Thoughts on the WWDC 2017 Keynote

I was at yesterday’s WWDC keynote and am excited by much of what Apple announced. I’ll have more information specific to accessibility later this week, but for now, I wanted to share my assorted thoughts on some of the things I saw sitting in the audience.

iOS 11 and App Store. Although Apple downplayed it during the presentation, iOS 11 has undergone a fairly substantial redesign. From what I could glean via screenshots and my time with the 10.5” iPad Pro in the hands-on area (more on it later), a bulk of the system apps (e.g., Mail) have adopted the visual style pioneered by Music and Apple News. That is to say, bold, big text headers with more button-y buttons and higher contrast iconography. In terms of visual accessibility, this is a huge win. In particular, the headers will give visually impaired users a more concrete sense of place; this type of cue helps orient someone to a point in an interface—having “All Inboxes” in big, bold font is better than the less obvious paradigm of what exists in iOS 10 currently. It makes navigation easier.

The App Store changes are similarly dramatic. There are thicker, higher contrast buttons (e.g., Get) everywhere in the app. Furthermore, the card-like UI for apps look like it’ll be easier to see app icons. I will find out if the new App Store has pervasive support for Dynamic Type, but I sure hope it does.

The 10.5” iPad Pro. I’m really interested in this new iPad. As I tweeted yesterday, it seems to me to be the “Goldilocks” iPad. It has a big enough screen to fit everything on screen while at the same time being small enough to hold comfortably. I love the 12.9” iPad Pro for the ginormous display, but there’s no getting around the fact it’s a monster physically. I got a chance to briefly handle one in the hands-on area, and came away very impressed. The only thing that I’d miss if I switch from the Biggie Pro is the large virtual keyboard. I like having the space to type on the larger screen, but it’s not mandatory. I’ll need to use the 10.5” Pro to actually judge.

iOS 11 iPad Enhancements. As someone whose primary work machine is an iPad, the new functionality coming in iOS 11 is exciting. The demos were impressive, and I’m looking forward to try out these features. Drag-and-drop, the Dock, and the Files app are all highlights.

ARKit and VR. A couple of years ago, I got a demo of the Oculus Rift. It was interesting, but I wasn’t amazed by it. I didn’t like how the headset completely shielded me from the real world, and much of the content wasn’t very accessible. That said, I passed on the VR demos in the hands-on area yesterday. Conversely, I like that Apple is laying the foundation for its future ambitions with augmented reality. I personally believe AR has more usable potential than VR for accessibility, especially in a navigational context. That said, it’ll be interesting to watch ARKit evolve over time. To me, the inclusion of this framework is similar to the addition of size classes in iOS 8 in 2014, insofar that it hints at Apple’s future product roadmap. (The large-screened iPhone 6/6 Plus were introduced that fall.) ARKit isn’t a novelty item; it has a purpose that we can’t see yet, but Apple obviously does. The APIs exist for a reason.

HomePod. I think I would have preferred “Siri Speaker” be the name for this product, but I understand how “HomePod” ties into Apple’s past with the iPod and music, as well as the EarPods and AirPods branding. The accessibility story of this speaker will be interesting; voice has challenges that need to be accounted for too.

Accessibility in the Hands-On Area. More observation than criticism here. In my experience at Apple events, it seems the Apple staff in the hands-on area aren’t so nimble at fielding accessibility-centric questions. I realize it likely isn’t a focus of the other journalists in the room, but it would be nice to see Apple add another layer of knowledge for reporters like myself who’d be curious right after a presentation. Still, the hands-on time experience is valuable to me, as I find it helps jump-start my brain into thinking more deeply about a product. I’d also like it if the hands-on areas had better lighting. It’d make it easier to get around the room and see the products.