There was none of the jet lag. None of the anxiety to assemble at the meeting point at 8am and none of the jostling outside the Steve Jobs Theater that reduces veteran tech journos to candy-starved kids at the opening of the chocolate factory. Yet, this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC2020) was the most significant Apple has had in years…and it all happened online so I could grab my favourite seat in the house. My own.
The COVD pandemic has called for many forced changes and while I did miss the buzz in the air and walking through Apple Park greeting employees as they welcome you into their campus, WWDC2020 felt more relaxed and more productive at the same time. As expected, Apple announced changes to their staples but this time, the changes were big enough to warrant a place in history. While there are hundreds of changes across all of Apple’s software ecosystem, here’s my pick of the Top 10 announcements from WWDC2020….
1) iOS14 - Widgets
Inspiration amongst the tech giants is not uncommon, but when Apple showed off it’s version of home-screen widgets, it did feel a little epic. I mean, for more tan a decade now, we’ve been used to doing as told by Apple but suddenly, now you can resize widgets, move them around app icons and even stack them one top of each other and quickly cycle through them to keep the one you want on top, for the moment. It’s typically Apple…late to the party but also with the best wine in hand.
For a child that has yet to prove her popularity amongst peers, Siri got a much needed boost, by actually getting smaller! Yes, the annoying all-screen interface that pops up every time you say ‘Hey Siri’ will make way for a circular animation at the bottom of the screen that doesn’t interfere with the on-screen information. Translation comes to Siri as well, with a side-by-side view in landscape mode, support for sending audio messages via Siri and yes, it looks even better on iPadOS 14, where a widget shows Siri search results instead of taking over your work screen.
3) AirPods Audio
This was a complete surprise! AirPods Pro get a spatial audio update that gives them 3D audio capabilities similar to high-end gaming and audiophile headphones where sounds can be placed in a virtual space behind or even over your head and these sounds move in relation with your head movements. Head tracking should unlock their gaming potential but also boost their worth as movie-marathon essentials. Both the Pro and the regular AirPods also get awesome auto-switching, so they’ll automatically move when you move from a Mac to your iPhone to your iPad.
4) iPadOS Sidebar and Scribble
OK, so I’m slipping in two things under one header but ever since we got iPadOS, it was evident that Apple is eager to use the larger screen more efficiently. So now you get a side bar in apps like Files, Photos, Music and Notes to better organise your content (easier drag and drop). The Apple Pencil is under-utilised by many who aren’t professionals but Scribble now converts your scribbles into searchable and editable text and even works on shapes! Yes, it fixes your doodles into proper shapes automatically, which is genuinely new.
5) Apple silicon on Macs
It was the most trustworthy rumour of all pre-WWDC but when Apple actually announced their severance to Intel, it marked a huge moment for the rest of their ecosystem. With the A12z SoC being confirmed for future Macs, this allows developers to reach out to more users by running native iOS and iPadOS apps on Mac too! The inclusion of Rosetta 2 means even older Intel-running apps can transition smoothly and Virtualisation lets you access Linux but most importantly…it gives Apple complete control over its hallowed software+hardware integration. Expect better power efficiency, more AI and ML thanks to the Neural engine, more security and even more seamlessness between Mac and all other Apple platforms (TvOS, iPadOS, iOS, WatchOS). New Macs with this processor will start showing up by the end of 2020 and the whole line-up will transition in a couple of years, but there could be a couple more Intel-based Macs in the meantime.
6) Hand-washing detection
As a stark reminder of the situation, WatchOS will get a hand-washing detection and reminder function. Not that we all need it now that washing hands has been embedded into our motor movements every hour. But with Apple’s slick and soapy animation, you may want to wash them just once more to experience life’s simple joys and your very expensive wrist mate. Sleep tracking gets a native app finally too!
Sorry, Mercedes owners, this one’s for the rival camp. The 2021 BMW 5-Series will be the first car to support new CarPlay functionality that allows owners to unlock their car by bringing their iPhones close to the driver’s side door (via NFC) and once in, even start their car by simply placing the iPhone on to the wireless charging mat. The facelifted 5-series is bound to be launched in the coming months so this could be a one-up over arch rival, the E-Class. Across all brands though, CarPlay also gets new wallpaper customisation features and Electric Vehicle charging locations. Minor, but most welcome.
I’ve found the Home app to be the most under used app in my iPhone but also the best smart-home interface amongst the competition. Now, it gets a much needed boost with Adaptive Lighting that automatically changes the colour temperature of your connected smart bulbs depending on the time of the day. If you have a smart security camera at the door, it will play the video of the visitor directly on your Apple TV as a PIP window and even your HomePod will announce the name of the visitor if it’s a known face from your contacts.
Who doesn’t want a Memoji with a face mask? Fist bump if you do! Yes, you can do both of these in the new messages along with WhatsApp inspired features like pinning to the top, selective reply in group chats and even get notified only when you are mentioned. MacOS version of Messages finally gets the same effects as on the iOS version too and frankly, this was was much needed to bring in line the Messages experience across the board and also make it as useable as WhatsApp.
10) Big Sur
Probably the biggest update to the look and feel of Mac in a decade, Big Sur reimagines all of the icons and sounds that make the Mac…a Mac. But it’s not just cosmetic. New additions include Control Centre for Mac, a redesigned notification centre and an all-new Safari that lets you customise the home page and also displays tabs in a much more intuitive fashion. Maps gets a whole host of new features which I’d rather skip given Apple Maps lack of interest in India but it’s there if you plan to move countries anytime soon. Look it up.
As always, the public Beta versions will be available next month with a full release around the September-October time frame.