Apple’s new operating systems offer more, fail to excite
Several welcome additions to iOS, iPadOS and macOS but the company is clearly struggling to compete or impress
Can a small list of noteworthy additions mark the release of a new operating system as interesting, let alone exciting? It’s a question that’s been asked before in the context of an Apple WWDC event, yes, but it may truly summarize what one feels while gathering all the information unveiled during the 2022 one that just concluded. Some expectations were met, some were not. Some features managed to surprise, most did not. For some of the features demonstrated it’s too early to express an opinion, for others it’s easy to say whether they’ll be of practical value to most people or not.
It’s a weird mix that literally confuses at first. Then it all becomes painfully clear: maybe it’s because of all the leaks of the previous months, maybe it’s because of all the blatantly obvious additions, maybe it’s because of all the “borrowed” features seen on other platforms before, but it’s just hard to feel any kind of enthusiasm about Apple’s newest operating systems. Small, predictable steps forward are welcome, of course, certainly as opposed to no progress at all. But because it’s been like this — the small, predictable steps forward — for such a long time now, boredom has set in, making excitement almost unattainable. It’s just… sad.
Take, for instance, the most important addition to iPadOS: the Stage Manager, which finally allows for overlapping and resizable windows, offering a “desktop” of sorts for the first time in iPad’s history. We’ve been asking for this so desperately, for such a long time that, well, now that it’s coming to M1 iPads, us owners of those models (especially the Pro ones) are already dreaming about proper macOS apps, not overblown iPhone apps. It’s just taken too long for Apple to listen to its customers. Simple as that.
To its credit, Apple seems to finally acknowledge the disgruntled iPad Pro crowd, as it has added proper support to external displays, an improved File Manager, virtual memory, as well as FreeForm, a “blank canvas” of real-time collaboration for work teams. But the Weather app finally making it to iPadOS (insert your Calculator joke of preference here), as well as improvements to Mail or Safari or Notes that others have implemented long ago, just goes to show that Apple is still very much a follower in software, not a leader.
That is even more evident in the new iOS 16: its signature feature is none other than the customization of the lock screen, something which Android users have been officially enjoying for almost a decade (even more than that unofficially). It looks nice — even if it’s still done “the Apple way” of course — and it’s a breath of fresh air in the context of an operating system that has not seen any significant change for quite a long time now, but still: it’s telling that we have to celebrate this as a headline feature. At least it offers enough options and possibilities (when developers release enough real-time widgets for this) to make it more than a cosmetic addition.
Updates to Messages, Mail, Safari, etc. feel as obvious and necessary here as in iPadOS 16. There’s a whole list of smaller changes and new bits that do add up, making life easier for iPhone owners here and there, but the very fact that this will go down as “the lockscreen update” speaks volumes. Apple needs to sit down, take a long hard look at iOS and start thinking about a complete overhaul at some point. Billions of consumers have grown accustomed to it, yes, but it’s clear that the company can’t just keep adding extra functionality to an aging core and UI for much longer. As a long-time iPhone user, yours truly shudders at the thought of major changes in iOS too, but it has to happen sooner rather than later.
Apple’s macOS Ventura, on the other hand, did not really need much of an overhaul because… well, how does one significantly change a computer OS without breaking it? So we get the Stage Manager (a visual way to multitask more efficiently but… we’ll have to see about that), all the much-needed improvements in Spotlight, Mail, Safari, Messages, Facetime etc. as well as much better hardware support for advanced graphics in games through Metal 3 on M1 models. Total surprise: the ability to use an iPhone main camera as a webcam for Facetime on macOS with the help of specially designed attachments for laptop or desktop screens. An idea borrowed from third-party programs, yes, but free and thus great for consumers who own a Mac and an iPhone (of which there are obviously many).
Apple also announced watchOS 9 (focusing mainly on health-tracking and sports-related features) while mentioning nothing about tvOS (a new version is still coming with user profiles and better cross-device connectivity with other Apple products). The Americans also mentioned extensive support for Matter, the new smart home standard we all look forward to as a possible solution to the troubles of that market and its multiple non-compatible ecosystems. Apple has actually redesigned its Home app in order to highlight the importance it would like iPhones and iPads to have in the future in the context of smart home integration.
All operating systems are now offered in beta form to developers while iOS, iPadOS and macOS will be getting a public beta in July. Apple confirmed that they will all be offered to consumers during the fall. Here’s hope that the overall quality of each and every one of those — speed, stability, reliability — will actually be their most impressive feature. It would be nice for a change, no?