We’re back to regularly scheduled programming for WWDC 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Apple to delay the event to late June back in 2020. Of course, WWDC usually focuses on software updates like the new iOS, iPadOS, macOS and more, but this year, we get new hardware too. Here are the biggest announcements from this year’s WWDC.
The iPhone 13 might not be coming till October, but we absolutely can’t wait for iOS 15 with all the new features.
FaceTime calls now get spatial audio, voice isolation, Portrait Mode, Grid View and more features. There’s also SharePlay which allows users on a FaceTime call to listen to music and watch content together or even share your screen. This is absolutely insane. Want to watch shows with a loved one or family members overseas? You can share it now with no lag or needing to count down so everybody presses “play” together. SharePlay is available on Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Twitch, Paramount+ and more.
Messages is getting a revamp as well, with photos now showing in a collage or gallery that can be swiped through. Additionally, there’s a new Shared with You section in the News app, Music app and Photos app that collates links and content sent in Messages, and this feature is also built into Safari, Podcasts and Apple TV.
Notifications are much easier to scroll through now, with a Notification Summary that uses on-device intelligence to organise notifications by priority. Message notifications and other important notifications won’t be collated into the summary. Turning on Do Not Disturb also shows in messages and such now, so you’ll know if the other person is busy or unavailable.
There’s a new Focus feature that allows users to choose what they want to focus on, with different settings like Work, Sleep or others allowing users to choose which apps they want notifications from when turned on. So if you want to really disconnect from work on the weekends, just turn on the Personal focus to not receive notifications from work apps and the likes!
Live Text is a new productivity tool that allows a user to take a photo of text, then directly select the text for more options like searching, calling phone numbers and more. Screenshots, photos on the web will all work with this feature. Seven languages are supported, and there’s also Visual Look Up, a feature that can recognise scenes, animals and more, which is quite reminiscent of Google Lens.
Spotlight search is now even more powerful, with the ability to search for photos right from the search bar, as well as new, more detailed cards for actors, musicians and more.
Memories in Photos get an update, with the ability to edit memories and add tracks from Apple Music into the videos created.
Apple Wallet has grown so much, and with iOS 15, more brands like BMW, hotels and even theme parks are coming onboard with keys in Wallet. But Apple’s not satisfied with just that. ID can now be added into Wallet, with the ability to add a driver’s license into Wallet. It remains to be seen if this will be available for users outside of the US though.
The Weather app also gets new animated backgrounds and graphics to more accurately reflect details like sun location, clouds and such. Full-screen weather maps will also show metrics such as precipitation, air quality and more.
The new Maps with elevation, colours, Night Time Mode and more will be available in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Australia later in 2021. New road details like bus lanes, turn lanes and more are now available to help drivers better see and more safely navigate the roads. Augmented Reality is also making an appearance here, with helpful directions overlaid on the real world when holding an iPhone up and scanning the surroundings.
More features for AirPods is coming to iOS 15 as well. There’s Conversation Boost, which will help people with mild hearing loss hear voices better, as well as Announce Notifications that will read out shopping lists and priority notifications. If you lose your AirPods, there’s a AirTag-esque Proximity View tracking feature that will show you whether your earbuds are near or far, but it’s not as accurate and detailed as with AirTags. We’re guessing that might come in a new version of the AirPods.
The new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros are some of the most powerful tablets on the market, and users have been asking for better multitasking for a while now, along with better file management and more. Well, Apple has heard the fans.
Widgets can now be placed wherever you want on the home screen. There’s also a larger widget format since the iPad screen is bigger than a phone’s, measuring 4 tiles wide and two tiles high. App Library is also now in iPadOS at the rightmost of the bottom dock, with the ability to hide pages and reorder them.
But multitasking is the true star of the update. Tapping on the top reveals the multitasking window options, with Full Screen, Split View and Slide Over. You can drag apps onto each other to create multitasking windows, with windows able to be slid down or minimised into a shelf that shows open apps. There’s a bunch of new keyboard shortcuts for these options as well.
Quick Note is a fast way to start a new note by drawing upwards from the bottom right corner with an Apple Pencil. If you have an app open with a Quick Note, you can copy and paste information from that app quickly into the note. Quick Note also works and syncs across iOS and macOS.
