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Apple WWDC 2021: Focus on iOS 15 privacy; FaceTime, Maps updates

Apple WWDC 2021: Focus on iOS 15 privacy; FaceTime, Maps updates
Apple CEO Tim Cook  |  Photo Credit: Reuters
8 Jun, 2021

Apple’s ecosystem of devices, referred to as walled garden due to the way the company tends to intricate details, now has even more privacy updates.  

At its flagship Worldwide Developers Conference 2021, the Cupertino, California based consumer electronics and software provider unveiled new plans to prevent other firms from gaining access to user data as well as give consumers more control over notifications.  

The week-long event, which kicked off on Monday, is once again being held online this year due to the pandemic. 

Some of the key expectations going into WWDC 2021 were around the next version of iOS -- called as the iOS 15 -- its privacy features, a major redesign of the MacBook pro and hardware updates. 

Here are key takeaways:  

Privacy takes centre stage for iOS 15

As always, a WWDC would not be complete without revelations on the next operating system. This year saw the preview of three major operating system updates that will power Apple devices. These include iPhone’s operating system, the iOS 15,  ipadOS 15 for the iPad and the macOS Monterey for the Mac notebooks.   

The focus of the new updates were around four key pillars -- exploring the world, using intelligence, distraction free focusing and staying connected. The KTA is clearly on privacy, and the ability to make multiple Apple devices have greater collaboration with each other.   

Some of the features include an App Privacy report, where users can see how different apps have a stance on data and privacy. A separate feature hides IP address and location in case a user wants to send an email without revealing these details. 

Through the Mail Privacy Protection feature, the user can also disallow the sender from knowing if an email has been read.   

In terms of voice capabilities, inputs to voice assistant Siri will be processed within the phone and won’t be sent to Apple’s servers without permission. This also means that a broadband connection won’t be necessary to interact with Siri.    

“Privacy is more important than ever, because when you use the internet and third-party apps, you can be tracked by a complex ecosystem of data brokers and ad tech firms, often without your permission,” Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering at Apple ,said.  

Focus and more prominent notifications

Apple has introduced features to help filter notifications and apps based on the users' preferences. Called Focus, a new feature will help users to choose the notifications that they wish to see. The device will then permutate which people or apps could notify the user. The settings will be on context such as work hours, while hitting the bed and others. Settings can also be automatically applied to all Apple devices if set in one.    

Apple also said that it has redesigned notifications, adding contact photos for individuals and larger icons. This update will work in tandem with the Focus feature through a notification summary which will collect non-time-critical notifications, which can be set to be shown at a later time. Based on a user’s interactions with apps, relevant and urgent messages will be delivered immediately, the company said in a statement.   

Search for text in photos

With the Live Text feature, users can search for text is present in a photo. Consumers will be able to recognise text in a photo, copy it, and paste it into another application.  Live Text, available currently in seven languages, utilises the Apple Neural Engine at its core. A feature called as Visual Look Up, works in a similar fashion as Google Lens does, helping to learn about restaurants, plants, pets and find books through photos.   

Updates to FaceTime

Apple’s proprietary video call platform FaceTime will now get a spatial audio feature, which will make the audio more realistic and less digital-like. The company also announced more noise cancellation features which are optional.   

For the video itself, FaceTime will automatically blur the background in the portrait mode. Also in a big development, Apple has opened FaceTime to work on a web browser, which now will allow individuals without an Apple device to join FaceTime. Industry watchers say that the move might be Apple’s way of directly engaging with competitors such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.   

Updates to maps and more weather data

The maps section, which has so far been dominated by Google Maps, has become competitive with the recent launch of Amazon Location Services by AWS. The space now has another major player, with Apple updating its maps features.  Some of the new features include details such as crosswalks, medians, bike lanes etc. The maps will also have3D elements such as bridges and users can use maps to engage with detailed walking directions in augmented reality.   

The weather data will also showcase more graphical displays, full-screen maps, and backgrounds that reflect the sun’s position and precipitation along with alerts for rain and snow.   

Other updates

Apple said it has updated its digital keys feature through an Ultra Wideband technology, which can be used to unlock and start supported vehicles. The same could also be used to unlock home, office and hotel rooms through keys stored in Apple Wallet.   

Like the DigiLocker app back in India,  users in the US will also be able to add their state IDs and driver’s license to their wallets, these will eventually be used in airport security checkpoints and other areas.   

In the notes applications, user-created tags will make it easier to categorise lists. Customers will also be able to share and tag other iphone owners to alert on important updates.  

iCloud users will also automatically be updated to iCloud+, where features such as Hide My Email, HomeKit Secure Video support, and a new privacy service called iCloud Private Relay will be provided.  

The Find My Feature will help users to identify their device that has been turned off or reset through a GPS feature. The feature will now also support Apple’s AirPods devices.   

Availability

The developer preview of iOS 15 has been thrown open to Apple Developer program members while a public beta version is expected to be available to users next month.  Most of the software features are expected to be available in late September and will be a free update for iPhone 6 and later versions.