Welcome to the lockdown edition of Apple’s WWDC, its annual developer conference. This year it’s all virtual, beamed from an empty Apple Park, and free to attend but as per Cupertino tradition, Apple showed off new features for iOS, watchOS, macOS and more in the main keynote – we didn’t get any new hardware releases, though. If you want to watch along, you can stream the ‘Special Event’ on Apple’s homepage or just check this story for the major news.
Apple’s promo video for iOS 14 looks pretty Samsung-inspired to us. That’s mainly down to the new “data-rich” widgets for photos, podcasts and the like in a variety of sizes. Craig Federighi says it’s watchOS that’s to thank for the upgrade. There’s a widget gallery to swipe through widgets including fitness, notes and whatnot. This is also one called Smart Stack that works automatically to some degree, e.g. news in the morning, events through the day then activity progress at night.
Next, the homescreen grid gets a long overdue shake-up. The App Library gives you a categorised view of apps – home and fitness, entertainment etc – with a search bar at the top. One bubble at the top is for suggested apps and one is for recently added.
The Android-features-on-Apple theme continues with Picture on Picture. You can pinch to zoom, resize and swipe it to the side to keep audio playing while the picture is offscreen – nifty – plus it will play as you switch between apps.
Siri is also getting a UI refresh, which looks smart, to show you the info you’ve requested as an alert bubble. Yael Garten, director Siri Data Science and Engineering, says Siri has 20x more facts than three years ago thanks to more data resources.
Apple also has a new Translate app that works offline with the typical promises on privacy. You can translate between text and speech in 11 languages – mostly European with Mandarin Chinese – with a clever-looking Conversation View that automatically detects the language spoken and displays the correct translation on the right side of the screen. In iOS 14, Siri is also getting more language pairs.
In Messages, Apple’s adding pinned conversations and in-line replies, a la Slack, and mentions, as per WhatsApp with the ability to filter alerts via Mentions and add group photos. The big news, though? Memoji is getting face masks – plus some new Memoji stickers and headgear.
Over on Apple Maps, Federighi announced that the UK and Ireland is getting Apple’s rebuilt map, which was announced last year for the US with better road and pedestrian data and more precise addresses. There’s a new dedicated cycling option, with elevation data and info on quiet and busy roads. The sad news? It’s NYC, LA, San Francisco, Beijing and Shanghai only for now.
EV navigation, meanwhile, with info on charging stations for BMW and Ford EVs, are probably US only for now, though it wasn’t specified. CarPlay gets parking, EV charging and food ordering apps plus new wallpapers.
The big news, though, are digital NFC car keys for a partnership with BMW – tap to unlock, put your iPhone on a charging pad then push to start. You can turn off keys remotely via iCloud and you can share copies on iMessage. It’ll work in iOS 13 and 14 as it uses Apple’s U1 chip, which appeared on the iPhone 11 series last year, and Apple teased that the functionality could be coming to more cars in future.
Last but definitely not least, Apple also demoed something intriguing: App Clips, which are lighter apps with single, standalone features that can be launched from the web, Messages, place cards in Maps, QR codes on products when the full app isn’t needed.
They use Apple Pay for quick payments and Apple also has its own combination visual code/NFC standard. Developers can develop App Clips as long as they’re less than 10MB and they get their own folder in the App Library. It’s a neat idea if Apple can get bike rental schemes and shops on board but only if it’s all intuitive for the user; even now it sounds a little complicated.
Apple is continuing to stay fairly hot on privacy with the new option to only share proximate location with apps and a status bar to indicate when your device is recording via the mic or camera. A new App Store policy will require developers to self report privacy practices in the form of easily glanceable highlights, which can be viewed before you download the app.
The developer beta for iOS 14 (as well as iPadOS, macOS and watchOS below) is available now and a public beta will be available from next month. iOS 14 will be compatible with iPhone 6s and later models when it rolls out in the autumn.
Many of the new iOS 14 features that are coming to iPhones are naturally going to be ported to iPads as well, including the upgrade of the widget system detailed above and the Siri advances.
Apple has also fallen for the usefulness and organisation ability of a decent sidebar in apps, with differing versions added to Photos, Notes and Files. You also get new pulldown views in Files and Calendar so that it’s a little easier to see info on the larger screen.
Speaking of the larger screen, the Music app gets a redesign as well with a full-screen player mode complete with rolling lyrics.
The super-annoying call notification that took over the entire screen has been banished in favour of a much more sensible smaller, compact notification that can be tapped or flicked away to dismiss all while not disturbing what you were looking at or working on. Incidentally, this new feature works on calls in third-party apps as well.
The Search function gets an overhaul, too, as Apple has made now made it a “universal search” where it can act as an app launcher, contact contact finder, web searcher as well as find references with documents themselves.
One of the biggest rejigs is with Apple Pencil, which, though slick, has always felt under utilised on the iPad. Now, using a function called Scribble, iPadOS can convert handwriting to text in any field. You can double-tap to select specific pieces of handwriting and edit to the extent where the iPad seemingly treats handwriting the same as typed text.
Nice touches such as scratch out to delete text and being able to recognise English and Chinese writing in same line, as well as phone number and address automatic detection, and select and copy handwriting as text look like excellent additions that may finally get more users reaching for the Pencil accessory.
iPadOS 14 will be compatible with iPad Air 2 or later, all iPad Pro devices, 5th gen iPads, plus iPad mini 4 and later models.
