Apple's next stage is about reclaiming privacy, and a different kind of PC

Software chief Craig Federighi discusses dark mode, Sign In and the iPad as a laptop replacement. Oh, and why he’s not superstitious about iOS 13.

Connie Guglielmo SVP, AI Edit Strategy
Connie Guglielmo is a senior vice president focused on AI edit strategy for CNET, a Red Ventures company. Previously, she was editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from MacWEEK, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from Next Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG T-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the boom/bust dot-com era to the current age of the internet, and interviewed notable executives including Steve Jobs. Credentials
  • Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
Jason Hiner VP & Editor in Chief of ZDNET
Jason Hiner is Vice President and Editor in Chief of ZDNET. He was formerly Senior Editorial Director of CNET Advice and Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic.
Connie Guglielmo
Jason Hiner
10 min read
Apple's WWDC 2019 conference in San Jose, California

Apple's WWDC 2019 conference brought thousands to San Jose, California.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

" Apple builds things that people want to buy." Seems like an obvious sentiment, coming from the executive who leads software development at one of the world's most successful tech companies. 

But that comment underscores why Craig Federighi spent so much time highlighting new privacy features in the operating systems that power the iPhone , iPad and Mac at the start of Apple developers conference on Monday.

"Our business model is one that doesn't require exploiting customers personal information in order to fund our operations," Federighi said in an interview on opening day of Apple's WWDC . "If fundamentally you're depending...on building massive centralized hordes of personal data that you find ways to monetize, that's intrinsically hostile to privacy. That's just fundamentally not how we work in anything we do."

It's an important selling point for Apple, as Federighi, Apple CEO Tim Cook and privacy chief Bud Tribble have emphasized in interviews this week. And it comes at a time when consumers, reeling from privacy blunders at Facebook and Google in the last year, are asking more questions about how -- and why -- their personal information is being co-opted by tech companies.

Craig Federighi talks iOS 13 at WWDC 2019

Craig Federighi talks iOS 13 at WWDC 2019.

Jason Hiner/CNET

For Apple, talking about privacy translated into a new single sign-in service -- called Sign In with Apple -- to replace the sign-in option commonly used by social media networks to help you navigate access to apps and online services. It will also mean having developers ask for your permission every time they want personal information, like your location, and spell out how that data is being used.

Federighi, who oversees iOS, MacOS and a new iPadOS for its tablet, also talked about Apple's approach to tuning its software for each of the devices it powers, and why that means keeping the Mac and iPad separate. And he made a case for why the iPad, with iPadOS, may just be a laptop replacement for some users (though CNET's Scott Stein says the tablet still isn't quite the computer he needs.)

Here are edited highlights of what Federighi had to say in our conversation.

On privacy: Privacy is foundational to Apple. You could go back to the very beginnings of the company. I saw an interview with Steve [Jobs] in the late '70s where he was talking about how, in time-shared computers, they weren't really personal. All of your data was on someone else's thing, and then an Apple II was a very personal device because it's yours. You own it, you have your discs, that's your data. This has been foundational to how we think about computers. And of course our business model is one that doesn't require exploiting customers personal information in order to fund our operations. We build things that people want to buy and we sell them to them. That's a really pure arrangement.

Many other companies are now adopting this rhetoric of privacy. And honestly I think it's just watering down the word. We're going to end up needing to have come up with a new word for what privacy is... I don't think saying that, "Hey, we've got a switch that you can go into incognito mode or privacy mode every once in a while is great, we're a privacy company, we gave you control." No, if fundamentally you're depending on most people not throwing that switch and on building massive centralized hoards of personal data that you find ways to monetize, that's intrinsically hostile to privacy. That's just fundamentally not how we work in anything we do.

On the evolution of the iPad: We had a consistent point of view about iPad and where it's been going all along. Other companies may have entered the tablet space opportunistically or with some kind of very narrow goals around maybe just entertainment. But from the outset, we saw a place for iPad that was better for many things than either of the alternatives -- of a device in your pocket or a laptop. And we've continued -- whether you look at our hardware or software  and those of course evolve in tandem -- to push that experience further and further. So what you saw today is just a continuing result of what we've been doing since the beginning of iPad.

