The 2021 WWDC Keynote makes clear why the only company that can trounce Apple is Apple.
Cue heaps of dry ice as a DeLorean parked onstage opens with a Tim Cook clone stepping out and holding up an iPhone. A few more cuts and we see a cartoonscapade that suspiciously looks like Apple's take on Rick and Morty. And before you know it, a musical titled 'The Bug: Not A Musical' is alive and kicking on the screen, with actors singing about (you guessed it!) a bug. Finally, the Craig Federighi and Tim Cook clones join hands in an epic arena rock act.
The screen reads: 'Here's to crazy ideas. Welcome to WWDC'. Rousing applause fills the background as we see the silhouette of a man walking onto the stage. The real Tim Cook finally makes an appearance, waving his hands to an audience of Memoji.
If you were wondering, that wasn't a Coen brothers narration; that's how Apple kicked off the Keynote for WWDC 2021.
Chock full of surprises and big announcements, the Keynote was everything we were hoping for from Apple. iOS, iPadOS, macOS, WatchOS, and a host of other delightful little surprises marked the Keynote (aka the Craig Federighi show). Over this article and the next, our team will detail the updates to iOS and iPadOS and explain how they change the game for developers. So without further ado, let's dive in.
As the torchbearer for ease of use and privacy, iOS received significant updates this time around. Right off the bat were the ones for FaceTime.
FaceTime: The new challenger in Zoomtown
Calls on FaceTime will now feel more natural and lifelike with Spatial Audio, making someone's voice sound like it's coming from their position in the video call display grid. Mics get a couple of updates, too. One is voice isolation to block out the background and prioritize your voice. The other is the voice spectrum which can capture a symphony of sounds and convey them smoothly over a call.
But here are the bits that might make Zoom nervous: FaceTime now has grid view, a portrait mode for clear video of faces, and links! You can now generate links for FaceTime calls and share them with even Android and Windows users, who can join without an Apple ID. A feature called SharePlay debuts on FaceTime. It will let you share the experience of watching movies or listening to music with friends over FaceTime. The picture-in-picture view keeps controls at hand and makes smooth cross-app navigation possible. Apple decided to go ahead and throw APIs into this potent stew, so developers can now imagine SharePlay capabilities for any app out there.
iMessage: Pocket isn't going to like this
Apple has a knack for creating publicity. Shortly before WWDC went live, they changed their Twitter hashflag to tease updates to iMessage. Although not earth-shattering, they did manage to make it more personal. Here's an example: The photos your friends share with you show up as stacks in messages. This lets you browse through them without leaving the conversation screen. But the handiest update kicks in when people share news articles or playlists with you. Quietly, like a secret little elf, iOS grabs that article for you and adds it to a 'Shared With You' section in the News app. Apple Music does the same, too, if it spots a playlist in your conversation. So don't be surprised if you catch Pocket acting grumpy.
Focus: A kinder Do Not Disturb
As if Zoom and Pocket weren't enough, Apple cuts Slack no slack either, with its updated Do Not Disturb. Now, if someone texts you when you have DND enabled, they're going to see a little banner that tells you that the receiver has DND turned on and proceeds to ask if you want to 'notify them anyway.'
But if you're looking to strike even more of a balance, then Focus should do the trick. You can create a Focus profile in this mode and choose apps and contacts that won't trespass on your concentration. iOS will use on-device intelligence to suggest apps for which you can enable notifications. It even lets you go a step further and dedicate a page on your homescreen to arrange your apps and widgets to match your Focus profile. Needless to say, this will sync across all your devices.
Notifications come into the picture here, too, with Apple's updated take on them. The fresh new look will now have contact photos for people and larger app icons for instant recognizability. You can even schedule a 'notifications summary' and have it delivered to you at a convenient time. No more of that group chat clutter!
LiveText: If the iPhone camera were missing something, it's this
If Slack, Zoom, and Pocket were looking for company, Google Lens might oblige. Apple's LiveText can now capture notes from the whiteboard, look up text from photos in your library, search the internet for the text from screenshots, Quick Look, and even web photos. It even pulls searches for art, books, nature, pets, and landmarks. It's currently available in 7 languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese - both traditional and simplified.
Spotlight: iOS's heavy lifter puts on more muscle
Spotlight can now pull off rich searches, showing you rich results with access to call, text, email, FaceTime, and Pay if you search for a contact. In addition to this, it will also pull the photos, files, calendar appointments, and location updates you shared with them to give you a clear overview of your history with that contact. Actors, TV shows, and other popular topics of discussion get the same treatment, too.
Maps: Not Google Maps, but definitely still cool
Apple Maps will now feature an interactive globe with elevation information, labels for roads, custom-designed landmarks, and a gorgeous night mode featuring a moonlit globe. It can point you to safer navigation routes and less crowded intersections and crosswalks. Like a friendly public transit concierge, it will even point out your stop before you arrive and point you in the right direction when you exit a station. In addition, Apple's AR Navigation gets a pretty update, with large gorgeous arrows showing up on a real-time street view to help out.
All iPads are tablets, but not all tablets are iPads; this rings truer than ever with Apple's phenomenal iPadOS 15. If the iPad had any competitors, the latest update puts them light years behind.
Productivity: Creating just got smoother. Way smoother.
iPadOS now rocks an easy access feature to the App Library in the dock itself. And up top sits the new control for multitasking. Tapping it transports you to a world of unhindered work with Apple's intuitive take on split view. You can minimize windows into floating on-screen tabs at the bottom and drag tabs into one another to create a split view for them quickly.
Notes, Apple's humble and quiet performer now packs more firepower with the addition of the mention feature; just @mention people in a note to link them to it instantly. It also has an activity view to show you the note's change history, tags for organization, and the handy new Quick Notes feature. Just drag from the screen's bottom right corner to pull up a Quick Note. Notes will sort them out for you and make them available across all your devices.
Mail: All hail the new mail
The updated Mail app reinforces Apple's commitment to privacy and can now hide your IP address and prevent it from being linked to your activity on the web and location. It also clamps down on pixel tracking, so senders can't track your opens and clicks unless there are UTMs lurking in the links. In addition, the app will work in tandem with iCloud to generate unique and random email addresses that you can share with other people. These random ids will forward all emails to your original id, keeping your online identity safe and adding yet another fang to Apple's claim to the privacy throne.
iCloud+: Finally, a + that's actually a plus
iCloud+ is Apple's new premium subscription model, and offers something called Private Relay. It ensures that the traffic leaving your device is encrypted so that nobody can intercept and read it. It sends all your requests through two separate relays and creates an environment so secure that not even Apple can see which websites you visit. Talk about practicing what you preach.
Swift Playgrounds: If you're a budding developer, rejoice.
Here's the scoop: You can now build apps on your iPad. Swift Playgrounds on your iPad will now work with Xcode and support improved code completion. That cool app idea your kid wanted to try out? Just let them loose in Swift Playgrounds. Coming on the back of the tweaks Apple made to Swift, especially async/await, it now feels more natural to code. So if you're looking for a fun skill to pick up while working from home, look no further than your nearest iPad.
Though not as bombastic as they come, Apple's updates this year have many layers to them. More than anything, they sound the bugles on the fast-heating user privacy war and reinforce the bold choice Apple made with iOS 14.5.
On a deeper level, they add complexities to building apps for iOS and make developer foresight more crucial than ever before. As long-time iOS experts, we have built and released apps for Fortune 500s and startups alike on the App Store. So we couldn't be more excited with these new changes and the vast scope for improvement they open up for existing apps and planned ones. If you or your business is looking to make the most of these updates, our team would be thrilled to help you.