WWDC 2024 Review: Apple Makes Platforms Complex, Personal

iOS 18 Control Center at WWDC 2024

Apple’s long keynote at WWDC 2024 was full of surprises, some expected and others not. The big takeaway is that 2024 is a big year for Apple’s platforms, not least because they will now be powered by AI, i.e. Apple Intelligence. The meme-worthy name aside, AI isn’t all that’s big about Apple’s platforms this year. After years, it seems Apple is finally giving us the option to personalise our devices, making them truly ours. The sheer number of personalisation options is stunning for a company well-known for keeping tight control on its platforms. Whether it is the effect of the European Union’s rulings on big tech or just the constant memes from Android users it is unclear, but whatever the reason, 2024 is the year our devices are truly customisable.

However, with great power comes great complexity. If there was anything the WWDC 2024 keynote showed us, it is that personalising our devices is going to be very complex, and chaotic. The sheer number of options means that even for the most seasoned Apple device owners, building a personalised user interface is going to take time, and comes with a significant learning curve. There’s going to be a lot of experimentation before users get the right look and feel. Of course, this is something hardcore Android users have been used to for years, and perhaps explains why Apple was so reluctant to give us these features before now. That’s all in the past through. WWDC 2024 is about the future and the huge learning curve it brings.

iOS & iPadOS Customisation

Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi tried to make the customisation on iOS18 sound futuristic, but it was far from. With iOS18 and iPadOS 18, users can now place apps anywhere on the home screen, and most importantly tint apps and widgets to any colour of their choice. Yes, the platform opens up a colour picker allowing you to set saturation and hue to any colour on the planet. On the plus side, it means iOS 18 can now truly reflect your style, but on the downside, it means your home screen can turn out very ugly as Twitter users found out. If anything, Apple took Android’s Material You up a notch, expanding access to apps without any need for developer support. So whatever shade you pick, all apps and widgets on the home screen will have the tint effect applied. 

Home Screen tinting on iOS 18. Image: Apple
Home Screen tinting on iOS 18. Image: Apple

Likewise Control Center also got a massive upgrade, adding multiple pages and the ability to pick from a myriad range of toggles and sizes. In theory, this makes Control Center a powerful tool to change settings and access your most-used tools quickly. In practice, however, It means more swiping and tapping if you want to have more options. In essence, the new Control Center is a mix of an app launcher and Settings panel, so you can imagine just how many options it has. Setting this up isn’t going to be easy, especially for older users for Apple’s devices have traditionally been easy to use. Perhaps it is good then that Apple also brought the ability to control devices over FaceTime via SharePlay. 

There are also many other nifty personalisation features across iOS 18, iPadOS 18, and Apple’s other platforms. However, these two highlight the massive shift Apple has made at WWDC 2024. Users now have an unprecedented level of control over the platform, with the ability to make something that looks more like Android than iOS. The decision has led to backlash online, with plenty of social media users wondering why Apple would do such a thing. The answer to that is twofold. For one, Apple has been heavily criticised by its users for years for lacking what seemed like basic personalisation options. For another, it seems to be a tangible step forward for the company on its journey towards adopting artificial intelligence. As Apple said at the WWDC 2024 keynote, AI needs to be personalised. What better way to reflect that in the UI than to let users change every aspect of the interface? While these features may not have any direct effect on the way Apple Intelligence works, it is just an indication that the device is yours and works for you. 

Reflecting Beyond WWDC 2024

While a bulk of the personalisation features were limited to iOS18 and iPadOS18, WWDC 2024 did not completely ignore Apple’s other platforms. We did get some neat updates to visionOS, watchOS, macOS, tvOS, and audio devices, but none were as groundbreaking or visually stunning as iOS and iPadOS. In a way, a lot of what we got on iOS18/iPadOS18 was a reflection of Apple’s watchOS customisation options. It’s a clear sign the different teams at Cupertino are learning from each other. If you love having unique hues on your watch, your iPhone can now reflect that. Perhaps in time, so will your Mac. 

Whatever the future holds, it is clear that Apple is willing to give up more and more control, to both developers and users. This does alienate some users, many of whom might have relied on an iPhone or iPad because of its simplicity and straightforwardness. In the long run, though, Apple is opening up itself to users who want full control over their device experience. This isn’t just for those who jailbreak their devices, it is for those who would otherwise never consider iOS. Naturally, you can’t please everyone, but it seems like Apple doesn’t care anymore. 

Right now, Apple has loftier goals than the user interface. The splashy launch of Apple Intelligence at WWDC 2024 clearly indicates the future of Apple’s platforms. At launch, the AI system will remain limited to only a handful of devices, but even those that will support it are going to experience a radically different system of interaction. We will have more on this soon, once we get more information on how it works when it launches. For now, though, it is clear Apple envisions Siri as the primary interaction tool of the future. No more swiping, tapping, or typing. If the company does deliver on its promise, very soon you could get everything you need done right on your home screen.


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