WWDC 2021: Apple unveils iOS 15, ‘focus mode’ and iCloud+ – as it happened

Last modified: 08: 34 PM GMT+0

All of Apple’s latest hardware and software updates from its worldwide developers conference

You can read Alex’s full write-up of today’s WWDC revelations here.

And that’s it. Just one more piece of information: everything just discussed will be on devices, as ever, “this fall”.

And now we get spicy: a whole section on the App Store, currently the subject of multiple lawsuits and regulatory actions around the world. 600 million users, $230bn paid out to developers, according to Apple. But is that enough?

Developers are now being allowed to A/B test their app store pages, and share their in-app events directly in the App Store. (So, for instance, Pokemon Go will have the chance of being on the front page of the App Store during a special event, and can display the event on its own app store page).

“The App Store continues to be the best place to discover what’s happening in apps and games”, Apple says, likely raising eyebrows across the world.

Earning more brownie points, though, is Xcode Cloud, a set of features to let developers build and test their apps in the cloud, and manage their beta testing. Not, of course, for free.

The new features coming to macOS.
The new features coming to macOS. Photograph: Apple

Updated

Safari

Safari is getting a big redesign. The tab bar gets shifted up, and combined with a shortened URL bar, while a new feature – “tab groups” – lets users group tabs together to save tabs and pick them up later. Perfect if you, like me, have 50 tabs open at any one time.

On iOS, meanwhile, the redesign is bigger still: the tab bar moves to the bottom of the screen, and lets you swipe left or right to move to other tabs.

And iOS and iPadOS are getting web extensions. “Developers can tap into an entirely new audience”, with web plugins that can help you browse the way you want.

macOS Monterey

The next version of macOS is named after the central Californian peninsula famous for a cool aquarium and the eponymous Cannery Row of Steinbeck’s novel.

Most of the new features, of course, have already been covered in earlier sections – updates to Notes, Messages, FaceTime and Translate are all coming to macOS.

But there’s still some to come. “Universal Control” lets your iPad become a second screen for a Mac without any setup beyond placing it next to your Mac. And you can also do it with other Macs! Pretty cool, if it works.

“Shortcuts”, the automation tool, is coming to macOS too. It’s the third automation tool on macOS, after AppleScript – super powerful, hard to use – and Automator – barely usable, never caught on – but Apple says it’s the beginning of a “multi-year transition”, and that Automator scripts can be imported from day one.

watchOS 8

  • Apple’s Breathe app is getting updated, with more prompts than simple deep breathing – and a name change, to “mindfulness”.
  • The Sleep app will now track your respiratory rate, “a change in which may indicate a shift in your overall wellness”.
  • The Fitness app is getting tai chi and pilates options, and Fitness+ is getting a celebrity trainer, Jeanette Jenkins, who’ll be bringing seven HIIT and strength sessions to the app.
The new features coming to WatchOS 8
The new features coming to WatchOS 8 Photograph: Apple

Apple Health gets a section to its own. Apple will now monitor your “walking steadiness” with your watch, and will explain a few more datapoints you might get back in a lab report (did you know LDL is “often called bad cholesterol”?). Apple will also highlight trends in your health data – helping you take the long view. And once you’ve filled your health app with data, you can share it with your doctor. If you’re in the US.

Apple Health is also getting sharing, so you can monitor the health of your kids, your parents – or both – with their consent. See your mum’s heartrate has gone up over the last few days? You can tap to text her about it directly. I think my mum would kill me if I tried that, but maybe your relationship is different.

iCloud+

iCloud gets a few new updates – you can give your backup keys to someone else, in case you forget your password, and a new digital legacy service manages your data if you die.

But the service also gets a new name, and a pair of huge privacy-focused fatures. iCloud+ will now offer “Private relay”, bouncing all your safari browsing through Apple’s servers to hide your location from sites, and “Hide My Email”, letting you use the same email obfuscation tools from Sign In With Apple wherever you want. And it stays the same price!

Updated

Privacy

Federighi jumps down a CGI hole (?!) into a dark room, turns to the camera, and says “at Apple, we believe privacy is a human right”. Yes, it’s the privacy section.

So what’s new? Apple Mail is going to start blocking tracking pixels – “Mail Privacy Protection” – to prevent senders from seeing if you’ve opened emails and hiding your IP address. Elsewhere, a new App Privacy Report lets you see how often apps look at your location, photos, camera, microphone and contacts, and check all the third party domains an app is contacting. These could get spicy. A lot of marketers are not going to be happy.

Siri gets a privacy-focused update, with on-device speech recognition, ensuring that Siri doesn’t need to send any recordings to Apple at all (“by default”). It’s not just a privacy tool – it also massively speeds up how Siri operates, and lets it work offline for the first time.

