Last week, Apple held its annual developer conference, WWDC, which was different than the past few years. Instead of having developers and journalists from across the globe in the auditorium, Apple went ahead with a virtual keynote, as this is becoming a new normal in this COVID-19 pandemic situation.
The WWDC 2020 conference saw Apple executives announce software updates and new features coming to iPhones, Macs, iPads, and Apple Watch devices. Apple also announced software updates for Apple TV, AirPods Pro, and HomeKit.
And, as expected, the much-rumored, but potentially game-changing ARM-based Apple Silicon was also announced. Future Macs will cut their reliance on Intel, and run on Apple-made custom chips instead.
Here’s a quick summary of announcements made at WWDC 2020, and what it means if you are an Apple user.
iOS 14 Brings Improved Siri, Widget Customization and More
App Library and Widgets
As iOS does not come with an app drawer, all the installed apps go on the home screen and other pages. And as the number of apps that we use increases, organizing them was becoming a nightmare for some. Apple has taken that into account when working on iOS 14.
Apps are now automatically organized in the App Library, which is a new space at the end of your home screen. It offers a simple and easy-to-navigate view. The folders are now categorized based on Entertainment, Social, Game, Productivity, and other apps. This also allows you to hide other pages that you do not want. On the top, you also get newly added apps, suggestions and search bar too.
Widgets have been a part of iOS for a while now, and they offer information at a glance, without having to open the app. Apple has added the ability to have widgets in different sizes, and now you can add them to the home screen and other pages too. There is another interesting addition called Smart Stack, which will display a widget based on the time of the day – like top news in the morning, upcoming meetings in the afternoon, and activity information in the evening.
Picture-in-Picture For Uninterrupted Viewing
Similar to the iPad experience, the picture-in-picture feature is now making its way to the iPhone with iOS 14. When you are watching a video, and swipe up for the home screen, the video screen will minimize and you can continue watching even when you move around the apps. It will be in the form of a small overlay on top of apps.
Siri Gets a New Visual Interface and Improvements
Currently, when using Siri, the iPhone switches to a full screen. With iOS 14, Apple is introducing a new compact design where the Siri icon appears at the bottom while it carries out the task. So, say you are in the Notes app or browsing through your Instagram feed, and you want to know about the weather. Just say, “Hey Siri, how’s the weather?” and the result will pop-up on the top of the screen as a notification, rather than taking up the whole screen. You can now even ask Siri to send audio messages.
Apple is also introducing a new translate app, which allows for on-device translation in 11 different languages. These include Mandarin Chinese, German, Arabic, Russian, and more. Turning the phone to landscape view brings up conversation mode with a side-by-side view for two people to follow the conversation. The best part here is that the app will intelligently detect the language you are speaking and translate in the other language.
iMessage Gets New Features
iMessage has been a big part of iOS, and the new update now lets you pin messages on top of the list. This way all your important conversations are always on top. What’s more, you also get a nice animation when you get messages from these pinned users.
For group conversations, there is a new in-line replies feature. It allows you to reply to a specific conversation. Apple has also added a mentions feature, so you can direct the message to a specific user. And as group messages can get chaotic, you can mute it, and only get a notification when someone mentions you.
Maps and CarPlay
Apple has been working on improving its Maps app and brought new features over the years. Now, the improved maps will also be rolling out in UK, Ireland, and Canada. Maps will also offer guides with suggestions for great places to eat, city-explore, and even shop.
You can also get cycling directions across the city. It will alert about elevation, quiet or busy roads. This feature will be available in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Beijing. There is also EV routing feature, which will help electric car users to easily route to charging points of compatible vehicles from BMW and Ford.
CarPlay now gets new wallpaper options and new categories which include parking, charging, and food ordering. The surprise announcement was the digital version of car keys – allowing you to leave your keys at home, unlock and start your car with your iPhone. It relies on NFC to unlock your car. There is also a security element attached to it, enabling you to disable the digital-key unlock feature via iCloud. The feature will work on BMW’s 5-series from 2021, with support for more car models to come later.
App Clips – Instant Apps for Quick Use
App Clips on iOS 14 is similar to Instant Apps on Android. The feature will let you use an app without downloading it. It will also take away the hassle of signing up to create an account. App Clips will load a lightweight version, allow you to use Sign In with Apple or Apple Pay to carry out the transaction.
