Apple’s most important WWDC 2021 announcements

A more human iPhone, a more usable iPad and a Watch that wants you to be mindful

WWDC 2021 has kicked off. Much of the week will be about helping developers make amazing new apps and games. But the keynote’s (sort of) for the rest of us, providing a glimpse into the future of your Apple devices.

A flurry of Apple execs with perfect smiles fired information out at speed, which might have overwhelmed. So here, in a five-minute read, are the really important bits.

iPadOS 15 fills in (some) of the gaps

Excuse us while we go and scream into the void about Apple omitting full external display support, even from Thunderbolt-equipped iPad Pros. Ah, that’s better. So what did we get, beyond aforementioned iOS 15 features?

Widgets and App Library finally rock up from iPhone, the former gaining a new large size option and the latter lurking in the Dock. Multitasking controls have evolved from WHAT IS THIS HELL? to a degree of sane.

Elsewhere, Quick Note lets you jot down a thought when you’re using another app, while Notes proper adds tagging and smart folders. The biggest new news, though, must be Swift Playgrounds 4 providing the means to build an app right on your iPad – and then submit it to the App Store. It’s not the ‘Xcode for iPad’ many hoped for, but it’s a start.

macOS Monterey joins the dots

The majority of the new macOS features are a copy and paste job from Apple’s mobile devices. Even arguably the biggest – a major revamp for Safari that refines the toolbar and adds tab groups – is coming to iPadOS 15. And some updates – Shortcuts; TestFlight – are long overdue on Mac.

What Apple really wants is for the Mac to remain the hub of your computing experience. The new Universal Control feature lets you use a single mouse and keyboard and drag a cursor – and content – between Mac and iPad. With AirPlay to Mac, you can share content from iPhones and iPads right to your Mac’s display too.

Privacy is Apple’s middle name

Privacy remains a major differentiator for Apple, which in its new operating systems provides yet more ways for people to control their data and who it’s shared with. In Mail, senders won’t be able to see your IP or location, nor check whether you’ve opened an email. App reports will outline how often apps have used key permissions.

Many Siri requests are now moving on-device, meaning they will be processed without an internet connection. This reduces unwanted recording of your commands and speeds up response times. And iCloud+ provides randomised forwarding email addresses, along with an internet privacy service for Safari that encrypts your traffic so no-one else can read it – be that a network provider or even Apple.