Today, at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Jose, California, executives whizzed through all of the software that's going to power your iDevices in the coming year. Some highlights: iOS is going dark, the iPad is becoming a viable laptop replacement, and the Apple Watch is growing into the only health-tracking device you'll need. There's even a new and improved Siri that can read your messages out loud like an executive assistant. If you missed the big show, you can watch it here, or read on for all the news you need to know.
Surprise: There’s a new version of iOS, and it's packed with fun little features. Apple rejiggered some of its core apps, like Safari and Mail, to look better on your phone. Music now has a live lyrics feature which turns your phone into a mobile karaoke machine, and there's a retooled Maps app, which lets you share your ETA with friends and family and preview locations in street view. There’s a new keyboard called “Quick Path” that lets you form words by swiping across the keyboard rather than tapping each individual letter. And Messages now comes with the option to attach a profile picture and display name to your phone number, similar to WhatsApp.
Apple also claims that it's sped everything up in this software update: Face ID should unlock 30 percent faster, and app launch speed should be twice as fast. That's cool, but the thing that got most cheers today: an all-new system-wide dark mode. The new iOS will be available to download later this year, with a developer preview launching later today.
Sign In With Apple
Single-sign-on makes it easy to log into third-party apps with just your Google or Facebook credentials, but that convenience comes at the expense of some private information. Now Apple has its answer: "Sign in with Apple." It works similar to Google and Facebook's authenticators, but "without revealing any personal information" to those third-party apps, according to Apple software chief Craig Federighi. Apple will even protect your email address by generating a unique, random email address when apps request one, making it easy to cut off communication later when you’re tired of all those marketing emails.
The Apple Watch has always felt like a useful extension of your iPhone. It keeps you connected, handles phone calls and messages, and manages many of the basic functions of your phone, albeit on a tiny screen. Now the Apple Watch can do even more: Apple added a calculator, voice memos, and more streaming audio to the next version of WatchOS. The health tracking capabilities are better too, with a new menstrual cycle tracking feature and a new way to measure your own activity trends over time. (Watch out, Garmin.) But the biggest update to WatchOS is the new Watch-specific App Store, filled with apps developed specifically for the Apple Watch. It gives developers more leeway to create apps specifically for the Watch, and it untethers the device from your iPhone. That could make the Apple Watch more attractive to a set of customers who aren’t all-in on the Apple ecosystem.
In its first revamp since 2013, the new Mac Pro is a behemoth. While it might look like a cheese grater, it’s being marketed as running like a Terminator. The juggernaut features an Intel Xeon processor with up to 28 cores, 1.5 TB of system memory, and a graphics card capable of playing three streams of 8K video (or 12 streams of 4K video) at once. Also, it has the option to add wheels. Apple also unveiled a new external monitor, the Pro Display XDR. The 6K retina display boasts 10-bit color, an anti-reflective coating, portrait mode capability, and “extreme dynamic range” (which is better than high dynamic range, you see, because it is “extreme”). Combined, the whole setup will set you back somewhere around $11,000, including the $999 (!) matching stand for the monitor. Granted, the target audience here is creative professionals working with high-end video and audio production, so to them the upgrade might seem palatable.
Named after one of California’s picturesque island destinations, MacOS Catalina is Apple’s latest update to its operating system for desktops and laptops. A new feature called “Sidecar” will allow an iPad to be used as secondary display or a drawing surface, à la a Wacom tablet. The new OS will also offer far more precise voice interactions than ever before, which could be a huge step forward for accessibility if the system lives up to the onstage demonstrations we saw today. Overall, Catalina will offer a more refined user experience.
The big reveal, however, was Project Catalyst, the new moniker for the long-gestating project (previously known as Marzipan) that makes it easier for developers to get their apps working across Apple platforms—specifically between the iPad and the desktop. Where once the task required shipping two types of code, now all the heavy lifting is done by just checking a box in XCode, Apple’s tool for developing software.
Can the iPad be your main computer? Right now, probably not. But the new iPadOS brings it a little closer. Apple's added tons of new functions: You can pin widgets to the home screen, split the screen to view multiple windows at once, and—get this—you can connect it to a thumb drive. Apple also optimized Safari for the iPad, so that browsing feels more like a desktop experience and less like finger-jabbing a big phone.
The forthcoming updates to Apple’s ubiquitous personal assistant are subtle, but surely welcome. In addition to improved interactions with AirPods and HomePods, Siri can now work with third-party CarPlay apps such as Pandora and Waze. Apple is also trying to get Siri to climb out of the uncanny valley by making its voice sound less choppy and robotic by means of something they’re calling Neural TTS. According to Stacey Lysik, Apple’s senior director of their OS program, Siri’s voice is “now entirely generated by software.” Hal-lelujah.
With every update for the AirPods, it becomes more clear that Apple wants you to just never remove them from your ears. The wireless buds now interact better with Siri, allowing it to read incoming messages aloud and send voice-dictated responses. For anyone still looking to interact with a fellow human being while wearing AirPods, Apple announced a sound-sharing feature, which allows multiple users to connect to the same audio source.
The HomePod is boldly going where the Amazon Echo and Google Home have gone years before, with a new “handoff” feature that allows audio playing on an iPhone to be seamlessly tossed to a HomePod, and the ability to recognize and distinguish between the different voices of the people living in your home. Better now than never.
iTunes is dead, long live iTunes! After a joke threat to pack the already bloated software with even more features (maps! Safari!), Apple all but killed iTunes, as expected. Instead, it has effectively been split into three apps: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV. The emphasis seemed to be simplicity and user-friendliness, though it remains to be seen how well the divisions will serve the user’s content management. Some highlights were Apple Podcasts’s new machine-learning approach to searching for podcasts based on words spoken in the show itself, as opposed to just the title or description, and a reemphasis of 4K HDR playback on Apple TV.
The iPhone’s emoji options have evolved. New “Memoji” offer unprecedented levels of personalization so you can customize your emoji to create a nigh-uncanny likeness. Proud of your multiple piercings? Plug them in. Want to emphasize that gap in your teeth? Who wouldn’t? And yes, of course you can make your Memoji wear AirPods too. Unlike the iPhone X’s Animoji, these customizations don’t rely on an expensive True Depth camera. Any device with an A9 chip or later can create them.
The announcement of ARKit 3 comes with some nifty upgrades for developers who work in augmented reality. A People Occlusion feature recognizes people inside an AR environment and allows a developer to layer virtual content in front of or behind them. Motion Capture auto-detects real life movement to use for rendering accurate 3D models. Also, as shown during a protracted, chicken-filled demonstration from two Mojang execs, you can now put yourself in an AR version of Minecraft. You know, for kids.