Updated

A small but meaningful update to Swift Playgrounds lets you submit apps you make in the learn-to-code app directly to the App Store. For the first time ever, you can make an iPad app using an iPad.

A few updates to Notes and Apple Pencil – you can drag up from the corner of the screen to make a Quick Note now – before we move to Translate, Apple’s privacy-first competitor to Google Translate.

Coming to iPad means that Translate now has Pencil support and splitscreen support for Safari. A new auto-translate feature should – if it works – let you have a two person conversation across languages. More importantly, Translate is now built-in systemwide on iPad, Macs and iPhone, letting you simply select text and translate it, in any app, anywhere.

iPadOS 15

On to the iPad. Widgets are getting an upgrade. You can now mix and match widgets and apps, rather than being forced to keep them all on one side of the screen. And some of them are getting bigger.

The iPad is also getting the App Library feature that launched on iOS last year. One slight difference: the App Library will be available on the dock now.

But more importantly, multitasking on an iPad is getting an upgrade. (If you’ve used the iPad for multitasking for any length of time, you know it’s maddeningly unpredictable).

Now, there’s a set of explicit controls for multitasking for the first time: swipe down from the top, and you can easily move apps into split view, or slide over. You can also minimise windows for the first time – into something called “the shelf”. No more losing Safari instances! Hooray!

It’s a whistlestop overview, but if it works, it could finally make multitasking worth the effort on iPads.

Airpods

A smattering of features coming to AirPods, introduced by Gagan Gupta:

  • Conversation boosting: your AirPods can work as simple hearing aids, working out where you’re looking and boosting speech that’s coming from that direction.
  • Announce: AirPods will smartly read out notifications while you’re using them – ideally, only the ones that count.
  • Find My: AirPods Pro will now show up on the Find My network, letting you tell when you lose them and (hopefully) find them again.
  • Spatial audio: Get this fancy surround sound feature on new Macs, now.
New features coming to Apple’s AirPods.
New features coming to Apple’s AirPods. Photograph: Apple

And here’s the full feature list from Apple for what’s coming to iOS 15:

New features coming to iOS 15.
New features coming to iOS 15. Photograph: Apple

Craig Federighi returns to show off the new weather and maps apps. The Weather app looks familiar, and it should – the upgrade is the result of Apple buying much loved indie app Dark Sky.

Apple’s upgraded maps, meanwhile, are coming to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Australia this year. And every country is getting a new globe view – think Google Earth.

Citydwellers, meanwhile, will begin to see even more upgrades, with accurate road colours, labels, landmarks and a “moonlit glow” in night mode. Coming first, of course, to San Francisco, but also London, New York, Washington DC and more.

Driving directions are upgraded to make it easier to see turn lanes, medians, crossings and bike lanes, and to show complex intersections in full 3D.

Transit routing learns from apps like Citymapper and Google Maps, with an augmented reality planner to help users work out which way they’re facing.

And lastly (?), “exploring the world”. Apple Pay boss Jennifer Bailey up first, showing off the impending arrival of housekeys, hotel keys, and corporate badges to Apple Wallet. “Starting this fall, Hyatt Hotels will start rolling this out to over 1,000 properties worldwide.”

Also coming soon: State IDs. Participating US states (which? We weren’t told) will let you scan your driver’s license, and present your ID digitally to the TSA to fly.

Chelsea Burnette, a senior manager, is brought on to introduce Photos updates. The company continues to use AI to build quick slideshows of your “memories”, and will now automatically pull in music from Apple Music to do so. You can also gently edit it yourself, swiping through various AI-suggested options to change the look and feel of the entire slideshow.

On to “Using intelligence”. First up: Live text. In the camera app, you can now cut and paste text from the real world. It also works for photos already in your library. Think – take a picture of a whiteboard, and copy the text into an email; or copy the name of a shop in the background of a picture to search its name and find out where it is.

Similarly, you can now search through photos for recognised objects – be that flower species, dog breeds, or landmarks.

What else? Spotlight’s been updated, so you can now search for people in your contacts and receive rich results, linking not just to their phone numbers, but also to previous conversations with them.

“Finding focus” now. “Finding that balance between work and life can be tricky.

“That starts with notifications. They have a fresh new look, with headshots for people and icons for apps. And while some notifications require your instant attentions, others can be dealt with in your own time.” Those will now be bundled into a “notification summary”, which can be delivered to you once a day, for you to review. Notifications from people will never appear in the summary, and notifications which do get bundled up will be smartly sorted based on how you interact with them.

There’s also now Do Not Disturb for notifications – and you can let the people messaging you to know that you’ve turned off notifications. Those people will be told you’re not checking your phone right now, but they can, if it’s urgent, choose to over-ride that setting and send an alert anyway.

