Here’s everything Apple announced at its 2021 WWDC keynote
Apple's annual World Wide Developers Conference offers new features for All of Apple's operating systems.
Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference represents one of the company’s biggest events of the year. While the actual sessions and seminars are geared toward people who make apps and software in the Apple ecosystem, the keynote typically includes some juicy announcements. We often get to see what’s coming down the line in the next versions of iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS. Plus, Tim Cook and his pals will often pull back the curtain on new hardware products that we’ll see later this calendar year.
WWDC is a digital-only event again this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it looks like the announcements could be both plentiful and impactful. Rumors have suggested that we may get larger, more powerful MacBook Pro computers based on Apple’s own silicon. We won’t know until Tim Cook and the rest of the Apple crew take to the highly produced, virtual stage.
The WWDC keynote starts at 1 p.m. Eastern time (10 a.m. Pacific), and you can watch in the YouTube player embedded above. I’ll also be watching along and pulling out the most important bits to post below. It’s one of just a few chances we get each year to nerd out about operating systems and we’re not going to pass that up.
What happened last year at WWDC 2020?
Apple Silicon was the big news at WWDC last year. The company officially announced that it was breaking up with Intel and making its own chips to power its computers. It’s hard to believe that was just one year ago. We already have several really excellent M1-powered computers, and a burly M1-toting iPad Pro in the lineup.
As usual, last year also gave us a look at iOS 14 MacOS Big Sur. We’ll expect to see similar development updates for the various operating systems this year. Speculation suggests that iPadOS may get a big update since the M1-powered iPad Pro has so much horsepower under the hood now.
We’re starting off talking about iOS. Predictably, it’s called iOS 15. This year, FaceTime is getting an update, which includes spatial audio to make it seem as if the people are in the room with you. Face Time will also now use machine learning to cancel out background noise on your microphone.
From a video standpoint, FaceTime now has a grid mode (finally) and portrait mode, which will blur the background to take out distracting elements. FaceTime also now allows users to make events out of FaceTime calls so you can send out a link and have people join the meeting. It’s not limited to Apple devices–people can click on FaceTime invite links and join through the browser.
Share Play adds another dimension to FaceTime calls. Users to pull in music from Apple Music to listen together. It also works for video playback. It will work with HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, Twitch, and Tik Tok. This is big game for teens who already do this kind of co-watching.
You’re not always in the mood to video chat, but Apple has updated its texting app as well. The updates here seem more incremental from the start. Messages is getting more integrated into the other Apple Apps. Apple Music will keep track of playlists that other people send you. The Photos app will do the same by creating a dedicated place to keep photos your friends have messaged you. It also works with News.
Notifications are getting a redesign, which includes a Notification Summary mode, which will keep track of all you notifications and show you what it thinks is important. Setting “do not disturb” mode will also now alert people who are texting you in Messenger about your status.
Focus groups allows you to tell the phone what kind of notifications you want. During Personal time, for instance, it’ll give you notifications from friends and entertainment apps. Set a work Focus, however, and you’ll get email and Slack notifications. The device learns about your habits to try and hone these behaviors.
The iPhone Camera will now recognize text and make it selectable. iOS 15 will go back in your photo library and pull out text it sees in the images. You can also easily scan notes into editable text. This all feels very Google-y.
When you search in your device now, Apple will throw more rich results at you. It can dig into photos and create more robust sets of results that show you images and other types of media in addition to links. Curious to see how far this goes.
Apple’s photo features have felt like they’re lagging compared to Google Photos for quite some time, but Apple is trying to change that. Apple can now pull in songs from Apple Music in order to make intelligent slide shows with photos from your camera roll. It uses AI to make what it calls Memory Mixes. I’m looking forward to making a slide show of my homemade pizza photos set to a Cannibal Corpse soundtrack.
Apple is doubling down on the iPhone as a key by working with big hotel chains. You’ll be able to tap to open hotel doors soon. More importantly, some states will soon allow Apple Wallet to hold an official copy of your ID. Apple says Airports will be the first partners so you can use your Wallet app when boarding planes.
iOS 15 will bring some specific features to Apples AirPods headphones. Conversation Boost focuses the microphones on the person talking in front of you and lets you allow the extent to which AI wipes out background noise.
Siri can now automatically read notifications to you when it thinks it’s important. So, if you ask Siri to tell you about your shopping list when you get to the store, it can do so.
Find My works better with AirPods now. It works similarly to the hyper-specific location tech found in the AirTags.
With iOS out of the way, it’s time to talk about Apple’s bigger touchscreen device. The company has been working to differentiate iPadOS since it splintered of from iOS recently.
You can now add Widgets from the Widget gallery to the home screen among the apps. Most of the popular first-party widgets are getting a revamp to use more of the screen space. App Library now lives in the dock as well, so you can get to it quickly. This is going to make me feel guilty for not organizing my iPad apps.
There’s a new control on the top of iPad apps, which relates specifically to multi-tasking. It will give users immediate access to multitasking options without having to dig through settings or memorize gestures. Multitasking was useful but also very annoying before this.
