05 Jun Apple WWDC 2018 Recap: Siri Gets A Badly Needed Shot Of Adrenaline

Apple Event logo.

This week I’m attending Apple WWDC 2018 in San Jose. Day 1’s keynote was an entirely software-based affair, surprising some who were expecting to see more hardware-related announcements or refreshes of current products. Apple executives took to the stage at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center to announce numerous (if incremental) enhancements to its iOS, tvOS, watchOS and MacOS platforms designed to optimize the overall Apple user experience. In this column, I’m confining my commentary to the smart home and home automation news from WWDC.

Siri starts to grow up

From a smart home/home automation perspective, there is no question that one of Apple’s key focus areas in 2018 is making Siri more compelling and productive. To that end, Apple announced it is now allowing developers much deeper integration with iOS 12 and MacOS Mojave. Third-party apps can now build “shortcuts” that allow Siri to execute popular quick actions. A great example of this was the actual WWDC demo—a user could simply say the shortcut, “Hey Siri, I lost my keys,” activating the popular Tile tracking device.

New Shortcuts app

Apple also announced a new Shortcuts app as part of iOS 12 that lets consumers tie together multiple steps into a single, prescriptive Siri request. Yes, it is not dissimilar to what Amazon and Google  has already been doing for some time with their smart assistant solutions (not to mention that this functionality exists with the third party IFTTT app), but this capability will be a boon to consumers who want to easily automate mundane, routine tasks. Shortcuts could also be used to help proactively plan for your day. For example, if you were about to go to the beach, Siri might suggest that you check the weather and remember to bring a beach towel with you.

Shortcuts also dovetails nicely with Siri’s Suggestion feature, which uses a form of machine learning embedded in iOS 12 to make suggestions: perhaps reminding you to text someone if you’re running late to an engagement, or turning on Do Not Disturb mode if you’re about to watch a movie. Siri has a reputation of not being up to par with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa from a “smarts” perspective, with its current inability to natively perform multistep routines. If executed properly, Siri Suggestions and Shortcuts could go a long way to restoring Siri’s reputation as a worthy smart assistant.

tvOS Takes on the cable box

Apple also made several important announcements with Apple TV and tvOS—possibly the clearest sign yet that the giant wants to get in on the recent cord-cutting phenomenon plaguing satellite and cable providers. Apple announced that its Apple TV 4K model will now support Dolby Atmos, a move that will complement iTunes’ expansive (and supposedly the industry’s largest) library of 4K titles. Briefly demonstrated at WWDC, Dolby Atmos allows sound to move around in three-dimensional space, generating an impressively immersive experience.

In what will probably be perceived as a shot across the bow in the paid cable/satellite wars, Apple announced a partnership with Charter Spectrum to access live channels and paid content through a dedicated Apple TV channel, eliminating the need for a traditional cable box. Coupled with Apple’s newly-announced “zero sign-in” capability that allows users to connect to their cable provider’s apps without requiring a password, it’s clear that Apple is focused on streamlining the cord-cutting experience. In this analyst’s view, it’s only a matter of time until Apple actually incorporates live local TV content into the Apple TV user experience.

The new Group FaceTime.

tvOS Takes on the cable box

Apple also made several important announcements with Apple TV and tvOS—possibly the clearest sign yet that the giant wants to get in on the recent cord-cutting phenomenon plaguing satellite and cable providers. Apple announced that its Apple TV 4K model will now support Dolby Atmos, a move that will complement iTunes’ expansive (and supposedly the industry’s largest) library of 4K titles. Briefly demonstrated at WWDC, Dolby Atmos allows sound to move around in three-dimensional space, generating an impressively immersive experience.

In what will probably be perceived as a shot across the bow in the paid cable/satellite wars, Apple announced a partnership with Charter Spectrum to access live channels and paid content through a dedicated Apple TV channel, eliminating the need for a traditional cable box. Coupled with Apple’s newly-announced “zero sign-in” capability that allows users to connect to their cable provider’s apps without requiring a password, it’s clear that Apple is focused on streamlining the cord-cutting experience. In this analyst’s view, it’s only a matter of time until Apple actually incorporates live local TV content into the Apple TV user experience.