News app

None of the rumors hinted at a News app, so this came as a complete surprise. I can't wait to use it. You start by indicating your areas of interest, and then the app serves up personalized news. But Apple has taken a Flipboard-like experience to a new level. The company has created a set of tools that publications can use to not only create attractive layouts, but also embed video, animation, photo galleries, and graphics. News from the publishers who use these tools will be well designed, but the app will also be able to pull in news from other sources. The app adapts to what you read and continually learns what content you favor. Apple is already working with many major publications, such as ESPN and Conde Nast, which will be making their 17 magazines available. The New York Times will provide 33 articles per day. The app will also offer content from local newspapers, blogs, and more. It will initially be available in the U.S., the U.K, and Australia.

Multitasking on iPad

There were a lot of rumors saying that the iPad would have split-screen capability, but what Apple has done is way beyond anything I could have imagined. Imagine watching a video on your iPad and then having a need to check your email. You'll be able to have the video keep playing in a small window that's superimposed over your Mail app. You can move the window around and resize it. So cool! Note, though, that this picture-in-picture feature is only available on the iPad Air 2. The other multitasking features are available on the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, and iPad mini 2 & 3. The split-screen demo was amazing. A new right sidebar is available called Slideover, if I heard correctly. You slide it out and can then have apps running independently in each window. You can resize it. And each window independently responds to gestures, such that you could scroll up in one while simultaneously scrolling down in the other. When you want to switch to full-screen view, you just slide one window off the screen. The iPad also has a new task switcher that shows the actual content of each app in a carousel fashion.

In addition, Apple has added a completely new feature to the iPad virtual keyboard. When you're editing, if you touch the keyboard with two fingers, it becomes a track pad. You can copy, paste, and move content around without your fingers ever leaving the keyboard. Apple has done a great job of rethinking facets of the iPad interface to make it much more useful, especially in the enterprise.

Native Apple Watch apps

As expected, Apple announced that developers will now able to create apps that will run natively on the Apple Watch. This is a big deal. Not only will apps be richer and more responsive, but it opens up the Apple Watch as a platform, unleashing the creativity of developers worldwide just as the iPhone did years earlier. As with the iPhone, it's likely that developers will come up with applications that Apple never dreamed of. 

Until now, Apple Watch apps ran on an iPhone and pushed bits of content to the watch. Now the apps will run on the watch itself. Plus, developers will get deeper access to Apple Watch functions than I imagined. For example, they'll be able to access the Taptic Engine, to access date from HealthKit, to create bits of data that users can choose to integrate into their watch faces, to have access to the watch's speaker and microphone and accelerometer, and to play video.

Perhaps the biggest implication is that, if I heard correctly, you won't need to have an iPhone nearby for the apps to function. Plus, if Wi-Fi is available, even the connected features will work without your iPhone needing to be in range.

Apple also added a lot of features to the built-in apps. In Timepiece you'll be able to add your own photos to a watch face. You can even select an album, and each time you look at your watch, you'll see a different photo from the album. You'll now be able to reply to emails, including using Siri to dictate your reply. The drawing feature will have multiple colors. The Pay app will now include new Apple Pay features such as rewards cards. As with iOS 9, you'll also get transit directions.

The Digital Crown will also have new functions, including Time Travel. For example, if you're looking at the weather and want to see what it will be like over the next 24 hours, you'll simply be able to scroll into the future with the digital crown. Tap it, and your back in the present.

Siri's increased intelligence

Siri will have a new user interface in iOS 9, and is getting quite a bit more intelligent. At a number of points during the event, Apple introduced new features of Siri. You'll be able to make requests such as: "Show my photos from last June from San Francisco." Then the photos will actually appear in the Siri screen itself in a line of thumbnails at the bottom that you'll be able to scroll through. 

Maps, Notes

Maps will now have transit directions, including bus, transit lines, and subway. In addition, the app will have a map of the station so that you know where you are and how long it will take you to get to the entrances and exits. And it will give walking directions. This will be available for 10 major cities worldwide and in over 300 cities in China. One interesting detail is that locations in Maps will now indicate whether the establishment accepts Apple Pay.

The Notes app will have a new toolbar with a range of formatting options. Plus, you'll easily be able to add photos, checklists, and content from other apps. Plus, the app will now have drawing tools.

Apple Pay

Passbook has now been renamed Wallet and can be used for credit and debit cards, reward cards, boarding passes, and more. Apple announced that you'll now be able to add store credit and debit cards as well as loyalty and reward cards. Wallet will automatically present the right card when you're in the store. Also, Apple Pay will be available in the UK in July at over 200,000 locations The eight most popular banks are participating.

So there's quite a lot we have to look forward to. iOS 9 will be available in July as a public beta and will be available in final form in the fall. The new version of watchOS will be available in the fall.

I think the biggest takeaways from today are the music service, Apple Watch as a platform, and multitasking on the iPad.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.