This year’s WWDC was a little different than its past iterations of the annual developer’s conference. For one, the global pandemic underway meant that the actual format was a little different, and rather than presenting from a packed auditorium, the event was streamed. In spite of the at time very silly cinematic embellishments, Apple gave us plenty to look forward to come fall—including new iOS organizational tools, new Home features, and, of course, macOS Big Sur.
Some of the features I’m most excited about—even though some of you long time Android users may justifiably be rolling your eyes—are the organizational tools coming to iOS 14. The new iOS interface will operate a little differently for easier access to the things you need, with auto-sorting of apps into groups on pages beyond your home screen with the new App Library, bigger widgets for things like weather, and a stacking feature called Smart Stack for flipping through apps quickly. The new iOS will also introduce picture-in-picture support, with a ton of options for viewing or listening to a video while doing other things on your device.
Apple’s individual apps are getting facelifts as well. Apple is introducing Maps updates that include a dedicated cycling navigation option that will take things like terrain and potential obstacles like stairs into account as well as an electric car option for displaying charging stops along a route, including for your specific make and model. In other iOS vehicle support news, Apple will also debut an iPhone-as-key tool to power up your car without needing your physical key or fob, a functionality that allows users to also share their digital car keys with others. If, that is, you happen to own a 2021 BMW 5 Series.
The company is also introducing App Clips, which will allow users to interact with places like restaurants and physical objects like scooters with just a scan. Memoji and Messages are getting updates as well, with new customizations and additional layout changes to give you a heads up about the last person to send a message in a group thread. You’ll be able to pin chats in iOS 14, too.
Plus, Siri will get improved translation ability in iOS 14.
Changes coming to iPadOS 14 may be small compared to some of the other announcements today, but they’re definitely not insignificant. Incoming calls, for example, will display as a notification rather than taking up the entire screen. A designated sidebar will help with navigating Photos, Files, and Notes. Search has been improved to better launch apps, contacts, and other relevant information. The Pencil is getting a neat integration too. With Scribble, Apple will now let users physically write text in any text field to convert it to type-text.
The updates might seem small compared to some of the other ones we’re talking about here, but they all add up to a much more productive version of iPad OS. Between this and that excellent new keyboard case, the iPad is making a real case for becoming an actual laptop substitute.
AirPods are getting support for audio-switching to allow for carry-over when moving from devices, which will be rolling out as a firmware update at an unspecified time in the (hopefully soon) future. Additionally, Apple is introducing spacial audio to its Pro buds to give the effect of surround sound that you typically get when watching a movie at a theater with proper surround sound. It will support 7.1, 5.1, and Dolby Atmos surround sound at launch.
Apple is introducing a ton of new features later this year to streamline the process for using smart devices in and around your space, from easier streaming to security to an ambient light function that adjusts smart bulbs automatically.
For one, Apple will add a feature to Home called Adaptive Lighting that will allow users to set the color of their smart bulbs to change based on how you use the space, such as what light suits your mood at a specific time of day. Another Home feature will allow users to better zone the areas their security cameras need to monitor so that they’re not alerted, say, every time a car or pedestrian passes by. These added security features will extend to Apple’s own devices, as well. HomePod and Apple TV integrations that will alert you for things like who is at your front door (including with picture-in-picture footage on Apple TV).
Apple’s streaming service, TV+ wasn’t forgotten—though tvOS certainly felt ignored. Apple showed off a trailer for its huge adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s expected to launch in 2021.
The new macOS is officially Big Sur. Many of its standout features announced here are carried over from iOS to the Mac, including customizable widgets for the Notification Center, an updated Messenger hub that’ll bring it closer to mirroring its iOS counterpart (including finally introducing Memoji editing tools), and pinned conversations. Maps is getting an overhaul, too, as is Apple’s browser Safari, which the company claims now performs 50% faster than Google’s Chrome. Apple is also introducing a new Privacy Report in Safari and will allow users to select how their extensions work with individual web pages.
But the biggest changes seem to be from a design standpoint. MacOS has never looked more like iOS. Icons got makeovers, menus are more simplified, and the whole thing seems to just have a very glossy appearance.
Following rumors that such a change was underway, Apple announced at WWDC that it’s officially breaking up with Intel processors and is switching over to using its own custom ARM-based chips in its Macs. ARM CPUs are already found in a handful of Windows 10 devices, including last year’s Surface Pro X, but Apple has a reputation for performance on the ARM platform that is unparalleled, so hopeful performance will be far superior to what we’ve seen from the ARM-based Qualcomm chips powering PCs.
One of the ways this is huge for developers is that they can now make iOS and iPadOS apps available on Apple’s computers “without any modifications.” The company did note that it will continue releasing macOS updates for Macs with Intel processors, but this monumental change will mark a shift by Apple to a shared architecture for its products. Moreover, Apple claims its processors will be more efficient and even faster than those from Intel.
The transition is expected to take two years and the first ARM-based Macs should be appearing by the end of 2020. Though developers can apply for a $500 dev kit which includes a Mac Mini with the new A12Z chip, a 512GB SSD, and 16GB of RAM.
Last but not least, the Apple Watch is getting a few updates—not the least of which includes long-overdue native sleep-tracking. Leaning ever further into being your one-stop-shop for health, the Apple Watch will soon support cycling and dance tracking. Now called Fitness, the former Activity app will also display new workout summary metrics. And because we are still very much in Pandemic Times, Apple has introduced a feature to help you ensure that you’re washing your hands for the necessary amount of time—complete with a bubble countdown clock and everything.