Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the stage to kick off this year's WWDC just like every year. Granted, the stage was entirely empty this time thanks to pandemic containment measures, but the developer conference still had a lot of new and impressive software updates to reveal.
Here's an overview of the most exciting updates coming from iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and macOS Big Sur.
Apple saved the best for first by diving right into the software that typical consumers care about the most, iOS 14.
A new App Library has a single screen that can offer shortcuts to every single one of your apps, which are automatically collected into intuitive folders with labels like “Arcade” or “Social.” It'll appear at the right of an iPhone's pages of apps, at the very end.
Now, you can “hide” any of your many app pages — you can go into ‘jiggle mode' to zoom out and highlight which pages to hide. Once hidden, the pages won't get in the way of you flipping over to the new App Library section, where Apple now wants you to automatically go in order to find any app on your phone.
Basically, this is an acknowledgement that everyone has way too many apps to easily find with the old iPhone structure, and positions the App Library as the new solution.
Widgets offer information directly from an iPhone home screen, shifting the typical grid of app icons out of the way to deliver data, sort of like an Apple Watch face appearing on a little section of your phone. Or, for Android users, sort of like that functionality Android has had for years.
You can pull a Widget from the Widget Gallery, selecting any one you want and paging through until you have the right one in the right size.
The phone has a new Widget, “Smart Stack,” which can automatically pop up information from the right app at the right time throughout the day. You can check out the news headlines on it in the morning, before it switches to a workout app when it's time to hit the treadmill.
Picture in Picture video
Here's a big one: You can now watch movies and TV on your phone… while browsing on your phone at the same time.
The multi-window mode has been available on Android since its 8.0 update debuted and has already showed up on macOS, but it's a first for iOS, and a big boon for all of us who enjoy letting their TV show's end credits play out while they compulsively check Twitter (There are dozens of us! Dozens!).
A “mentions” ability now lets group texters send notifications to alert someone that they've been mentioned. It's part of a suite of group enhancements that also lets you pin group conversations that you'd like to quickly access, and introduces a threading ability in group texts, to contain small tangents that might otherwise distract from the main conversation.
Also, your memoji can wear masks now, which is cute.
CarPlay is already available on 80% of cars sold worldwide, which is impressive. Now it has new wallpaper options and entirely new app categories including one for online ordering and one for parking.
CarPlay will now support NFC car keys: Users with a compatible car can unlock it wirelessly with their phone. Apple's new U1 chip has better spatial awareness, which the new key is taking advantage of in order to predict accurately when you're near the car.
The tech lets users turn off keys remotely when needed, share their location through iMessage, and set options to share a key, with access limitations for when you might want to keep the virtual training wheels on the car.
A “small part of an app,” the app clip offers a single-serving screen set up to accomplish a single task. Crucially, it can be triggered by a new QR-code-style format: Tapping your phone or scanning the physical code will trigger the App Clip to launch.
It uses Apple Pay and Sign In With Apple in order to ensure that the process is as speedy as possible, and it's easy to imagine this becoming the new way to register for a coffee shop's loyalty program or check in at an event.
Overall, the new iOS 14 updates are an interesting evolution for the iPhone, and one clearly aimed at streamlining your digital life more than ever. Both App Clips and the App Library are designed to hide the boring parts of apps, cutting out as much searching and tapping as possible to make it a seamless experience.
The new iPadOS design highlights simplicity as well. Tap the upper left-hand corner when in Photos to pull up the new left sidebar, which allows easy access and supports a drag-and-drop functionality to help you sort your photos easily.
Music has the same left sidebar, along with an updated music view which offers lyrics, album art, and controls all available in one view. Video call notifications have also been upgraded, making them smaller and more discrete.
The new Search design lets you start a search from within any other app. The functionality has updated along with this new design: It'll auto-load apps, contacts, web searches or files once you've typed just a few letters in.
Apple Pencil's updates come with the aim of making handwriting just as fluid and easy as typing. The new Scribble feature will automatically translate Pencil notes into text, and can recognize different languages in the same line, a welcome update for any bilingual users.
Draw a simple shape and keep the point of the Pencil on it for a second to trigger an automatic feature that turns the shape into an ideal version of it — great for those of us who can't freehand a pentagon.
AirPods can now automatically switch from device to device when needed, to accept a call or when you start a new TV show. But the coolest new ability is spatial audio.