The Translate app comes to the iPad and is now available systemwide, with easy translation even for text in photos. There’s also no longer a need to tap a button to record and translate conversations, with Auto Translate being able to detect different speakers, pick up when a conversation is happening as well as figure out which languages are being used. The feature is available across iPadOS, iOS and macOS.
If you’re interested in learning to code though, there’s Swift Playgrounds, which is Apple’s app to pick up coding. Apps for iPhone and iPad can now be built directly on iPad in Swift Playgrounds, which is a big thing that users have been looking forward to. It also works with Xcode on Mac, and apps can be submitted directly from the iPad to the App Store.
Apple has been doing a lot with Apple Watch, most recently with the new accessibility features, which is great since more people are purchasing the Apple Watch for health tracking. In addition to the existing Breathe feature, Apple is introducing the Reflect feature, which prompts users to reflect on something they’re grateful for. This feature lives in the Mindfulness app along with the Breathe feature.
Apple Watch will also be able to track respiratory rate, showing how many breaths a user takes per minute. Combined with heart rate data, this might be a good way to get a heads up on how your body is faring if you’re feeling sick.
Taichi and pilates have been added as new workout modes as well.
The Photos watch face is the most popular, and Apple is introducing a new Portrait watch face that will use segmentation data to create depth in photos and impose the subject of a photo over the time display.
WatchOS 8 is also introducing new text entry options, with a tap in scribble mode letting you select an entire word. GIF support also comes to the Apple Watch so any messages composed on the watch can now include emojis and GIFs.
It’s official: macOS 12 is called macOS Monterey. As mentioned above, Shared with You, Focus, QuickNote will work on macOS and there are even more new features.
Universal Control now allows you to use a single mouse and keyboard across iMacs, MacBooks and iPads. Setting an iPad next to a MacBook allows for a user to control the iPad with the MacBook’s trackpad and keyboard, even allowing for files to be dragged and dropped between devices. It’s not just limited to two devices though. If you have an iMac, you can use the iMac’s mouse and keyboard or the MacBook’s trackpad to go across all three devices.
Apple is finally introducing AirPlay to Mac, which means you can use AirPlay to stream music from your iPhone to your iMac, or work on a project on your MacBook Pro and stream it to a big screen so that your colleagues can take a better look.
Shortcuts is also coming to Mac, with new shortcuts designed for Mac that can open apps side by side with just one click and more. Don’t even want to click on the shortcut? Well, you can just use your voice to ask Siri to run the shortcut.
Safari has been given a new look with more compact tabs and a new Tab Groups feature in the redesigned sidebar, as well as a cleaner toolbar that throws options like Share into a new toolbar menu. Tab groups are synced across devices, as expected from Apple. On iOS though, the tab bar is now on the bottom of the screen and you can swipe across the bar to switch between tabs or open new ones.
Safari web extensions are now available on iPhone and iPad, which is great. Data for these extensions will also be able to sync across different devices.
Apple has always been big on privacy, and they’re adding even more privacy-focused features now. The Mail app now allows for tracking pixel blocking and Safari also hides IP addresses, with a report of how many trackers were prevented in the new App Privacy Report section in Settings.
Siri is also more private now, with on-device speech recognition and all audio being processed on the device instead of being sent to the cloud.
There’s also a new Account Recovery method, which is done by adding trusted contacts as a recovery contact that will help users get back into their accounts if locked out. New legacy contacts can be set that can request iCloud device for an account if the original user passes away.
Apple is also introducing iCloud+ with new privacy features, including Private Relay, Hide My Email and HomeKit Secure Video, for the same price as the original iCloud subscription.
Apple is introducing three new health tracking features in the Health app. Walking Steadiness will use an iPhone in a pocket to track step length, how often you have both feet on the ground and more so that the phone can calculate how stable a user is when walking. There are also movement exercises in the Health app that are supposed to help improve stability and mobility.
The Health app will now include results from lab tests with detailed descriptions and explanations of what the results mean. The last feature, Trends, will track health metrics and display them to show improvement or changes over time.
If you want to keep track of your loved ones’ health though, there’s now Health Sharing where users can track health data like heart rate, sleep duration, steps and more from data shared by other users. Data is encrypted at rest and in transit, and Apple has claimed they don’t have access to any of this information.
Betas for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS Monterey will be available in July, with a public release in Fall 2021.
Written by Cheryl Tan