Everything Apple unveiled this week: iOS 15, FaceTime upgrades and more
At WWDC 2021, Apple's annual developers conference, we got our first glimpse of iOS 15 and much more.
Updated June 12, 2021 1:00 a.m. PT
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Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Apple's annual WWDC event is synonymous with software -- specifically, updates to the brawny platforms that power the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, home security cameras and more. Think of it as a sneak peek at the new tools your devices will be able to do, and as a summer buildup to the fall event when Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 13 and more.
True to form, Apple revealed upgrades to many of its operating systems, most notably iOS 15. Apple also introduced MacOS Monterey, previously known as MacOS 12, along with WatchOS 8 and iPadOS 15. (The rumored HomeOS, however, didn't make an appearance.) Developer betas of all Apple OS upgrades are available now, but the general public will have to wait for public betas to start in July, with wide releases likely coming sometime this fall.
Apple's iOS 15, iPadOS 15, WatchOS 8 and MacOS Monterey are all available to developers today, following the company's trend of releasing the new software to developers immediately after its announcements.
Apple said the public beta will be made available in July, with a full release planned in the fall.
The past year, Apple's been under a lot of pressure from regulators and lawmakers concerned about its growing financial and industry power. In a lawsuit with Fortnite maker Epic Games, was forced to defend its App Store and the up to 30% commission it charges for many in-app purchases.
We weren't expecting Apple to directly respond to everything that's been going on, but the company did take a couple minutes during its WWDC presentation Monday to remind people of all the technology it makes available to developers. That includes the sound isolation, scanning technologies and the Swift programming language.
"We created Swift and all of these other technologies and frameworks for one reason, to help you build the best possible apps, and the best place to discover those apps," said Susan Prescott, Apple's head of developer relations.
Apple also talked up new features to its App Store, saying it'll create a new "in-app events" feature that will be on the App Store homepage. Apple said in-app events will also be built into App Store search, a new App Store widget for iPhones and iPads, and on the product page for an app in the store.
Finally, Apple announced a new feature called Xcode Cloud, designed to help test apps across multiple devices. Apple said once a developer uploads their code to the company's servers, it'll automatically be tested across multiple devices, and then can be made easily available to beta testers.
It may sound like a broken record by this point, but if you look through the list of features for Apple's next major Mac software update, many of them are the ones you heard about on iOS 15. Quick share, for example, and the new FaceTime features. Apple's new Focus feature is there too, of course.
Apple's also building a new "Universal Control" feature into its Macs to help control its iPads. The way it'll work is pretty simple, all you have to do is move the mouse cursor to the side of the screen, and it'll start controlling the other device. Apple said cut/copy/paste works too, so you can take one item from one Mac and bring it to another.
And Apple said Universal Control works across multiple devices, so you can drag an image across an iPad, MacBook and to an iMac all on the same desk, if you want.
Until now, Apple's voice assistant has only been available on its iPhones, iPads, Macs and HomePods. Now, Apple said, it'll work with partner companies to make Siri available on their devices too. So, for example, if your smart thermostat has a microphone and speaker, the company will be able to add Siri to it.
Apple said it's keeping all Siri communication in your home, so everything will work together rather than needing to have an internet connection.
A couple years ago, Apple added a feature to the Apple Watch to call for help if you fall. Now, it said the Health app will identify what your likelihood is to fall in the future. Apple said the new datapoint, called "steadiness," is scientifically validated, and based on how you walk throughout the day. And if your likelihood of falling rises, Apple said it'll send an alert to warn you.
Apple's building other features to help decode health data into its Health app. The company said it's building "trends" into its Health app, showing whether you're more (or less) active. It's also building more helpful information into the labs section of its Health app. So, for example, the next time you get a blood test, the Health app will explain what each datapoint means and whether it's within expected ranges.
Apple's also adding a way to share health data with your family. The company said people will now be able to share health data with other iPhone users, and give them access to whatever selected data you want. Apple said this will be particularly helpful for families with elderly people and kids.
Apple said all this data is encrypted and can't be read by Apple.
Apple's adding a new service offering to its lineup, this time focused on privacy. The new iCloud Plus is designed to help obscure your information from the web.
For example, now it'll create obscured email addresses for you to help keep companies from spamming you. And it's creating a "relay" system, which hides your information as you surf the web. Apple said when you use its relay system, it'll send internet traffic through two relay systems, obscuring your information even from Apple.
Apple said these features will be built into iCloud for the same prices it charges now. So for many people, it's already built in when it launches likely later this year.
Apple's increasingly pushed privacy as a way to stand out from its competitors. In iOS 15, Apple said it's going to begin obscuring IP addresses of its users -- meaning that companies won't be able to use your internet address to identify and track you.
Apple said its IP obfuscation will be on the Mail App and Safari, but it's a good bet this will expand.
Apple also said it's going to tell you every time an app uses other features of your iPhone. So, you might see for example how many times an app accessed your camera, microphone or address book.
And Apple said it'll start tracking other websites and services that apps send data to. So, you'll see which advertising companies an app connects with, for example.
Apple's Swift Playgrounds app started as a way to teach people how to code. But now, Apple's making it possible to build apps too.
Apple said that with iPadOS 15, people will be able to write code, test it out and even submit apps to the App Store -- all within Swift Playgrounds.
