Indistinguishable From Magic

Today I watched WWDC21’s opening keynote. In case you don’t know what’s this about, it’s an Apple event for developers. For a week, there are presentations with all the new APIs and SDKs that are part of the next generation of Apple’s operating system. The keynote lasted exactly two hours, and it’s the first time I’m watching it continuously, without any interruption, live, despite the fact that I’m an Apple developer for more than 10 years now.

In the second part, when they got to Mac OS, they demoed a concept called Continuity. It’s a relatively old concept in Apple’s roadmap, every since they launched iPhone and iPad. In short, Continuity means you can start working on a device, then you can pick up from where you left on any other device that you own. Start writing something on your iPhone, using, let’s say, Pages, and then you continue exactly from where you left on Pages, but on your Mac. Continuity will take of every file management and syncing aspect for you. It will al be transparent.

Like I said, the concept is quite old, and it was always eagerly awaited at any WWDC, only to be pushed for later. It took quite a few iterations of the operating systems, including a couple of almost failed iCloud implementation, to get where they are today. Because today I think they nailed it.

The demo started with an iPad, which had an image opened on it. The iPad was then placed near a Mac Book and the presented started to use Mac Book’s trackpad, moving the cursor to the edge of the screen. When it got there, the cursor left Mac Book’s screen and appeared as a dot on iPad. So the iPad was basically controlled, completely seamlessly, from Mac Book’s trackpad.

Furthermore, the presenter used the trackpad to drag and drop a file from the iPad’s dashboard to the Mac Book desktop.

And then they added an iMac on the left of the Mac Book, and finished with a very nice tour de force: they dragged a file from the iPad, over the Mac Book desktop, and then dropped on the iMac. The file travelled basically over 3 devices, guided only by the trackpad of the Mac Book.

I don’t know if writing about it conveys the experience, or how it felt when I watched this demo, but it really felt like magic. It felt like some piece of information was traveling across the desk, touching separated devices, but still owned and controlled by a single player, without any borders, in plain air. It really felt like some sort of sorcery.

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“.

And indeed, we already do many things which may have been considered, just a few hundreds of years ago, pure magic: remote viewing, talking with people on the other side of the planet, flying in man made contraptions, walking on the Moon.

Just because we don’t understand how something works, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Just because we can’t imagine something happening, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

It simply means we don’t have yet the technology to do it.

And it also means magic is as real as a tablet or a phone.

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