Apple previews upgrades coming to iOS, iPadOS, macOS and more
Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) has rolled around again, which means it's time for Apple to preview some of the changes coming to its software platforms later this year: iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and more.
As usual, Apple executives had a host of improvements and upgrades to talk about at today's grand WWDC 2021 opening, many of which apply across numerous devices and OSes: the Notes app, for example, is getting support for custom tags and user mentions.
Some of the major changes in the pipeline include updates for FaceTime. The video calling app will soon offer a better audio experience, plus a grid view that mimics just about every group video calling app out there – a nod to how important the technology has become to our lives over the last year.
Significantly, FaceTime is coming to Windows and Android as well, sort of: through specific Facebook links, users on non-Apple hardware will be able to join in video calls in a web browser, with the same end-to-end encryption technology available.
Another upcoming feature designed to keep us connected while we're apart is what Apple calls SharePlay: it allows several people to watch a movie or television show together on multiple Apple devices in multiple locations. Apple TV+ is of course supported, as are several other services including Hulu, Disney+ and Twitch.
Apple Maps is getting some substantial upgrades, with new 3D models and details, a revamped night mode, additional road details (including elevated highways that look elevated), and better augmented reality guidance while you're out walking. Apple Wallet, meanwhile, is going to soon be able to carry around a digital copy of your driving license in US states that support it.
Some of the iOS 15 updates include better notification management and a new Focus mode that lets you set certain notification rules and home screen layouts for different scenarios – at home, at work, at the gym, or whatever you like. Less important notifications can be summarized for you to catch up with later, while the design of these alerts is getting a more modern look as well.
Those changes will be coming to iPadOS 15 too, and Apple tablets also get the support for home screen widgets and the App Library that we first saw in iOS 14 last year. iPad users can look forward to slicker, easier multitasking controls too, with new options for putting apps side by side or on top of each other, and a better way of managing multiple windows from one particular app.
On the computing side, we now know that the next desktop software update will be called macOS Monterey. The same FaceTime, Apple Maps and other relevant upgrades are going to be included, and macOS is also gaining the Shortcuts automation app already available on iPhones and iPads.
The Apple Watch wasn't left out, and watchOS 8 is going to bring with it a new and improved watch face based on a photo of your choice, a new Mindfulness app for looking after your mental wellbeing, support for tracking your Tai Chi and Pilates workouts, and respiratory tracking during sleep.
On the iCloud side, paying users will get access to some new features under the iCloud+ name. These features include a basic VPN that Apple is calling Private Relay, and the ability to create disposable email addresses for those times when you don't want to reveal your real one (something similar already exists for Sign in with Apple).
There was plenty more too: the ability to have your notifications read out through your AirPods, improved visuals inside the default Weather app, support for live conversations in the Translate app, a feature that will flag up any increased risk of falling, a Live Text scanning feature that looks a lot like Google Lens, better sharing options in the Messages app, and so on and so on.
In fact there's so much that's new that it's all rather overwhelming, but that's WWDC and Apple's annual release cycle for you – expect to hear more details about these features over the coming months. Developer access to the updates is available now, with public betas due in July and full releases later in the year – usually in September or October, based on past history.