Similar is a new “focus” mode, which can turn off irrelevant notifications, hide distracting apps, and even intelligently work out which apps are right for which times: “Focus” at work is very different to “focus” over a family meal, for instance.

iMessage next, and Mindy Borovsky, a product manager, is up to introduce the changes:

  • Photos can be displayed as a small collage, or an interactive stack that you can click through to browse.
  • Shared photos can now be automatically added to your library – but only the ones you “actually care about”.
  • The Apple News app will now keep track of which links have been sent to you, letting you read shared articles – and the same is true of playlists shared from Apple Music.
  • “Shared with you” is also built into podcasts, Safari, and the Apple TV app.

FaceTime is getting Share Play: you can share music, movies, or your screen through a FaceTime call.

“With Share Play, you can bring an album right into the conversation. All you have to do is click play in Apple Music while in a call, and everyone is listening to the same track at the same time.”

For music, share play seems limited to Apple’s own streaming service, but video can be shared from any streaming platform (presumably, if the streaming platform decides to support it). “We wanted to make sure you have a ton of incredible experiences to share in FaceTime, so developers can bring their own apps right into FaceTime”. Partners include Disney+, Hulu, Twitch and TikTok.

And users can also share their iOS screens through FaceTime – perfect for troubleshooting relatives’ devices.

iOS 15

And first, over to Craig Federighi, for the update to iOS. It’s called… iOS 15. Obviously.

The focus of this update: “Staying connected, finding focus, using intelligence, [and] exploring the world.”

Staying connected first, then, and FaceTime. “It has its challenges. When talking in person, our brains process hundreds of cues. On a video call, those signals can get lost, leaving us feeling drained.”

How to fix that? Apple is bringing spatial audio to FaceTime, making it sound like speech is coming from the actual person talking in a group chat. And updates to the microphone processing allow users to block out background noise.

Elsewhere, FaceTime is getting updates to bring it in line with the competition: you can view group chats in grid mode, blur the background, and send a link to people in advance of the call. More importantly – Android and Windows users can now join FaceTime group calls through the browser.

Updated

The first few minutes suggest that Apple is going for “friendly and relatable” this year: a cute, silly, video shows Apple developers describing what they would do as the opening video for WWDC, before Tim Cook walks out to a cheering crowd of… animoji heads?

“Last year’s event was the most inclusive WWDC ever,” Cook says, leaning on the positives of a fully-remote conference. “This year, we’re bringing you another online experience. We’ll provide the tools you need to continue creating the world’s most innovative apps, and the entire conference will be made available for free.”

We’re expecting part of today’s event to focus on iMessage, and the placeholder imagery suggests the guesses were true:

The Apple event in flow.
The Apple event in flow. Photograph: Apple

What else? Well, as well as the expected updates to Apple’s operating systems, we should be prepared for at least one new laptop – a high-end MacBook Pro – and maybe more than that on the hardware side, if rumours of a new Mac mini pan out.

It hardly seems worth mentioning, but this year’s WWDC has a weird vibe for another reason too: it is, again, entirely remote. Last year saw chief executive Tim Cook stood alone on an empty stage, speaking to an empty auditorium. This year, with the benefit of a few more months to prepare, we can expect something a bit more elaborate.

But a request for leniency from your humble liveblogger: as Apple has become more comfortable with pre-recording its events, it’s made them more information-dense than any live event could be. I have but two hands.

This year’s WWDC has, as they say, a weird vibe. Apple is in the middle of multiple lawsuits and regulatory investigations around the world, centred on its treatment of developers, and it hasn’t exactly been sweet-talking them.

Marco Arment, developer of podcast app Overcast, reader app Instapaper, and an early employee of Tumblr, is representative of a strain of unease amongst the community. He writes:

Apple’s leaders continue to deny developers of two obvious truths:

    • That our apps provide substantial value to iOS beyond the purchase commissions collected by Apple.
    • That any portion of our customers came to our apps from our own marketing or reputation, rather than the App Store.

For Apple to continue to deny these is dishonest, factually wrong, and extremely insulting — not only to our efforts, but to the intelligence of all Apple developers and customers.

Will Apple directly address this simmering displeasure on stage today? Absolutely not, no. But will it indirectly address it, and take steps to heal the wounds? We’ll see in just a few minutes.

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live blog of Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference. We’ll be kicking off at 10am Pacific Time – that’s 6pm UK time, and 3am in New South Wales if you’re staying up for all the latest news.

If you want to watch along live, Apple is streaming the event on its website. Otherwise, stick around here, and we’ll keep you up to date with the important news, translate the technobabble, and hope there’s not too much straightforward advertising over the next one to two hours.

Contributor

Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

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