WWDC 2020: New Software and Fresh Chips
As usual in June, Apple has recently concluded the opening presentation of WWDC. This year brought us version 14 of iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS, as well as watchOS 7 and macOS 11. Yes, macOS 11, not 10.16. The final announcement wasn't just about software, though, but hardware: Apple is moving its entire Mac lineup to custom chips it will be designing itself, and it's starting the process this year. Maybe that's why macOS got a whole new number?
iOS and iPad OS14
Many of the below features are the same for iOS and iPadOS. I'll note where one doesn't support something, but enough are shared between the two that it seems easier to talk about them both together. If you're interested, Apple has pages outlining the new features: here's the feature page for iOS14, and here's the page for iPadOS 14.
There are a few big changes coming to apps and the home screen that holds them.
First, widgets are coming to the home screen on iPhone. This seems to be similar to the iPadOS 13 feature that lets you pin the Today View to your home screen, but it's more than that. Widgets can be small, medium, or large, and you can stack them. Make a stack of widgets you find useful, choose a smart stack and let your device offer widgets it thinks you will use a lot, or let Siri generate a stack that changes based on your location or the time of day. It sounds like all this is a sort of combination of the Siri face on Apple Watch, and the Today view on iPad. We'll have to see how the details shake out, but the bottom line is that you can get news, new podcasts, weather, and other information on your home screen without having to open any apps at all or swipe right to open the Today view.
Apps are being organized much better. While you still can't make icons go anywhere you want (they must still be in the usual grid), you can choose to hide pages of apps entirely. If you have ten pages of apps, but only ever use two, just hide the rest. How do you access all the hidden apps? Going all the way to the right in your pages of apps will land you in the new App Library, which is an alphabetical list of every app installed on your device. This makes it much easier to find a specific app, or look over all your apps to see what you forgot you had buried in a folder two years ago.
Familiar Content, Presented in New Ways
Apple is changing several parts of iOS/iPadOS to make them more usable and convenient.
- When you get a phone or FaceTime call, you'll get a banner notification, not have your entire screen taken over.
- When you use Siri, the interface appears at the bottom of the screen. Replies will come in the form of notifications at the top of the screen, though it's not clear if these are standard notifications or simply where Siri's replies are placed.
- iPad has had picture in picture for quite a while, letting you keep playing video content in a corner of the screen even as you use other apps. Now, iPhone can do this, too.
New Tricks with AirPods
If you use AirPods, you'll get two new features this year.
Apple is building a virtual surround sound system into AirPods Pro. The goal seems to be to simulate theater speakers, using motion tracking to move the speakers as you move your head. If you turn your head to the left, the speakers will seem to stay in place off to your right. At least, that's how I took it. I'm still not quite clear on exactly how this feature will work, but I'm very eager to give it a try.
The other change applies to all AirPods, and to macOS. AirPods will now switch from device to device on their own, without you needing to do anything. If you have AirPods connected to your iPad and take a call on your Mac, the Mac will switch to your AirPods automatically. When you hang up, the iPad takes the AirPods back. Of course, we don't yet know how this will work with notification sounds or VoiceOver speech.
Apple is debuting a new app simply called Translate. It's meant to ease communication between people who speak different languages, not so much as a detailed language dictionary. The way it is described makes it seem geared toward voice, rather than text: tap the microphone icon, speak, and hear what you said in a different language. The person to whom you are speaking will then do the same, and their words are translated into your language. You can even download language packs, letting you do all this translation without needing an internet connection.
The Messages app is getting upgraded, with more Memoji options, group chat enhancements, and the ability to pin important conversations to the top of the list, making sure you can always get to them easily.
Let's go a bit more into the group message changes. Mentioning people is now possible, as is getting notifications only if you're mentioned. If you're part of a very busy conversation and are tired of the constant pings, you can tell your device to only notify you if someone mentions you specifically. You can also reply to a specific message, instead of only replying to the end of the conversation. These inline conversations can be read separate from the main thread.
As it tends to do with major iOS updates, Apple is adding features to its Maps app. This year, they are bringing existing features like Look Around to more locations, and are adding several new features for bicycle and electric car users.
You can get routes and information specific to cycling. Get warned about weather that might impact your trip, see elevations, see whether a road has heavy traffic, and get routes optimized for bikes by having Maps consider things like trails or bike lanes.
Similarly, Apple is focusing on details for electric vehicle users. If your car is part of a company's partnership with Apple, you can see estimated battery usage for a route, where compatible charging stations are along the way, and more. At launch, only certain cars from Ford and BMW will be compatible, but Apple is working on expanding this list.