Applying directional audio filters, the new software can create a 3D style audio experience. The AirPods can even tell when your head is moving, and can adjust the audio to ensure the sound still feels like it's coming from the same location. It sounds seriously cool, even if Apple can't exactly offer a demo during its keynote.
Over 20,000 Watch apps are available already, and now new figurations are available, including a view that lets you add multiple apps to a Watchface at the same time. You can search through curated faces, find new faces online, or create your own watchface and share it with your Apple Watch loving friends.
Two other big watchOS updates are worth flagging: The upgraded Workout app and the long-awaited sleep tracking functionality.
The Workout app receive a special WWDC preview along with a new name, Fitness.
The update includes Dance, a mode that can handle the most popular dance styles, from Cardio to Hip-hip, and works by tracking vertical and horizontal acceleration along with heart rates.
The native Wind Down mode is aimed at a big problem: Getting users to sleep on time. Once activated, it switches to a calming lockscreen and puts on Do Not Disturb mode ahead of your set bedtime, along with whatever app shortcuts you'd prefer.
When your bedtime arrives, the Watch goes into sleep mode and, during the night, the app will track your sleep patterns.
With the new update, automatic detection can now tell when you're washing your hands, ensuring you actually keep it up long enough, offering a “polite note” if you stop too soon, and rewarding you with a haptic buzz when you do the job right.
Normally I'd complain about the hand-holding, but I've suddenly developed a strong interest in washing my hands correctly in 2020, and I can't be the only one.
Data minimization remains a big deal, and Apple is focusing on on-device implementation as a way to avoid collecting data it doesn't need. They're deepening their focus on Sign In With Apple as well, positing that it's a way to keep data secure. The 200 million users with Sign In With Apple accounts can now easily upgrade other participating third-party services into the Sign In With Apple program.
Plus, Apple is now requiring developers to offer a “nutrition facts” style page that lets users see exactly what sort of privacy and security measures an app offers, prior to downloading it.
New features in the Home are focused on making things easy and connected, but without compromising privacy. The Home app will now automatically suggest which automations need your attention at any given time — helping warn users who might have left a door unlocked, for instance.
Cameras can now be set to be triggered only by actions within a set zone, allowing users to avoid getting video triggered by a busy sidewalk rather than someone actually at their door.
macOS Big Sur
A new desktop software's design focuses on consistency and flow, offering tweaks like controls that will appear or vanish depending on whether your pointer is hovering over them.
The new dock design “floats” across the bottom of the screen. Folders have more compact control bars, while email has an expandable search bar along with a new tool bar. Photos have a flexible design that lets you zoom in on a single image or pull out to see all of your photos from years in the past.
Control Center has been brought to Mac for the first time, letting users customize their controls to access their most important controls from one location. Notifications can be grouped, letting users expand them all or dismiss them all when needed. Developers can seamlessly add their personal widgets if they'd like.
Messages and Maps
Your SMS and iMessage conversations were synced to Mac already, but the new functionality ties in your Memojis and pinned conversations, including the same group enhancements that have just debuted with iOS 14.
The new iOS 14 Map design is in Mac now, too. Users can create their own guides from the Mac, or explore a new city with Apple Maps Look Around.
Safari is getting its biggest update ever, with plenty of features to highlight online data privacy measures. The browser now monitors unsafe tracking from any websites, and lists the exact trackers it has blocked, either visible through a popup that can be clicked from each tab's search bar, or through a full security report.
Extensions have their own category in the mac store now, letting users fine-tune their personal browser experience. They can be allowed for just one day, or for a longer period of time. Plus, hovering over tabs now offers a small live preview of each tab, and users can drag and drop photos in order to easily update Safari backgrounds.
Plus, new native translation functionality means users can click an automatic icon to translate a page that isn't in their own language. Granted, that's an ability that Chrome has been rocking for a while, but it's great to see Safari add it as well.
Apple Silicon is on the way
Apple Silicon, Apple's own energy-efficient processors, will be replacing Intel processors in its Macs. It integrates deeply with Big Sur, which is built to handle the transition period from one to the other. The first Mac with Apple Silicon instead of Intel will be arriving later in the year, with a two-year transition period while Apple will still be producing Intel-based Macs.
Final Cut Pro can now play back 4K video on an Apple Silicon Mac, as a demo revealed. Big Sur will also offer Rosetta 2, supporting iPhone and iPad apps directly, with no changes needed from the developer (at least for most apps).
Public beta will be available in July with the private beta available today, and the software updates fully available to consumers this fall.