There’s now a “shelf” feature that sits at the bottom of the screen and keeps track of all the windows you have open in a specific app. that could be helpful for people like me who have way too many Safari tabs open all the time.
Apple now allows for tagging users and tracking changes in Notes, which sounds a lot like Google Docs. Quick Note now offers Note features in a portable app that recognizes what app you’re using. So, you can bring up the Quick Note tool while you’re using Safari and quickly save the URL to the note.
Once relegated to iOS, Translate is now coming to the iPad. It supports Auto Translate, so you can put the device between you and another person and then talk in real time. Translate works system-wide, so it can even analyze photos and tell you what a word means in the scene.
Now Apple is diving into a wider privacy discussion. It will be interesting to see how this goes over with app developers. Apple is beefing up the anti-tracking tech in Mail by blocking tracking pixels, and Safari by now obscuring your IP address.
The new Apple Privacy Report will tell you what personal information your apps access over a seven day period. It also keeps track of the third party URLs with which those apps communicate. Apple really wants to control app tracking.
Siri will now handle much more on-device voice processing. You shouldn’t have to ping the internet for Siri to turn on the flashlight, and now it won’t have to. Because Siri is doing the voice processing on-device, the entire service should also be faster, which enables more consecutive requests without having to resummon the voice assistant with a button press or voice command.
Apple is adding a new way to get into an account you’re locked out of. You can add a friend who can help you get back into a device.
You can also now designate a legacy contact who can request your information after you die without a lot of legal hassle.
The paid iCloud subscriptions are now going to be called iCloud+. It enables a more secure method of browsing through Safari and the service will protect your email address. It looks like there are quite a few new security updates to iCloud and it won’t raise the price of the service.
Apple is adding three new Health tracking features in iOS 15. Walking Steadiness builds on Apple’s already established techniques for monitoring how you walk. It tracks the length of your steps and the timing of each step. Using this information, it can make inferences about the likelihood that you’ll fall. It can give you a warning if it thinks you’re at risk. Then, it can recommend exercises to do in order to improve your balance.
The second new feature involves tracking results for lab tests. The Health app now provides specific descriptions of the results and charts to show if your results are within normal levels.
Trends will look more closely at your health data to see if it can figure out some patterns that are emerging. If you’ve been binge-watching yourself into oblivion, it will send you a push notification to tell you to get more exercise.
The Health App can also now share information directly with your doctor. Apple is partnering with digital health record companies so it can share information about specific aspects of your Health without relying on you to convey the information.
Health features also now allow users to share information directly with their family. So, if you have an elderly parent you want to keep an eye on, you can do so in real time by viewing their lab results and vital signs.
Apple says the Breathe app has gotten much more popular in the next year. It’s getting new animations to go with it now. In addition to the regular Breathe app, it now includes Reflectsions, which give you prompts to think about as you meditate.
Apple says the Photos Watch face is the most popular it offers. It’s getting a revamp to include a Portrait display mode. It can also now pull in photos from Memories for more options.
The updates on Watch are cool, but very granular.
We’re getting a whole segment dedicated to HomeKit. You’ll soon be able to ask a HomePod Mini to play something on the Apple TV using Siri voice commands. That’s a handy feature I’ve used on Google and Alexa’s platforms for a while.
Starting in the fall, you’ll be able to select HomePod Mini as the speakers for the Apple TV. HomePod Mini is also getting access to spatial audio and lossless audio later this year.
Starting in the Fall, Siri on HomePod will recognize different voices, which is another handy feature that Google has offered for a while.
Siri is now coming to other smart home devices, so you can directly talk to other gadgets.
Apple says its next release is focused on helping you do “even more,” which is a pass from me. I do not want to do more.
The new macOS is called Monterey. We’ve already got a look a lot of the new features that will also work in macOS. The FaceTime updates, as well as the Share Play stuff all works on Mac as well as iPhone and iPad. You’ll also get the updated Notes app and Quick Note. Buying fully into Apple stuff is starting to pay off even more.
A single mouse and keyboard will no move easily between an iPad and a Mac.
Sitting the iPad down next to the MacBook essentially makes the iPad into a smart display. You can drag and drop files between the two, which is impressive. It works with more than two devices, so you can also integrate an iMac.
The Mac also gets AirPlay now. This is really interesting and I’m curious to see how it works in the real world. Seems like there could be some compatibility issues at first, but this looks really handy if it works flawlessly.
If you’re a lazy scumbag about tabs like I am, you may appreciate Apple’s new tab design in Safari. They have gotten a visual redesign, which makes them more appealing and also changes them to the color of the page you’re viewing.
Tab groups allow you to organize tabs and do things like sharing an entire group at once via email. This looks handy if I can convince myself to use it.
The tabs and tab bar work across devices. They sync instantly between a Mac and an iPad. iPhone gets a new tab bar that makes it easier to organize them on the smaller screen.
At this point, we’re getting into the more developer-specific news. If you’re not building apps for the iPhone, this probably won’t have much relevance to you.