Apple reveals the major changes coming to iOS, macOS, watchOS and more
Like many tech events, Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is online-only this year, but that hasn't stopped CEO Tim Cook and his team showing off a raft of software changes coming to iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS in the coming months.
Besides all the software previews and news, there was also a major hardware announcement – Apple is planning to move its Macs from Intel chips to custom Apple silicon over the next few product launches, though Intel-based Macs will continue to be supported with software updates for several years.
That's a big move from Apple, and it means it will control the full hardware and software experience on its Macs like it currently does on the iPhone and iPad. Apple will also need help from software developers to make the transition as seamless as possible.
As for the software updates announced today, for iPhone owners iOS 14 is going to bring with it a number of big changes. Home screens will be able to feature customizable widgets (for calendars, weather reports and so on), so users who want to move away from the rigid grids of icons can do so.
There's also an interesting new feature called App Library: an intelligently sorted, folder-based list of all installed apps, designed to make it easier to find apps that might otherwise be seven or eight home screen swipes away.
Also in the pipeline is picture-in-picture support (for watching videos on top of apps), a more compact Siri interface that doesn't cover the entire screen, and a new Apple Translate app for converting text and speech between languages.
Messages is getting better at managing group conversations – with the ability to apply inline to specific messages, and a new Twitter-style mention feature – and important conversations can also be pinned to the top of the list where needed. Meanwhile, Maps is getting cycling directions in selected cities.
Some of those features will be very familiar to Android users of course, but Apple and Google have been pinching feature ideas off each other for years now, so that's no real surprise. As for iPadOS 14, it'll have everything in iOS 14, plus some app layout tweaks to make the likes of Photos and Maps work even better on a bigger screen. There's also a new refined iPad search experience, which works a lot more like Spotlight on macOS.
Apple Pencil users will be able to use handwritten text all over iPadOS as well, whether that's writing out emails or searching the web, and the next release of iPadOS will be clever enough to convert handwritten text into plain text (handy if you need to copy it into another app, for example).
As for desktop and laptop software, the next version of macOS will be called macOS Big Sur, and it's getting a major redesign: it'll look a lot more like iOS and iPadOS, with chunky menus, big buttons, and an interface that generally looks more modern and fresh. It's even getting its own version of the Control Center from the iPhone and iPad too.
Safari is getting a major new lick of paint, with better tab management, a customizable new tab page, and much improved support for browser extensions (something Safari has always lagged behind in) – these extensions will be tightly controlled in terms of the data they can collect, Apple is promising.
The Apple WWDC keynote included news on a whole host of other tweaks and improvements, including the introduction of sleep tracking support for watchOS, and a new picture-in-picture mode for tvOS so you can keep an eye on the security camera upstairs while enjoying a bit of Apple TV Plus, for instance.
We've highlighted some of the key changes heading your way, but there's lots more to explore (including some upcoming features that even Apple didn't have time to mention) – if you've got two hours to spare, you can watch the whole event on YouTube, complete with some rather immersive augmented reality effects.
As usual, public betas for these software updates will be available in July if you want to try them out and have a compatible device (a watchOS beta is being released for the first time with watchOS 7). Full and finished updates to iOS 14, macOS Big Sur and the rest will be pushed out "in the Fall" in the northern hemisphere, which traditionally means mid-September if previous years are any indication.