WWDC21 Round Up

Drew Fitzpatrick

4 min read

Jun 11, 2021

WWDC21 Round Up

This year Apple teased a packed WWDC with over 200 sessions. Monday’s (2-hour long!) Keynote moved at breakneck speed, and the Platforms State of the Union gave us a glimpse into what we’ll be learning about for the rest of the week. Let’s survey what’s new and exciting this week.

Like everyone here at BNR, I’m a nerd. So, of course, I immediately want to dive into new developer tools.

Developer Tools

The biggest updates that developers will experience daily are the new Swift Concurrency features. Async/await and Actors are two new, powerful tools that are landing in Swift 5.5 and Xcode 13. You can see Apple’s commitment to these new features in the APIs. Async versions of functions have been added to many of the frameworks you already use, such as Foundation’s URLSession. There’s also @MainActor which is a new way to specify that an asynchronous function or property access must run on the main thread. You can now get compiler errors for wrongly multi-threaded code, like trying to update UI state off of the main thread! This is huge!

Xcode 13 has a fresh coat of paint, with much deeper integration with source control platforms like GitHub. You can create pull requests inside Xcode and see code review comments inline and even reply without leaving Xcode.

Apple’s also launching Xcode Cloud, a continuous integration and delivery platform deeply embedded into Xcode and TestFlight. You can set up builds to deploy and tests to run on different branches of your project, all inside Xcode’s UI. I’m surely not going to miss poking at YAML files.

Swift projects get a new tool for generating documentation: DocC, the Documentation Compiler. Markdown documentation comments in your Swift code can now be compiled into richly formatted documentation pages (à la the Apple Dev Docs) that you can distribute to users of your APIs or even just within your own team.

I’ve waited so long for this one: the new Swift Playgrounds for iPad. Entire SwiftUI apps can be built, tested, and deployed to the App Store directly from your iPad. Even more than before, Swift Playgrounds will be an amazing tool for getting started with iOS development. It’s basically a mini-Xcode, and it looks so fun for those weekend side-projects I’ve been meaning to get around to.

iOS 15

Apple opened the Keynote by introducing us to iOS 15, with a focus on shared experiences. SharePlay is a new feature that allows users in a FaceTime call to have shared experiences, such as seamlessly watching videos together. Video content isn’t the only thing SharePlay supports. The GroupActivities framework allows developers to build app features that users can share live over FaceTime. Definitely check out the SharePlay and GroupActivities sessions this week.

The next focus for iOS 15 is… Focus. This is an expansion of Do Not Disturb that allows you to customize your notifications and Home Screen to hide unnecessary distractions based on contexts you create. The API change to pay attention to here is the updates to notification importance and the new Notifications Summary powered by on-device intelligence. Developers can now specify the importance level of each notification so that users are only interrupted by notifications that are relevant to them at the time. This will be a great way to keep users engaged without annoying them into disabling notifications entirely for your app.

There’s still so much more in iOS, but I’ll move on for now.

iPadOS 15

The iPad gained some extra features in addition to those in iOS 15. Widgets can now be used on the iPad Home Screen, along with a new extra-large widget size that’s exclusive to the iPad. Adding widgets to your app is even more of a good idea this year. Your newly-added widgets can even be surfaced to users via Intent donation and on-device intelligence before the user has explicitly added your widget.

The UI for iPad multitasking got some love this year too. In addition to the gestures for splitting and rearranging app windows, there’s now a dedicated control in the status bar for splitting windows or opening an app in Slide Over. Also, tapping an app icon in the Dock will show a temporary overlay showing the user all of the windows they have open for that app, without needing to go to the App Switcher. This fall users are going to expect that your app supports Split Screen, Slide Over, and multiple windows. If you’ve been waiting, now’s the time to add that support!

macOS 12 Monterey

Lots of macOS updates are coming this year. SharePlay support also comes to macOS, AR authoring gets some new tools such as the Object Capture API, and Mac Catalyst apps get some new APIs to be better macOS citizens like menu button styles and more native cursor types.

The Shortcuts app comes to the Mac this year, part of a multi-year update to scripting and Automator. Like on iOS, Mac apps can now offer actions to the Shortcuts app to allow users to build custom workflows.

TestFlight for Mac is coming later this year, so beta testing apps will finally be unified across all of Apple’s platforms.

Here’s to an overstuffed WWDC week!

Thankfully we can all take in all these new session videos at our own pace. I recommend watching all of the “What’s New” sessions in areas you’re interested in first. Then, download the latest Xcode beta and follow along with the deeper sessions and try out the APIs as they talk about them, pausing the video as necessary. There are even some code-along sessions built around this type of live experimentation. Pace yourself, drink water, take bathroom breaks, and remember to have fun!

Josh Justice

Reviewer Big Nerd Ranch

Josh Justice has worked as a developer since 2004 across backend, frontend, and native mobile platforms. Josh values creating maintainable systems via testing, refactoring, and evolutionary design, and mentoring others to do the same. He currently serves as the Web Platform Lead at Big Nerd Ranch.

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