First up is an update to Apple Watch complications. Now you can have multiple complications for one single app. The Weather app, for example, can have a complication for the temperature as well as the UV index. And watch face sharing is finally here. You can share your watch face, complete with complications with your contacts, or in the App Store.
Next is an update to Maps on watchOS. Now you can get cycling directions, just like on iOS 14. It works pretty much the same way, with elevation information, and the neat little feature which tells you whether it’s quicker to pick up your bike and start walking.
As for workouts, Apple is launching dance workout tracking, which can determine different styles of dance, combining data from the gyroscope and accelerometer to track your workout. watchOS 7 also now tracks activities such as strength training. This data can all be seen in the Activities app in iOS 14.
The most interesting, and anticipated, Apple Watch update, however, is – finally – sleep tracking. The company took its good sweet time getting to this much-asked-for feature, and says it is adopting a more holistic approach to sleep tracking. It takes into account your sleep-duration goal, which is said to help you get to sleep on time, and uses machine learning to track micro movements during sleep.
There’s also a new feature called ‘wind down’, also available on iOS 14, which is supposed to help you transition more easily to sleep time. The feature turns on Do Not Disturb, as well as switching over to a calming watch theme. When it’s time to wake up, you can choose gentle wake sounds.
And then there’s the Covid-related update. Hand washing! Now your Apple Watch can detect when you’re washing your hands, sensing how long you’re washing them for by listening to the audio to confirm the sound of water or soap pumps.
When it launches in the autumn, watchOS 7 will be available for the Apple Watch Series 3 and later, paired with an iPhone 6s or later model, running iOS 14.
For people who have switched from the original AirPods to the Pros, or those who were finally won over by the much-improved design of the Pros compared to the first iteration, Apple is rolling out a couple of new features that make these already excellent wireless earphones even better.
First AirPods and AirPods Pro will get auto switching between devices which means it should be quick and seamless when moving from say, your iPhone to a Mac. Then if your phone rings as you are watching something, the AirPods will automatically flick back to your iPhone as the audio source.
Second, Apple is rolling out its own version of 3D audio, Spatial Audio, for AirPods Pro, which uses algorithmic trickery that means the AirPods can take into account head movements to maintain the aural illusion. The Pros’ accelerometer and gyroscope are brought into play to keep the 3D audio in place, while at the same time the iPad or iPhone location in relation is monitored as well. This means that, say, if you are on a bus or in a car and it turns, the 3D audio will supposedly continue to work as if you are sat at home, static on the sofa. And yes, Dolby Atmos is supported.
macOS Big Sur
The macOS redesign is rather lovely aesthetically. Apple’s new head of user interface design Alan Dye appeared in a video to talk tweaked app icons, glyphs, symbols and the rest. Dye says Apple has “reduced complexity” with buttons that disappear when you don’t need them and explained that the OS sounds have been refined. Fun. The translucent menu bar, in particular, and new pops of colour in apps like Mail are nice touches.
The main story, though, is the continuing iOS-ification of macOS. That includes Control Centre with quick access to brightness, dark mode, NightShift for Mac and an updated Notifications Center. We also like the drag-and-drop between Control Centre and the menu bar. And macOS even gets the new widgets you’ll find in iOS 14.
Elsewhere, Messages gets a new search tool, redesigned photo picker and the ability to create and edit Memojis on macOS. Maps on Mac now includes ‘home’, ‘work’ and favourite locations, LookAround, indoor maps and shared ETAs from contacts.
Apple says it’s making gaming on Apple TV more personal. You can now switch users more easily, and support is being added for the Xbox Elite controller as well as other Xbox supported controllers.
And like iOS 14, tvOS 14 has picture-in-picture support, which is a much-needed feature for an OS which relies so much on video content. Now, when you switch over to a different app, your film will continue playing. We’ve also finally got our first look at the TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and it looks epic. It’s coming in 2021.
Apple Silicon for Mac
A remote WWDC has some extremely odd transitions as we shoot back to Tim Cook who declares today an HISTORIC DAY via the screen behind him. Why? Because the Mac is transitioning to Apple’s own ARM-powered silicon chips. That means, Apple says, that the Mac will gain a “whole new level” of performance, while using lower power consumption – which will help with overheating as well as battery usage.
Apple’s SVP of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji, speaking from a lab in “an undisclosed location”, says that Apple silicon has been in development for over a decade – see the iPhone – and that it will “lead the industry in features and performance per watt”.
The first Mac with Silicon, rather than Intel processors, of course, will be released at the end of this year, though Cook says Apple will continue to release Mac products with Intel.
The major news for developers to note is that it will bring iOS and iPadOS apps to Mac, where they can run natively. Apple will update its Pro apps to support the new custom silicon chip, while Adobe has been working with Apple to get its apps running on the updated hardware. Microsoft apps will also be updated, which is nice to know. Nothing immediate to get to grips with then but Apple’s execs seem pretty stoked about this one.
More great stories from WIRED
🦆 Google got rich from your data. DuckDuckGo is fighting back
💰 The Animal Crossing fans running in-game businesses
🤑 Inside the ‘bullshit’ get-rich-quick world of dropshipping
🎵 The secret behind the success of Apple’s AirPods
🔒 The UK’s lockdown rules, explained
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn
Get The Email from WIRED, your no-nonsense briefing on all the biggest stories in technology, business and science. In your inbox every weekday at 12pm sharp.
Thank You. You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter. You will hear from us shortly.
Sorry, you have entered an invalid email. Please refresh and try again.