Not Everyone Is a Plumber, Tim

My thoughts on Apple's WWDC 2016 conference

For Apple enthusiasts last week was a big week – the week of the annual Apple Developers conference known as WWDC. As always, this year’s opening keynote was chocked full of news on all of Apple’s major software platforms. Below I give you just the takeaways I found most interesting from that two hour session1. After that I’ll take to my soap box and explain the title of this post.

Sweating Pipes

watchOS 3

  • In this third release of watchOS, the Apple Watch will finally perform the way it always should have from the beginning. No new hardware was announced, but the underlying design of WatchOS has been revamped to make the watch feel much snappier. According to Apple, apps now load nearly 7 times faster. I watched the demo closely. Apps did load virtually instantly, which tells me that what’s likely going on is that they are simply preloading them. Instead of loading them from scratch as before, it’s just a matter of switching to them while they’re already running.
  • Better navigation. The previously useless side button located under the digital crown now accesses a new “Dock” feature to make app switching quick and easy. The question that remains in my mind, however, is how many people are really using more than small handful of watch apps? Will the Dock matter?
  • Glances, previously accessible by swiping up from the bottom, are now interactive, which really makes them not glances anymore. They are now just a more streamlined way to interact with watch apps. Glances always felt a little clumsy to me, so I think this was a very good change.
  • Control Center, which could sometimes be devilishly hard to find, now works just like on iPhone; just a swipe up from the bottom of the watch. They layout has been redesigned so that the battery level is now included. Very nice.
  • Replying to text messages has also been streamlined nicely with the removal of the need to tap on “Reply”. Scribble is a new way to draw your response letter by letter, which will be great when the standard quick replies won’t do, or you can’t use dictation.
  • New watch faces: Minnie Mouse, with multiple outfit colors, and 3 new watch faces featuring the Activities Rings. Switching faces has also been simplified to just a simple swipe gesture.
  • SOS. Pressing and holding the side button will now automatically call 911, and afterwards send text messages to your important contacts, complete with map information showing your current location. It is country-aware, so it will dial the correct 911 equivalent wherever you are.
  • All new fitness and health apps, including a deep breathing app.
  • Easier access to the stopwatch and timers.

tvOS

I’m still clinging to my first generation Apple TV, so I’m not an expert here, but I did pick up these on the Apple TV front:

  • Dark Mode, which will make the menu system much easier on the eyes when watching TV in a darkened room.
  • Single Sign-on can be set up to automatically log into Netflix and other paid content services.
  • iPhone Remote.  All of the features of the Siri remote for Apple TV have been baked into an app for the iPhone.

macOS

  • From this point forward, Mac OS X will now simply be called “macOS”, which makes complete sense based on the names of the other platforms.
  • Universal Clipboard.  Apple demonstrated on stage the copying of text and graphics on an iPad and then copying into a document on a nearby iMac.  Very cool.
  • Proximity Unlock. For those with an Apple Watch, you will no longer have to enter your password to access your MacBook or iMac. If you’re wearing your watch, you can be automatically logged in when you open the laptop or otherwise wake up the machine.
  • Siri has now come to macOS. This will definitely be a time saver when searching for files. “Show me Excel files I worked on last week.” is a thing you can tell Siri to do.
  • Apple Pay has come aboard as well, with the ability to pay with Touch ID when shopping on the web. Selected web sites only, of course.

iOS 10

  • Lock Screen Raise to Wake. Instead of having to use Touch ID or type in your passcode, iOS 10 on newer iPhones will give you access to the following things when you simply pick up the phone:
    • Calendar
    • Messages
    • Camera
    • Apps with Today Screen widgets, e.g. Uber

What was a bit unsettling here was the fact that apparently anyone picking up your phone would have access to all of this. In other words, they could pick up your phone and respond to your messages or call for a car! I like the convenience, but it feels like something I may need to disable for security’s sake. Experimenting with the beta version will hopefully calm my nerves about this. Surely this can be locked down.

  • Siri has expanded capabilities, too much to detail here, the point being that Siri continues to improve.
  • QuickType is smarter about guessing what you’re trying to type and can now also predict appropriate emojis for you.
  • Photos now does facial and object recognition. Using these new capabilities, it can now also apparently examine your photos and videos and assemble “Memories” for you. Sort of like smart photo albums set to music, but automagically created.
  • Messages has been improved with a lot of fun things like emoji substitution for any words it recognizes, and “bubble” effects which can add animated effects to your texts.
  • Safari split views allow two web sites to be viewed side-by-side.

Now About That Title…

Tim Cook came on stage at the close of the keynote to talk about Swift Playgrounds, and without getting into the weeds too far, I’ll just say it’s an app that’s ostensibly designed to teach anyone, particularly children, how to write software. To quote Tim:

“Coding should be a required language in all schools.”

Tim’s wrong for two reasons. First of all, coding isn’t a language. Coding is done in a language, and there are scads of them beyond Swift that one could learn. Second, and this is my major point: not everyone is cut out to be a computer programmer. Sorry Tim.

We’re not all wired for coding any more than we are all wired to be plumbers, electricians, carpenters, nurses, accountants, pastors, or brain surgeons. Perhaps Tim’s (Apple’s) intent is that the basic logical concepts that underly programming should be a part of everyone’s education. That much I agree with, but that’s not what was said on stage. Put differently, should every child know how to apply a band-aid? Yes. But does that mean every child need attend K-12 versions of pre-med classes? No.

Apple is selling hardware platforms that need software written for them. Lots of software. So fostering education in software development makes total sense for those who have the aptitude for it, but that is not everyone and never will be.  

I was shown how to sweat pipes when I was a teenager, and you know what I learned? I’m not a plumber. I can do it, but it’s not something I should be doing. My natural talents lie elsewhere. Exposing kids to software development is a good thing insofar as it is used as a way to determine who has the aptitude for it. Forcing the notion that everyone should be a coder, however, is naïve. It ignores the basic fact that we are all individuals with different skills and abilities.

Computer programming isn’t like reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s a very specialized skill just like any other trade or profession, and I quite frankly am extremely tired of people marginalizing it, including Apple’s CEO.

That notwithstanding, it’s going to be an exciting year for Apple device owners.


  1. Which wasn’t everything, believe it or not.