Finally, Apple is offering what it calls Guides. These are human-curated details about locations such as good places to eat, or destinations to visit. You can save a guide and it will update as things are added to it.
Apple is updating CarPlay with a few new app categories, but that's far from the most exciting car-related change we got today. The really cool news was the ability to use your iPhone as your car key.
Using this new feature (supported on only one car for now), you can unlock and start your car with your phone. Use NFC to unlock the door or trunk, then place the phone on a charging mat inside the car to start the engine.
You can also share keys through iMessages. If you want your significant other to be able to unlock and start your car, just send them the key. Forget something and need a friend to grab it from your trunk? Send them a key that can only access the trunk, then revoke the key later. If you lose your phone, you can log in and deactivate any or all your keys.
I realize that most of you reading this won't have much use for this kind of thing, and I don't need it either. Still, you have to admit that the idea of unlocking and starting your car with your phone, and simply sending a message to someone to let them do the same, is, to put it simply, super cool!
HomeKit, Apple's smart home platform, is getting a few modest improvements this year:
- you can draw activity zones for cameras, and activity outside of the zones won't trigger motion notifications
- cameras, particularly doorbells, can be given photos of specific people so HomeKit can tell you when a camera sees one of the people
- HomePod can announce when a HomeKit doorbell is rung, and who rang it, if the person's face is recognized
- lights can be set to change color throughout the day, limiting blue light output in the evening
An app clip is a small part of an app, focused on doing a specific thing. Clips can be downloaded quickly, because they're small by design. You can access new clips by bar codes, NFC tags, or regular links in Safari or iMessages.
Once you have an app clip, you can launch it, or access it later in your App Library. When an app clip runs, you can immediately log in with Sign In With Apple, and pay through Apple Pay, making the whole process as easy as possible. You can choose to download the full app later, or just get rid of the app clip once you're done with it.
There are a few things that will only be on iPad, due to its larger screen.
- Many apps, including Photos, Files, and Notes, are getting a sidebar. The idea seems to be to offer functions you may need without making you go dig for them, but while keeping most of the screen open for what you're working on.
- If you use Scribble in most any text field, your handwriting will turn into typed text. You can use Apple Pencil, for instance, to search the web or send an email.You can also circle text to select it, or scratch it out to erase it.
- You can start a search from anywhere in iPadOS, and open an app as you normally would. Search for an email, and pull it up in Slideover or Split View, for example.
- The playback screen in the Music app is enhanced, now showing playback controls, lyrics, and album art all on the same screen.
This will be an even more significant upgrade than iOS 14, at least for many users. Watch face changes, new functionality, new apps, and more are all coming to your wrist. Here's Apple's overview of the new features.
Apple Watch can now act as a sleep tracker, letting you know how long and how well you slept. It can do more than that, though. Choose from several alarm options, including a silent one that will tap your wrist; set up "wind down" routines that can dim lights, open specific apps, and more; have Do Not Disturb enable automatically when you go to bed, and let watchOS make sure your Apple Watch's screen never lights up until you're awake. It goes on, but those are the highlights. It's not clear if "going to bed" is something you have to tell your watch about, or if it will simply guess based on your motion and heart rate. I hope it's the latter, as simply getting into bed and laying there, then having watchOS turn on DND and set a nighttime scene, seems like a great feature.
Out with Workout, In with Fitness
The Workout app has gotten yoga, hiking, and many other workout types over the years, and will add some new ones this time around: core workouts, dancing, and something called "functional strength training". I'm not sure what that is, but hey, you can track it now. The Activity app on iPhone, which helps you keep track of all your workout and fitness data, is being renamed to Fitness. It is getting a re-design, putting more of your data in one place and giving you more metrics. I was very much hoping for a "rest day" so you could take a day off now and then and not lose your fitness streak, but that wasn't mentioned. Maybe it'll be in the beta.
Your watch face is the part of your Apple Watch with which you interact the most, so it makes sense that Apple is always refining the various faces. In watchOS7, there are yet more options. First of all, you can finally share your face. If you come up with a face layout that someone else wants, you can just send it to them. Second, developers are now able to offer rich complications in more places, and take advantage of other new APIs that will let them make their apps' complications even more useful. Third, you can choose any shortcut you create on iPhone as a complication on a watch face.
Did You Wash Your Hands?
This year, the world is facing COVID-19, a flu-like disease that has long since reached the pandemic stage. Washing our hands has become even more important than it used to be, and Apple wants to do its part. Apple Watch can detect when, how, and for how long you wash your hands. It will tell you if you washed for long enough, and can remind you to wash your hands anytime you arrive home.