Apple still hasn't gone the next step of adding its Xcode developer tools to the iPad, but this is definitely a move toward that. It'll be interesting to see how developers feel about it.
Apple revamps iPad multitasking with shelves
As the iPad's become more powerful, it's gotten just that much more computer-like. But it's still more iPhone than Mac.
Though Apple isn't going to push the iPad more into Mac-world, it is revamping the way multitasking works. With iPadOS 15, Apple said it's adding a "shelves" feature, which will show open "windows" within an app. So, in an email app, the shelves could be your open emails or draft messages.
Apple said this'll make multitasking much easier on the iPad. We'll see.
Revamping iPad widgets
Last year, with iOS 14, Apple added widgets to its iPhone's homepages. This year, Apple's doing that with the iPad too.
The iPad-based widgets have a different feel too, of course. Apple said its newest widgets can be larger, making it easier to interact with them.
Apple's also adding its "App Library" feature to the iPad. But unlike the iPhone, where you have to swipe many times to the right to get there, Apple's adding the "App Library" to the bottom dock.
Find My AirPods
Apple's AirTags offered a new way to track devices, but when it comes to Apple's own accessories, the company's taking it a step further. The company said AirPods will now send out a "bluetooth beacon" so that Find My network devices can help you find AirPods if you're not near them. Here's how you can find your missing AirPods.
And in the case of AirPods Pro, the Find My app will help you pinpoint their location just like they do with AirTags.
Apple said it's adding a "separation alert" to the AirPods as well, sending a notification to your phone if you leave your AirPods behind. No word yet on whether they'll show puppy dog eyes if you're going out for the evening and the AirPods feel left alone at home.
Since launching in 2012, Apple Maps has been trying to take on Google Maps and its Waze app. This year, Apple says it's revamping what Apple Maps looks like, with more colorful visuals and more detail like showing pedestrian walkways and turn lanes in the map as you're driving.
Apple's also adding augmented reality to its walking directions in its Apple Maps. This is something Google's offered for a couple years, but it's another way Apple's hoping to catch up.
Apple's Wallet app has always felt like more promise than reality. But with iOS 15, Apple's pushing its Wallet app further -- bringing corporate keycards and driver's licenses to its app. That's right, you can carry your ID in your iPhone. Whether you want to or not is another issue, but Apple says it'll be encrypted and that the US TSA is already working on ways to accept it in airports.
Apple says you'll be able to scan in your driver's license just by snapping a photo in the Wallet app. Here's hoping my real-world Wallet's days are numbered.
Apple's expanding its artificial intelligence technology in iOS 15, and the most dramatic way is with something it calls "Live Text." What it does is automatically perceive what you want to do with text on the web if you click on it, or if you hold up the camera on a white board.
Apple said Live Text works with its photos app too, attaching its automatically generated photo tags to its device-wide spotlight search feature. So you can search for "beach" on Spotlight and it'll show you photos there too, not just in the photos app.
Many of us are living in an avalanche of notifications on our phones, and Apple says it's working on ways to fix that. The biggest change is something called "focus" -- which allows you to decide which apps can send you notifications at specific times. And you can create a home screen to match it too.
So, for example, a "work focus" would allow email and messages apps to send you notifications, but keep Facebook quiet.
"Focus is a new way to match your device to your current mindset with focus," Craig Federighi, Apple's head of software engineering, said. "All you have to do is choose what you want to focus on. You can carve out time in your day for work or your personal life."
Apple's spent years experimenting with sharing photos, videos and music. In iOS 15, Apple said it's building in new features to "share" a video or song in the Messages app. People will be able to share a song in Spotify, for example, and listen to it with friends at the same time.
Apple said it's also working with Disney Plus to let you watch movies too.
And if you receive links in a Messages conversation, now Apple will automatically add them to a list in its News app.
Apple brings FaceTime to non-iPhone users
FaceTime is already a popular feature on Apple products, in part thanks to the fact that it's built in by default. It also offers end-to-end encryption, something that's helped it stand out from SMS. This year, Apple's planning a bunch of changes for it in iOS 15.
The biggest change is that FaceTime will work on the web, allowing people to participate in video chats if they're using a non-Apple device. The way it works is that FaceTime users can share a link to their friends, which they then click on and then they'll be brought to a webpage that looks similar to the FaceTime app on an iPhone.
It isn't FaceTime for Android, but it's Apple's limited way of making FaceTime more open.
Apple head of software Craig Federighi, said the company's also adding features to make it easier to participate in calls. One is called sound isolation, which cuts out background noise. Another is "spatial audio," which is Apple's term for surround sound. In this case, people will sound like they're coming from different parts of a room, based on where their FaceTime tiles are shown.
Finally, Apple's adding a "portrait mode" to video -- so you don't have to look at everyone's dirty socks in the background.
Apple's CEO started his keynote speech for Apple's biggest developer event by talking about what Apple's been doing to attract more people to tech. He noted that last year, nearly 25 million people watched WWDC for free online (though he didn't offer any comparable data from 2019).
He also noted how Apple's hosting entrepreneurs, and supporting black and female developers.
"We are committed to being a force for change as we seek to make the world a better place full of opportunity for all of us," he said.
Let's get this party started
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