The Biggest Announcements from Apple WWDC 2020: Widgets, Digital Car Keys and More
Amidst the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) was held completely virtually for the first time, with the tech giant kicking off the week-long event on June 22 with a two-hour-long keynote. Announcements were made for the products in Apple's eco-system—the iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, and iPad—all of which will be getting major updates to their operating systems this autumn.
From a widget-based home screen for the iPhone to a design overhaul to the MacOS interface, big changes lie ahead for Apple users. The developer Beta preview is already available for Apple Developer Program members, and Apple also will be making Beta experiences available to the public next month. Before then, here's what to expect.
1/4 iPhone: iOS 14
Brand new look
A signature of Apple’s iPhone experience is its minimal home screen, which displays your apps in an orderly fashion. That will change in iOS 14 however, offering users more opportunities to customise their iPhone experience with redesigned widgets—similar to the Android’s widgets system.
The newly optimised system allows users to pin widgets in different sizes on any home screen page, and offers the option to create a Smart Stack of widgets, which surfaces your widgets based on time, location and activity. Additionally, an App Library organises all your apps into an easy-to-navigate page, with intelligent suggestions on apps that you may need at the moment.
Better in-app experiences
Other changes aim to make answering calls and interacting with Siri a more seamless experience, adopting a more compact design that doesn’t interrupt with what you are doing on the phone. Picture-in-Picture also supports watching a video or FaceTime while using another app.
A new feature, dubbed ‘App Clips’, allows users to utilise “a small part of an app experience designed to be discovered the moment it is needed”, without downloading the full app. Apple shares these clips “load within seconds to complete a specific task”, and can be “easily discovered and accessed by scanning a new Apple-designed App Clip code, or through NFC tags and QR codes, or shared in Messages or from Safari, all with the security and privacy expected from apps.”
Additionally, there will be more transparency and control over your privacy, as apps will be required to obtain user permission before tracking and also offer summaries of what data is collected and tracked.
New and improved features
Major improvements have also been made to Apple’s basic features. Maps will become easier to navigate for cyclists and electric vehicle users, with specialised routes and directions, as well as curated guides for these modes of transport, factoring in bike lanes and hills, battery range, and charging locations. The new Maps will roll out first in United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada.
For car owners, an exciting new feature is the introduction of digital car keys, allowing users to unlock and start their car with an iPhone or Apple Watch via NFC. These digital car keys can be “easily shared using Messages, or disabled through iCloud if a device is lost” and a power reserve feature allows these keys to work for up to five hours after your iPhone battery runs out. The feature will roll out first to BMW next month and include other automakers over time. The tech giant also unveiled a next generation of the digital car keys that will operate with Ultra Wideband technology, which will be available next year.
With iOS 14, Apple’s useful Find My app will include support for third-party products and accessories which are under the new Find My Network accessory program.
(Related: Apple’s New iPhone Update Will Make it Easier to Unlock Your Phone While Wearing a Face Mask)
2/4 Mac: macOS Big Sur
The macOS Big Sur will be what Apple calls the “biggest design upgrade since the introduction of Mac OS X”, borrowing some elements from the tech giant’s iOS systems. The new user experience promises to make navigation easier while offering more control to the user. The design of the interface is refined and minimal, reducing visual complexity and allowing buttons and controls to appear only when needed. Similar to the iOS 14, macOS Big Sur will feature redesigned widgets and interactive notifications in an updated Notification Center, as well as an all-new Control Center for quick access to controls.
Improved performance for Safari
Greater personalisation has been introduced with a customisable start page featuring favourites, reading lists, and iCloud tabs, as well as improved support for extensions. Another welcome addition is the built-in translation, which can translate entire webpages from seven languages in just a click.
Messages on Mac now offer better organisation, with a redesigned search feature that arranges results into links, photos and matching terms.
A new group messaging feature enables users to respond directly to a message or direct a message to an individual in the conversation by typing their name. Users can also pin important or favourite conversations to the top of their messaging list—features which are also available in the new iOS 14.
(Related: What We Know About Apple's New iPad Pro, MacBook Air and Magic Keyboard)
3/4 Apple Watch: WatchOS 7
The new WatchOS 7 offers more personalisation for its watch faces, with “new ways to discover and share unique combinations”. User can configure Apple’s library of faces with features—which Apple calls “complications”—according to their activities and lifestyles, and share or download faces through Messages and Mail, the App Store, or websites and social media.
Developers will also “have the ability to offer more than one complication per app on a single watch face”, which allows users to get valuable information at a glance.
Health and fitness tracking
Users can also expect more comprehensive health tracking on the new WatchOS. The popular Workout app introduces new workout types: Core Training, Dance, Functional Strength Training, and Cooldown; while the Activity app, now called Fitness, is redesigned to provide a streamlined view of data from daily activity to workouts.
A new feature is sleep tracking, which captures your sleep trend based on micro-movements from the watch’s accelerometer. Wind Down helps users to create a customised routine before bed, such as listening to a soothing soundscape or using a meditation app. The watch also wakes you up with gentle sounds or a silent haptic alarm.
A first-of-its-kind for a wearable—and also incredibly apt amidst the Covid-19 pandemic—the WatchOS 7 allows your watch to automatically detect hand washing motions and sounds through motion sensors, a microphone and on-device machine learning. This triggers a 20-second countdown timer to ensure thorough hand washing. The watch also tracks the frequency and duration of your handwashing and reminds you to wash your hands when you return home.
(Related: The New Apple Watch Hermès Series 5 Features An Eye-Catching Scarf Design On Its Strap)
4/4 iPad: iPadOS 14
Similar to iOS 14, the iPadOS 14 will feature a compact design for incoming FaceTime and phone calls, Siri interactions, and Search, allowing users to stay focused on their current task.
Search, especially, has been rebuilt to locate and launch anything from apps and files to accessing contacts and quick information in just one place. Users can activate the Search function from anywhere without exiting their current app, and web searches have been improved to deliver relevant suggestions even as you type. Sidebars, toolbars and pull-down menus across the iPadOS 14 have also been streamlined to consolidate navigation and provide easy access to app controls.
More functionality with Apple Pencil
You can now do more with the Apple Pencil with Scribble, which allows you to write in any text field—from replying an iMessage to searching in Safari. The new feature will automatically convert handwriting into typed text, and can also distinguish handwriting, illustrations, and shapes in Notes. Data detectors can also recognise phone numbers, dates, and addresses from handwritten text, allowing users to make calls, add Calendar events, or look up a location in Maps. Scribble will first roll out with support for English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, and mixed Chinese and English.
Powerful augmented reality
Augmented reality is now even more realistic with the introduction of ARKit 4, which “allows developers to access even more precise depth information captured by the new LiDAR Scanner on iPad Pro”. The brand new Depth API, as well as Location Anchors, support more powerful AR features, such as taking body measurements, testing paint colours in a room, and pinning AR experiences to specific geographic coordinates.