Siri will be able to translate phrases you ask about into ten different languages, something iPhone can do but that has been missing from the watch. Perhaps more exciting, though, is that all dictation--from dictating a message to asking Siri a question--is now done right on the watch itself. Siri still needs the internet to answer questions or perform actions, but it can start working on what you asked faster since it no longer needs to wait for your request to be transformed into text by a server farm somewhere before it knows what you want.
Here are some other features you can look forward to in watchOS 7:
- a weekly summary of noise levels, both external and via headphones, to which you were exposed
- the ability to set headphone volume limits
- charging reminders and notifications to help keep your Apple Watch charged if you use it as a sleep tracker
There's not much to say about this tvOS update. It brings picture in picture, letting you keep a video playing while you use another tvOS app, or AirPlay to a PiP window. It also now supports live-streaming HomeKit camera feeds, including audio. Finally, it gains support for Microsoft's newer Xbox controllers, the Elite 2 and the Adaptive controllers.
macOS 11.0 Big Sur
As with tvOS, there's not a lot going on here. I promise, though, there's a very good reason for that, so keep reading.
The main area we saw a lot of changes is Safari. Extensions for Safari has its own section in the Mac App Store, and Apple says that extensions written for other browsers will work in Safari. You can also limit the access an extension has to your Mac.
Speaking of privacy, there's now a privacy overview option. This will inform you about trackers and other potential risks on a page. Apple will also monitor any password you save in iCloud, and notify you if a password may have been stolen.
Here are the other changes coming in Big Sur:
- the Mac gains a control center, similar to iOS, letting you customize the controls it has
- the widgets in Notification Center are more like those on iOS
- the Messages app gets all the improvements we saw in iOS' update
- Maps gains several features, such as favorites, Look Around mode, and indoor mapping support
- many apps have been re-designed, with disappearing menus, newer icons, and other (mostly visual) changes and more
Finally, here's the link to Apple's feature page for Big Sur.
Many years ago, Apple moved its Mac line from Power PC processors to Intel ones. When it made iPhone and iPad, it eventually decided to create its own processors instead of using ones from other companies. That move worked out so well that Apple has opted to do the same for the Mac. Starting at the end of the year, it will sell Macs with Apple processors inside, not Intel. It showed off a demo, macOS running apps on a computer powered by the same chip found in an iPad Pro. And it was running quite happily. Remember when I said there was a good reason for so few features in macOS 11? Well, this is it. I'd bet that the macOS teams have all been working on getting Big Sur ready to run on this new kind of processor.
Apple anticipates longer battery life, more speed, and less heat for Macs running its own silicon, but it knows that developers need time to catch up. It is offering two ways to ease the transition. First, Rosetta 2 will run on macOS, silently translating code meant for Intel processors into code that Apple processors can run. Users won't even know Rosetta is there, they'll just know their apps still work as they always have.
The other way Apple is helping developers is by making it easy to port iOS apps, and offering resources to help translate regular code into code for its own chips. Apps meant to run on Intel will still work on these new machines, but not as well as they could. The best solution is to get apps translated, so Apple wants to help make that happen.
The transition will take years, and Apple says it even has new Macs coming that run Intel. This won't be an overnight switch by any means. Still, Apple has given developers a lot of tools to help them get started; it even sells a Mac Mini running an A12Z processor so coders can work on app compatibility. Eventually, if an app is written for iPhone, iPad, or Mac, it will work on all of those platforms. In fact, any iOS app that exists right now can run on one of these new Macs. It'll be an interesting few years!
That's WWDC 2020
Macs are going to run on custom processors from Apple, which isn't unexpected, but is still strange to think about. What happens when Mac, iPhone, and iPad all run the same basic OS, and support the same apps? We also got watchOS, with sleep tracking, more workout types, hand-washing help, and cool changes to watch faces. iOS and iPadOS 14 will bring widgets and picture in picture to iPhone, and better searching and app management, new group message features, and plenty more to iPhone and iPad. Big Sur gets the same iMessage changes, a better Maps app, and the foundations of the transition away from Intel. tvOS gets picture in picture, more controller support, and streaming for HomeKit cameras.
Personally, I'm most excited about watchOS, though the hand-washing thing will be turned off right away; I already wash my hands for well over twenty seconds. I'm also looking forward to the widgets on iPhone, and to seeing what developers end up doing with app clips. Also, of course, I can't wait to see how the transition away from Intel goes, but that's because I love all things technological--I'm a geek, in other words. Oh, and having phone calls not take over my entire screen will be wonderful!
What are you most, or least, excited about? What did Apple not do that you hoped they would? Do the upcoming software upgrades make you want to try a new device? Maybe you'll finally get an Apple Watch now that it can do sleep tracking? Discuss in the comments!