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Apple WWDC21 Kicks Off with a Slew of Product Updates

Posted June 7, 2021 | Apple | Apple Watch | iOS | iPadOS | Mac and macOS | Windows

Today, Apple introduced new features for coming versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, but didn’t reveal any new hardware devices as hoped.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi said. “Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with. This year’s updates include innovative features that give users deeper insights and more granular control than ever before.”

Here’s what the firm announced.

Responding to the needs of the pandemic, iOS 15 is picking up some new Facetime features that will make video calls feel more natural and introduce new shared experiences using SharePlay. There are also new tools for staying focused and reducing distraction. But the biggest change, to me, is a revamping of the iOS notification system which appears to make it more or less as good as the system Android uses, finally, with a priority-based presentation. Other new features include Live Text, which is like Microsoft Lens, a major new Safari update that supports extensions and has a new user interface, a major Apple Maps update, and new Keys and State IDs features for Apple Pay.

Apple’s iPadOS continues to be kind of a mess, with Apple not willing to encroach too far into macOS territory when it comes to multitasking. But with iPad OS 15, Apple will finally introduce a multitasking menu that takes the guesswork out of using multiple apps, new keyboard shortcuts, a vastly improved widgets interface that supports larger widgets, App Library (which debuted on iPhones last year in iOS 14), a new Quick Note app, plus some of the improvements from iOS 15, including the new Safari, improved Facetime calls, SharePlay, and more. Apple is also bringing the Translate app to iPad, and is releasing Swift Playgrounds 4, which will let users build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them directly to the App Store (!).

As for the Mac, Apple didn’t announce any new Mac hardware during the WWDC21 keynote as many had hoped, but it did announce macOS Monterey, which will feature the new Safari and Quick Notes apps, the Focus updates, the Facetime improvements, and SharePlay, plus Shortcuts, a feature from iOS and iPadOS. But the biggest new features, perhaps, include Universal Control, which lets Apple fans use their Mac’s keyboard and touchpad with a nearby iPad and drag and drop content between the two devices, and AirPlay to Mac, which lets Macs appear as speakers for other Apple devices to use. A new iCloud+ offering adds new premium features, including Hide My Email, expanded HomeKit Secure Video support, and a new internet privacy service called iCloud Private Relay, at no additional cost. And M1-based Macs will support special audio when used with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

Apple is taking the Teams approach to watchOS, by which I mean it’s overloading the UI while it piles on new features. On that note, watchOS 8 will expand its support for digital car keys to include home, office, and hotel keys, and will let users store their driver’s licenses and state IDs. The Home app has been redesigned and enhanced, there are new workout types in the Fitness+ app, and the Breathe app is being renamed to Mindfulness and picking up a new Reflect session type. And now, in addition to monitoring time asleep, heart rate, and blood oxygen, watchOS 8 will track sleeping respiratory rate, which is the number of breaths per minute. The Portraits Watch Face and Photos app are getting big updates, as are Message and Contacts.

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