SAN JOSE – Apple announced iOS 12 during the company’s annual World Wide Developer Conference on Monday. The next major update for the company’s mobile platform focused on Siri skills, performance, improved communication, enhanced augmented reality tools, and addiction controls.

Siri Skills in iOS 12

Some of the biggest improvements in iOS 12 are enhancements to Siri. The company announced several ways that Siri will become more responsive to users, including the ability to trigger Siri with key phrases called Shortcuts. Apple didn’t called them “Siri Skills,” but the company is essentially borrowing that page from Amazon’s Alexa home assistant, and making it one better.

The Silver-Haired King Developer Introducing Siri Shortcuts at WWDC 2018

The Silver-Haired King Developer Introducing Siri Shortcuts at WWDC 2018

Siri Shortcuts allow users to set up their own Siri triggers tied to Siri actions. This is better than straight training-the-user in that it’s users doing the doing, rather than developers doing the doing and customers having to train themselves. But at the same time, it’s not yet the promise of Apple’s long view approach of teaching Siri to simply understand us. It’s a good interim step, however, and one I’m excited to use when iOS 12 is released.

[iOS 12 Shortcuts is the evolution of Apple’s Workflow app acquisition]

iOS 12 Performance

Apple Senior Vice President Craig Federighi emphasized performance in iOS 12, and during our live coverage, we joked that Apple was really just making iOS 11 better. While there’s some truth to that, it’s not a dig. Apple appears to be taking a bit of a breath with iOS 12 and working out bugs and making everything much more efficient. This is much-needed and good, based on what we saw.

To that end, Apple said iOS 12 will be supported on every device covered by iOS 11, including “iPhone 5s and later, all iPad Air and iPad Pro models, iPad 5th generation, iPad 6th generation, iPad mini 2 and later and iPod touch 6th generation.”

During the WWDC keynote, Apple offered various stats showing that key interface functionality is dramatically improved in iOS 12.

Improved Communication in iOS 12

Apple announced two main areas of improved communications in iOS 12: more Animoji and Memoji, and Group FaceTime calls. Apple also added a variety of filters and other effects that can be applied live in FaceTime calls.

Animoji is getting four new characters: Tiger, Koala, T-Rex, and Ghost. The feature is also getting the ability to do tongue detection, and tongues are being added to animations.

More interesting to me is Memoji, a subset of Animoji of just you. Users will be able to build Animoji avatars of themselves with a variety of customizations that are a lot like a 3D version of Bitmoji, one of my favorite social networking tools.

Tim Cook's Memoji in a Group FaceTime chat in iOS 12 at WWDC

Tim Cook’s Memoji in a Group FaceTime chat in iOS 12 at WWDC

Memojis and Animojis alike can then be added to photos, videos, and even live FaceTime calls, as can iOS 12’s new filters.

ARKit 2 and Shared AR Experiences

Apple continued its aggressive push on augmented reality with the announcement of ARKit 2. Chief among the new features in ARKit 2 are shared experiences, the ability for two people to engage with AR content together. As an example, Apple had LEGO demonstrate a LEGO AR game where players interacted with the same scene, dropping in and manipulating assets both players could see.

Shared Experience in LEGO Game Using ARKit 2 at WWDC 2018

Shared Experience in LEGO Game Using ARKit 2 at WWDC 2018

Other features include, “persistent AR experiences tied to a specific location, object detection and image tracking, making AR apps even more dynamic.”

Apple also announced a new file format called .usdz for AR content. Developed with the help of Disney’s Pixar, .usdz files are compact and include everything needed to view and manipulate AR content. These files can also be viewed from within other content in Apple’s own apps (for now), including Messages, Safari, Mail, Files and News.

iOS 12 Will Be Faster, Better, and More Refined

There are other features in iOS 12 that we’re covering separately, but the gist of Monday’s announcement is that iOS 12 will be faster, more stable, more refined, and better. Apple appears to have focused on the things we use our phones for most and is making the better. The Animoji/Memoji tools, as well as Group FaceTime calls are both great for communication. iMessage will be getting better. Siri is getting both smarter and trainable, and ARKit 2 will keep Apple firmly in the lead on augmented reality content.

iOS 12 and updates to Apple’s other operating systems will be released this fall.

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The first thing I thought of when I saw shortcuts in the keynote was ” Hey we’re getting some Automator / AppleScript baked in to iOS to flesh out IFTTT support !”

John Kheit

321 before creepy horror movie kidnappers use this…