Improved Security and Privacy
Apple announced three new security features coming to iPhones with the iOS 14 update. Unlike Google, Apple’s business model is to sell hardware and services, so it does not have to rely on advertisers. And privacy has been one of the unique selling points for Apple iPhones. With the new iOS 14, Apple will now let you know when an app is using the microphone or camera. A small orange dot will appear above the network bar as an indicator. In such challenging times when everyone is using more of voice and video calls, this is an important feature to have.
While not many users are aware of this, apps can track your activity in the background. With the new OS, you will get control over the data that is bring shared. Whenever apps try to track you across services, you will now be able to choose between “Allow Tracking” or “Ask Not to Track.” This can definitely help in limiting the Ad Tracking so as to reduce getting targeted ads. What’s more, app developers will also need to declare the data they collect. This will help you have more clarity over information that apps collect.
List of iOS 14 Compatible Devices
iOS 14 is compatible with a total of 16 devices. These include the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, iPhone 8, and 8 Plus. It is also compatible with the first-gen and second-gen iPhone SE, iPhone X, XR, iPhone Xs, and Xs Max, and the iPhone 11-series. iPod touch (seventh-generation) will also get the iOS 14 update. It is good to see that the iPhone 6s-series and iPhone SE first-gen models are also a part of the list, and most of these features will make it to them.
The Developer Beta version is already out, while the iOS 14 Public Beta is expected sometime in July. The official version will be rolled out later this year in the fall, right after the new iPhones are launched.
iPadOS 14 New Refinements
There is no denying that the iPad is getting as powerful as many computers, and can do most tasks that you can on a laptop. The latest iPad Pro also comes with an add-on full-size keyboard with a trackpad. With the new iPad OS 14, Apple is bringing redesigned widgets to the iPad, like what we have seen for iPhone with iOS 14.
Compact Call Screen
Today, when you get calls on an iPad, it takes up the entire screen, and that changes with the new OS. Now, the call window is compact on the top, displaying the name, number, and call answer and reject button. As it doesn’t take up the whole screen, you can continue using the app after you accept the call.
Apple has introduced a new feature called Scribble. When using the Apple Pencil, you can start writing in a free form anywhere in the Notes app, copy and paste in the other app. It will automatically convert handwriting to text. You can also write in your handwriting using the Apple Pencil on the Search Bar or in the To-Do List, and it will automatically convert that into text. There is also a Smart Select feature where you can select the handwritten text and make it bold, change color, and so on. Besides handwriting, it can also detect shapes as you draw and snap them into an ideal form.
iPadOS 14 Compatible Devices
The iPadOS 14 is compatible with iPad Mini fourth-generation and upwards, iPad Air second and third generation, iPad fifth generation and upwards, and iPad Pro models. Similar to iOS 14, the iPadOS 14 developer preview is rolling out, Public Beta coming soon, and final version on the fall. Users who have iPad Pro models along with Apple Pencil are the ones who will benefit most from the new features.
AirPods Pro Get Spatial Audio
The AirPods Pro already offer a great audio experience with a noise-cancellation feature. With the latest update announced at WWDC 2020, Apple is bringing spatial audio via a software update. Apple says it will help deliver theatre-like audio listening experience. That’s not all, a new automatic device switching feature will let you switch between iPhone to iPad and MacBook with ease. Say you are listening to podcasts while the AirPods are connected to the MacBook, and you get a call on your iPhone, the AirPods will automatically switch to the phone, and once the call is complete, it will then switch back to the Mac.
Apple Watch gets Sleep Tracking and More
The WatchOS 7 brings a bunch of new features, such as the ability to share Watch Faces, Cycling Directions with the Maps App, and more. And along with tracking workouts such as cycling, running, jogging, and more, it can also track your dance workout. But two of the most exciting features for me would be the Sleep Tracking and Hand Washing modes.
Yes, Sleep Tracking is finally here. The Apple Watch will now be able to use the accelerometer to notice the movements and differentiate between walking and sleeping. When you go to sleep, the Do Not Disturb mode will be activated and dim the Watch display. In the morning, you will get sleep analysis and average bedtime for the past few days.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, washing hands frequently with soap has become more important than ever. Using the microphone (to determine water sound) and motion sensors, the Apple Watch can detect handwashing and start a 20-second timer, helping you wash your hands properly.
Siri on Apple Watch can translate 10 languages and has on-device dictation too. The new features will make way to Apple Watch Series 3, 4, and 5. Though, not all features will make it to older devices. The developer beta is already out, with Public Beta coming out next month, and the final version in the fall.
macOS Update Brings Improved Safari Features and More
The macOS is also getting a big update, and the new version is called Big Sur. The new update brings a refreshed dock with a sleek design and new icons. Apple has also brought the control center to the Mac, giving you quick access to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controls among others. There are other design retouches and performance improvements too.