There's a symbiosis between the continuing, amazing hardware innovations that have come to iPad and the software things we can accomplish with that power. You look at today's iPad Pro and it is more powerful than ... the vast majority of PCs out there in terms of its microprocessor [and] in terms of its graphics.

It is in every respect a powerhouse system, but with a unique form factor.

Compare that to where iPad started. It wasn't a capable PC replacement or anything like that at the time. Technology now is sort of the sky's the limit. We continue to evolve what, what we can make of what we can enable with iPad as that hardware evolves. And we've really just gotten to a place where I think it's incredible.

On creating the iPadOS: The fact that we decided today to really recognize where we are with the new name of iPadOS was because we felt like when you take collectively where iPad has gone, over this now many, many years of major improvements and the role that iPad is now playing in many people's lives, we think it's a distinct experience.

Our names around our operating systems are ultimately about reflecting unique experiences.

There's an experience with TVOS. It's a different experience than you have when you use WatchOS, which is a different experience than you have when you use iOS on your iPhone. Underlying those platforms is a ton of common technology. 

But when we started to look at the totality of the distinct experiences that constitute iPad, things like we talked about this morning, whether it's a slideover or split-view multiwindow multitasking -- on an iPhone, you just don't have two documents open simultaneously for a given application. Now on iPad, you can have as many as you want, spread across as many spaces as you want, preconfigured.

When you talk about Apple Pencil and everything that affords, or the power of now dragging and dropping in a multitasking environment, it just has become a truly distinct experience.

And it's not an iPhone experience. It's not a Mac experience. It's an iPad experience.

The name is ultimately a recognition of where we've gotten to over the entire lifetime of the iPad. And so we just keep our foot on the gas in this regard.

Watch this: WWDC 2019: Mac Pro, iOS 13, MacOS and more...

On the iPad being a replacement for your PC -- sort of: It totally depends on how you use your PC. So for instance, for me ... iPad has come to consume the majority of my time using a digital device. I am a software engineer by training and by passion. But iPad does so much for me that I'm naturally reaching for it more than any other device -- honestly, more than my phone, more than my Mac. Now that's me and the things I do.

Many people at Apple, they want multiple monitors, they want everything else that the Mac contains. And we keep pushing the limits as you saw this morning on what a Mac can do.

So I do think depending on who you are, we've continued to expand the domain where one would say iPad is the best solution for many, many people.

If you look at some of the things we announced this morning -- desktop browsing. This had been a situation where for many people -- "OK, iPad's great for me, but boy I go to some websites and suddenly I'm getting this watered-down experience. I can't take advantage of the full power of [what] these websites are, especially these web apps." Now that's gone. If that is your important use case, this device is suddenly fantastic.

File management -- we have incrementally made progress on file management, but this year you talk about connecting to remote file servers, connecting to external storage, being able to manipulate files in the file system, zipping them and unzipping them ... Things that in many people's workflow are just so central to what they do. In the past, that's been a barrier. That barrier is gone.

So depending on who you are and what you do, iPad is becoming the best device for many, many people. And we're not forcing that. If they want to buy a Mac, we're totally good with that as well.

Apple software leader Craig Federighi shows off iPadOS  at the company's WWDC 2019 conference.
Enlarge Image
Apple software leader Craig Federighi shows off iPadOS  at the company's WWDC 2019 conference.

iPadOS  introduced at WWDC.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

On the iPad and Mac remaining separate: We're not trying to drive a convergence of the user experience because that would suppose that the right user experience was actually the same for a device you're going to hold in your hand and mostly manipulate with your fingers to a device that's on a table to a device that's in your pocket.

And so we're trying to allow each of these devices to have an experience that best expresses that form factor and that use case. And that's partly what we're recognizing with the distinct name.

