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Apple's third act will keep entertaining

Jason Snell | June 5, 2014
There's a certain script to these Apple developer conference keynotes: Act One is a boring set of business updates about how well Apple is doing. Act Two is a dazzling set of new features added to its two operating systems, OS X and iOS. And finally, Act Three is the promise of great technical detail of interests to the developers who will be staying at the convention center all week, as opposed to the press who scurry away as soon as the keynote music fades.

Take, for example, opening up the iOS keyboard to outside developers. That doesn't seem particularly earth-shattering, especially since Apple announced that it's upgrading the standard iOS keyboard with an intelligent autocomplete bar. Yes, this announcement means that popular alternate methods of input like Swype and SwiftKey will make their way from Android to iOS. But what's tantalizing is that thousands of iOS developers will be thinking of clever new ways to use that keyboard. Will 1Password offer a keyboard that's linked to its database of passwords? Will someone create a keyboard designed specifically for people who speak in Emoji? I'm trying to come up with wacky examples here, but that's sort of the point — the real-life examples will probably be wackier and weirder and more wonderful than I can possibly imagine.

Endless possibilities

Of course, the keyboard is just the beginning. Developers will also be able to add their apps to sharing buttons throughout the system, enabling cross-app communication that's unwieldy or impossible today. You'll be able to bring up portions of one app inside another for the very first time on iOS, making the experience for users that much richer. Your favorite photo-filter apps (right now mine is Camera Noir) can work right inside the Camera app. Apps can modify the contents of Safari windows, making the Web-browsing experience better. And of course, apps can display widgets in Notification Center, letting you get small bits of information without launching the complete app.

It's easy to think of the most obvious uses for these features, and on the day iOS 8 is released, I imagine that there will be an avalanche of apps supporting those features. But then it's going to get interesting. Apple will release iOS 8 and walk away, but developers will continue noodling, exploring these features and trying out new approaches. Over the next year, there will be innovations that surprise and delight users, and they won't be trapped inside a single app interface — they will be able to spread themselves across many more parts of the iOS interface.

The developers I've talked to at WWDC are incredibly excited about the possibilities, especially in iOS 8. That excitement now is going to translate to some pretty amazing stuff come September — and on into 2015.

 

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