But the one update I am looking forward to is the new Safari browser. You now get a customizable start page, giving the ability to add background images, iCloud tabs, and reading lists. Along with improved tab design, Apple has also added support for extensions from your favorite developers. For instance, you can get Grammarly, Duck Duck Go search engine, Pockets, and a lot more.
The Safari browser can also intelligently track websites you browse and offer a weekly Privacy Report. In case of a data breach or so, the browser will also let you know if your passwords have been compromised. Improvements also bring 50% faster loading time, and up to 3 hours more battery life.
Compatible devices include MacBook Air and Mac Pro models from 2013 and later. MacBooks from 2015 and later, iMac Pro from 2017 and later, iMac and Mac Mini from 2014 and later will also be compatible with macOS Big Sur.
‘Find My’ Network to Help Track Lost Items
We have been hearing rumors about Apple working on a Bluetooth-enabled item tracker like Tile, but there has been no product in sight yet. However, Apple did announce something that could be setting the state for a product launch later this year. The “Find My” app has been baked into iPhones since 2017, allowing users to locate lost devices on a map. It uses signals like Bluetooth, GPS-powered location services, and internet connectivity to locate devices.
Apple is now extending the Find My network capabilities for compatible devices. Even devices without internet connectivity, such as popular Bluetooth tracker Tile, will be able to sync to the network and become locatable. You can attach these trackers to your keys, wallets or bags, making them trackable. Developer preview of the same is out now, and official announcement could be expected in September along with the iPhone 12 series.
The Rumored Apple Silicon Goes Official
For more than a year, the rumor mill has been abuzz about Apple ditching Intel to bring its own custom chipsets. And it is finally happening. At WWDC 2020 the new Apple Silicon, based on an ARM architecture, was announced. While Apple did not reveal many details about the chipset, it did demo a Mac running on Apple Silicon called A12Z Bionic.
Apple is promising better performance and lower power consumption with the new ARM-based chipsets. It will allow Apple to have a common architecture across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, which will also help developers in writing a single code, to make their apps available across devices. For instance, an app designed for the iPhone, will also be scalable to be used on iPad and Mac.
The Apple Silicon will also bring HDR display support, high-performance video editing and GPU performance, high-quality camera processor, machine learning, neural engine, among others. The new chips also mean Apple will have tighter software and hardware integration; something that has been at the heart of the iPhone’s impressive performance.
Apple mentioned that the first Mac devices powered by the new chipsets will arrive at the end of 2020, and the transition from Intel to the new silicon will take two to three years. In the meantime, new Macs with Intel chipsets will arrive later this year.
WWDC 2020: Apple Ecosystem Stats in Numbers
- Siri now has 25 billion monthly requests
- iMessage sees 40% growth over last year, 2x growth in group messages
- Apple CarPlay now available on 97% of new cars sold in the US
- Outside US, CarPlay is available on 80% of new cars that are being sold
- Sign in with Apple now has 200 million accounts since launch
- In 10 years, Apple has shipped 2 billion SoCs
Key Takeaways from WWDC 2020
As I mentioned above, this year’s developer conference was different than the usual. The new features introduced look functional and meaningful. Even the demos were shot well to give an idea of how the features will benefit the users. Here are some of my concluding thoughts:
- The ability to use your iPhone as a digital key to unlock your car and even start it shows how deep Apple is invested in the connected future. It is something that will help Apple differentiate from the competition.
- Pinned conversations and new features in group chats shows how serious Apple is in giving competitor platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat and Telegram a tough fight. The ability to receive and respond to iMessages from across Apple devices makes it stickier still.
- A lot of iPad Pro users use Apple Pencil to jot down Notes and draw rough sketches. The handwriting recognition and other features will make using the iPad Pro more productive for creators.
- New features like Sleep Tracking and Dance Activity trackers will make the Apple Watch an even better fitness-focused device. Features like ECG and Heart Rate Sensor already make it a great activity tracker.
- Apple also demoed face recognition and activity zones for HomeKit accessories, which will let users make the most of these connected devices.
- For me, the Apple Silicon announcement was the star of the keynote. It shows how Apple is putting a lot of its focus and efforts towards supporting the ARM transition. It ends Apple’s longstanding partnership with Intel, but Apple Silicon will help Apple design a powerful and energy-efficient device ecosystem, offering a smooth app continuity experience from iPhone to iPad to Mac.