Apple WWDC 2021 Sum Up

Apple is back with another WWDC event this year and if you haven't seen it, let me tell you, it's filled up to the brim with new stuff - some of it pretty cool. It was so packed, it was almost impossible to process all the information that was thrown at us. I was really hoping for a new Macbook Pro reveal, which didn't happen in the end. We will have to wait a bit more for this to happen, hopefully very soon 🤞. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for those M1X benchmarks! This WWDC was still an online one, but we could see the physical distances between the speakers decreasing and the CGI worsening, so it seems like the transition back into the physical sphere of existence is underway!

Developers

Developer conferences should be about developers and before we start discussing the other cool new tech from Apple, let's take a look at the exciting updates on dev tooling.

Xcode Cloud is a set of tools that finally brings "native" CI/CD for Apple. With this cloud suite, we will finally be able to build our native apps in the (X)cloud instead of our macs and parallel testing will let us test them much easier as well. It also brings webhooks and offers support for Github, GitLab, and Bitbucket. In terms of expanding product offering, TestFlight is now finally introduced for Mac apps and Swift Playgrounds will let us build and submit apps to the AppStore from an iPad. We even get a brand new CarPlay simulator for Xcode on macOS for a much easier testing experience. There are new APIs for messaging, which will let us share user's statuses, API for building iOS Safari extensions, and ShazamKit that lets us integrate audio recognition technology into our apps.

Xcode Cloud has a BIG potential and is a dream come true for many of us. Most of these features will be publicly available next year, so we have to wait a little bit more before trying them out.

Let's talk about the software updates that are coming to our Apple devices.

Privacy

A lot of the time was dedicated to new privacy features, starting with Federighi's ninja-like jump into a manhole, all the way down to the bottom of a dimly-lit Privacy room. When he emerged, we learned that Safari will now be capable of hiding our IP addresses and Mail will be blocking tracking pixels.

Siri

Siri has received a lot of exciting updates. The audio you record now "never leaves your device", which is a huge step forward for privacy and also allows you to talk to your virtual assistant offline with on-device speech recognition. Siri is finally opening up to the world outside of Apple's ecosystem with third-party providers being able to utilize Siri on their devices. This was showcased on an Ecobee thermostat and they should have done this a long time ago. There are also new Siri voices, which we don't have a lot of information about right now, but unless we get a Scarlett Johansson from Her or one with a pirate accent, Apple still has a long way to go to really win my heart with this one.

FaceTime

It looks like FaceTime wants to give Zoom and Google Hangouts a run for their money because FaceTime will now be supported on Android and Windows via web browsers. On top of that, we get screen sharing for this popular communication app. We'll have to wait and see how well is this going to work, but this sounds very promising. It should work the same way as the aforementioned competitors, where you can schedule a facetime event and join in with a link via a web browser on any platform.

More on the personal side of things, video and music sharing will be bundled into the new FaceTime update, so you can have a movie night, or a listening session (whatever that is) with your friends over the internet, yay! The video and audio that you queue and share will be played for everybody in sync and third-party support was announced for popular streaming services like Disney+ or Hulu, although Netflix is missing.

Health

Health gets a new metric that monitors your balance and analyzes your walking patterns called walking steadiness. It should be able to tell the users whether there is an increased risk of them falling. Users will now be able to share their Health data - either with their doctors, or friends and family. This helps streamline the process of diagnosis and prevention for user's health and looks like a pretty powerful tool. The support for sharing medical data is limited to a selected list of medical record companies in the United States, but we have to start somewhere and hopefully get support for this in more parts of the world some time down the line.

iCloud

The paid versions of iCloud get a refresh in features, but not in pricing. Most notably, iCloud introduces randomized on-demand emails for services you are not okay sharing your real email addresses with. It's kind of like 10-minute email, except they do not expire after 10 minutes and you can track them right from your inbox. Apple has a similar feature for "Sign in with Apple" where you can hide your e-mail address via this authentication service.

iOS 15

One of the coolest demos for me was the new optical character recognition in the Photos app. Apple showed us how Photos can now read and understand the textual information in your photos. Users are able to highlight it right in the Photos app just as they would any ordinary text. It also recognizes stuff like names of the venues and links them to corresponding entries on the internet which lets us interact with them seamlessly. Craig demonstrated this with an awkward phone call to an ice-cream place that he found while browsing through a photo of his friend sitting in front of it.

You can finally let other people know you are "in the zone" with Do Not Disturb's extended functionality that shows your status in Messages when somebody is texting you. There is also a new filter mode for notifications called Focus, which lets you pick which notifications are displayed while you are working. You can also adjust your home screen to show you different widgets and apps while in different modes.

Apple is pushing for you to not have to carry your wallet around. They are adding virtual keys to hotels (again, for a supported set of hotels) and even IDs to your Wallet (selected states in the US for now) app that you can use at airports. I am so ready to not having to look for my wallet at airports, so I really hope this feature makes it to other parts of the world as well.

Maps are getting a fresh coat of paint with improved navigation that looks pretty dope. And, for some supported cities in the US and Europe, we also get awesome 3D models of sights that make the Apple Maps look like a doodly version of the map from Cyberpunk. Apple Maps has gotten a lot of love in this iOS update and // TODO: Insert Apple Maps joke, people still expect these.

watchOS 8

The Fitness app gets cool new exercises, Breathe app gets a little brother by the name of Mindfulness that helps you with being grateful and AirPods will now be able to announce all of your notifications instead of just new messages. There is also this one update, that wasn't announced at the WWDC, probably because we get it on watchOS 7 already. It's a lifesaver for people with Face ID Apple devices in pandemic times because it lets you unlock your iPhone with Apple Watch when it detects you are wearing a mask. This is one more thing I'd add to the list of things they should have done sooner. Finally, another good reason to not forget your Apple Watch at home!

macOS Monterey

In my opinion, the Universal Control was the highlight of the whole presentation. It basically lets you use your MacBook's cursor on your nearby iPad and Mac devices, control them and even copy files between all of them. It's like the Logitech flow on steroids. I am excited to try this out and see if it "just works". The demo consisted of Federighi copying a file from an iPad on the far right side of a table, through a MacBook in front of him, all the way to an open FinalCut on an iMac to his far left hand. Hopefully, the new Macbooks will introduce even bigger trackpads, so we can do this with ease!

As for the other updates, macOS gets a Shortcuts automation tool that is similar to the one on iOS but with macOS-specific actions, and Safari gets some slick visual updates. Nice!

Takeaways

As you can see, there are loads of new updates coming for us Apple users (some of them also for non-Apple users) and I can't wait to see them in action! It's good to see Apple is paying attention to the privacy of its users in these troubled times!

written by

Richard Rosko

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