The Apple of our AR: WWDC17
Alert: This has been written by an technology enthusiast so includes lots of technological terminology!
There was a lot of speculation about what would be announced by Apple this year at their annual World Wide Developers Conference. The rumours were around a refresh for iOS but more importantly hardware, which has been needed from a professional point of view for far too long. The latest release of the Mac Pro had been poorly received, causing all remaining stock of the old ‘cheese grater’ model to get snapped up by the animation and special effects studios, and there hasn’t yet been any high-end hardware released that matches current requirements for modern content creation. Robert Scoble, a blogger and ‘technical evangelist’, was convinced that something was coming in the AR and VR space months ago. He is known for having an amazing spidey sense and knows the market.
So when WWDC17 rolled around, it was revealed that Apple have been listening - and have really paid attention! There have finally been some real upgrades to the iMac range, including a new product - the iMac Pro - with some amazing specifications. Another interesting release was the graphics enclosure, which offloads from the Macbook Pro for heavy-duty GPU tasks. Finally, creatives can move back to the Mac products for creating AV and VR content, and an update with Metal2 brings much needed functionality.
Now onto the really fun stuff. Craig Federighi, senior VP of Software Engineering, took the audience through some of the great new features landing in macOS High Sierra. Apple File System brings more stability and speed, Safari has some improvements that people have been asking for (like the ability to stop video autoplay on sites). However, the best feature by far has to be the ability to use Thunderport 3 to access external graphics processors via an enclosure. That is a real game changer. Since the Mac Pro replaced the old professional hardware, people have been as limited with the desktop offerings as laptop users, unable to swap out the graphics card for the faster and more powerful offerings that came to market. Thankfully, it now appears that there is a halfway house. This really opens up the option of using your Macbook Pro to create professional content.
Back to the iMac. The range needed a serious boost after what felt like years of neglect, and it looks like we got it. Newer generation CPUs, better memory configuration options and faster GPUs. But it was all about the reveal of the new product - the iMac Pro. A true powerhouse aimed at serious content creators, it has enough power to keep up with the requirements of heavy VR and AR processing workloads. The new extended magic keyboard with its numerical keys is also a very welcome addition. Most pros I know plug in the wired extended keyboard or use a third party offering, so this is going to go down a treat. The limitations are still as you would expect with an iMac, but at least you can order a configuration that you know will last for a decent amount of time.
It was announced that Steam VR is coming to Mac - how has this taken this long?! Unreal Engine and Unity supporting VR creation on macOS. Wow! It’s taken far too long, but it appears Apple have been listening to popular demand – and they have suddenly caught up in one hit.
ARKit for MacOS and baked into iOS11 is already making waves since beta release. It’s allowing creatives to really see what’s possible, and will bring Augmented Reality to the masses. A couple of lovely examples of fun and practical uses:
The other product that interested me was the HomePod. As an Amazon Echo user since the developer trials I’ve embedded their virtual assistant “Alexa” into my daily life. New features are added frequently and I’m convinced I’ll put weight on now that I don’t have to stand up to control the lights, or even reach for the remote to command the TV. Homepod is very late to the game, but as with anything Apple, it will change the market. They have clearly priced it into the Sonos range and made a big deal out of the impressive sound quality it produces. Price-wise, is it worth two Amazon Echo, or three Google Home devices just for one Apple product? Well, probably, knowing their build quality, but I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one to find out.
Last but not least, Siri, the virtual AI assistant, has received a big boost in the latest update and it’s clear that Apple have been watching what has worked for Amazon.
So when you shout “Hey, Siri?” who will answer? Your HomePod or your iPhone?
Excited to get stuck in.
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