This is the week of the World Wide Developer Conference, Apple's annual conference for people who write software for Apple products. Apple kicked off the event by announcing major upgrades to both of its flagship operating systems: Mac OS X, which powers Macs, and iOS, which powers iPhones and iPads. The releases included a slew of new features. Here are the most important among them.
Seamless integration of Mac and iPhone
Our digital lives are increasingly fragmented across multiple devices. We might be using the PC in the den one minute and an iPad in the kitchen the next. The next versions of Mac OS X and iOS will make that easier by allowing applications to "hand off" interactions from one device to another.
For example, you might start writing an email on your iPhone and then realize it would be easier to write it on your laptop. The new software will make this possible: your MacBook will notice the half-written email on your iPhone and give you the option to transfer it to your Mac. You'll even be able to use your Mac to answer calls to your iPhone, or dial your iPhone from your Mac.
Better onscreen keyboards
The onscreen keyboard on original iPhone was a breakthrough, but in the last seven years Apple's competitors have come up with innovations of their own. iOS 8 makes two major changes that Apple hopes will help Apple regain the keyboard lead. First, a new technology called QuickType attempts to guess which word the user will type next and allow her to select it with one tap. The technology learns the user's typing style, even customizing the selections depending on who she is talking to.
Users who aren't satisfied with the iOS keyboard will have the option to ditch it altogether. For the first time, iOS will support third-party keyboards.
Health and fitness tracking
Apple products have long been associated with athleticism ever since it partnered with Nike to add fitness-tracking features to the iPod. Apple hopes to expand on that franchise with a new service called HealthKit, which makes it easier for apps and accessories to share and manage data about the user's health, including blood pressure, weight, pulse rate, and more.
Apple also says it is working with leading health care providers to better integrate this data into the health care system, so your doctor can monitor your vital signs while you're at home.
Better photo management
For more than a decade, Apple's photo-management software has been centered around iPhoto, a clumsy app for the Mac. Apple is planning an ambitious overhaul of this scheme, using Apple's iCloud service to ensure that every photo you take is automatically synchronized across your devices. Every photo you take on your iPhone will automatically be available on your Mac.
Apple is also making it easier for users to edit their photos right on their iPhone or iPad.
Better performance and security
Apple is also making a series of under-the-hood improvements to its technology that will allow users to make faster and more secure software. A new technology called Metal dramatically accelerates the performance of 3D games on iPads and iPhones. That could bring PC-quality graphics to handheld devices.
Most significantly, Apple is ditching Objective C, the programming language that has been at the core of Apple's technologies for 15 years. The language replacing it, called Swift, has a number of new features that will benefit programmers. Most significant for users, it is designed to help programmers avoid making mistakes that produce security flaws.
Storage in the cloud
In the past, Apple's iCloud has allowed consumers to synchronize their music, calendars, and other personal data between their Macs, iPhones, and other devices. But now Apple is competing directly with Google Drive and Dropbox by introducing iCloud Drive, a service that will allow users to save any kind of file on one machine and have it automatically synchronize on their other devices.
It's worth taking this announcement with a grain of salt because Apple doesn't have a good track record . Indeed, the idea behind iCloud Drive isn't new at all. Fourteen years ago, Apple introduced a product called iDisk that did basically the same thing iCloud Drive is supposed to do today. But it never really took off, and Apple canned the service in 2012.
Manage everything in your home from your iPhone
Last month I wrote about how tiny computers could allow everything in our homes, from light bulbs to thermostats, to connect to the internet. The technology has a lot of potential, but there's also a serious problem: managing all these devices is a serious hassle. I argued that better software is needed to help consumers keep track of all the connected objects in their homes.
Apple is trying to fill that void with new software called HomeKit. It provides hardware and software developers with a standard platform for managing connected devices. It will allow users to do things like turn off all the lights in their home with a single tap.