We haven't erected some new technology boundary between iOS and iPadOS. In that respect it will be the same as always in terms of the kind of compatibility you see, in terms of release schedules for improvements, in terms of developers ability to produce universal apps that run a single code base that run across both.

But what we are signaling and continuing to signal is if you're a developer who's building an app for iPad, we love the apps that take advantage of what makes a great iPad app -- and we keep extending what that means.  

If you really consider where you can spend money on tools to make your life better, these devices are central to how most of us get our work done, how we entertain ourselves. And so, certainly for many people you're going to have all the tools, and you're going to use each of them in the role that makes most sense for you.

WWDC 2019: A quick visual recap of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote

See all photos

That's why we engineered experiences like continuity and iCloud to make sure that you can move across them without thinking about it. And that's how I work. I don't think about, "Oh, well, that thing is on my iPad. I guess I better go over there." I just work across all my devices. And so I don't see it as necessarily for the vast majority people pushing the Mac out. It may be that the kinds of things they choose to do on their Mac, some of that is now the hours they spend on their iPad instead of on their Mac.

But at the same time, the Mac keeps pushing further limits into the kinds of things you can take on then, where maybe you had to buy a workstation before.

On how the Mac still has plenty of big proponents: Having a big screen, having multiple monitors, is really great with the Mac. The Mac is a great hobbyist environment in terms of being able to get custom tools, work at the terminal level. It's a Swiss Army knife in terms of its capabilities to do so many things.

On Sign In with Apple: These set of capabilities that we talked about today are just one in a list that we've established over, honestly, decades of working on this. If you look at iOS from the outset, we were building protections into the way apps are firewalled off from just reaching into your personal information and making sure we put you in control of those things. As the way people use apps and as the internet ecosystem evolves, it's an ongoing race for us to make sure that we're providing the most important capabilities to protect privacy.

These social logins, having credentials that become well known and are shared across sites tied to your identity and used to correlate information from many sources, as well as just the absolutely nearly direct sharing of information -- let's learn all this stuff about this user -- has become we think of significant concern…

We wanted to take the next logical step in this and provide an account that in its very nature doesn't expose your identity to the third party. And what's interesting is for most developers actually they just want a really low-friction way for you to start using their app. They want to say, "OK, download the app. I want the person to be in and enjoying my app, not be sort of repelled at the gates." They want to get them in and get them experiencing their application.

And one of the easiest ways to do that has been to make this bargain around these social logins. And now we're giving them an alternative.  

Apple's WWDC 2019 conference

Federighi has something to say about the next version of iOS.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

On not having concerns about using the number 13 for iOS: 13 is not unlucky and we're not superstitious people. So we're cool. We're happy to blaze ahead with the number 13.  

On dark mode in iOS 13: Dark mode is honestly something that has just massive appeal. When we released it last year for Mojave on the Mac, I mean we've been blown by the fraction of Mojave users that are running in dark mode all the time.  And on the phone, you tend to use that device in low-light environments and on OLED, you even get some battery savings. So we expect it to be just hugely popular and honestly, it just looks really cool. Those of us who run it, it feels new.

On Catalyst bringing iOS apps to the Mac. We think making it possible for a developer who's already invested in building that great iPad experience to be able to bring it to the Mac and make it super easy for them. With relatively little investment in tuning the experience for the Mac, they can end up with a really great app. And that's what we're seeing in our own internal efforts on this front in terms of our own adoption as well as the third parties we brought in … We think it's just gonna mean a much bigger market for apps.

If you can now have a single team that's going to work across all these technologies, [then it's a win]. When you talk to developers, this is a central theme we hear. They say, "I've got a group of people who understand a certain set of technologies and frameworks. They've got the skills to build an iOS app. They have one code base they're working on. If you want me to move to a new platform then I have to hire some different people with different skills and I now have to maintain another code base. Wow, that's a heavy decision for me to make. [But] if you let me take that same team -- not the same code base, [but only have to] do a little bit of extra work and now reach a much larger market, then I'm in."