Each year, Apple holds its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at its headquarters in Cupertino, California. However, given that COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, the tech giant had to take its annual gathering virtual. Over the past two days, Apple has publicly unveiled the new software developments that will be rolled out in the fall – including iOS 14 and watch0S 7. Below, you’ll find eight key updates we learned attending the keynote and various briefings across the past 48 hours:
The iPhone’s iMessage feature is getting a huge update when it comes to group chats. Users can pin frequently-accessed conversations to the top of their messages list, customize conversations by setting a group photo using an image or emoji, and utilize new Memoji options that feature headwear, face masks and more. An important new feature sure to make group chats more manageable is the addition of in-line replies and the ability to address a text directly to a specific person in a group chat, and keep track of all subsequent replies within that thread.
The latest iOS update will allows users to introduce Widgets—which can be customized to display timely information, like the Weather, at a glance—to their Home Screens. The widgets can be easily dragged and moved between Home Screen pages, and can be pinned to the screen in various sizes. And instead of multiple Home Screen pages filled with hard-to-locate apps, a new App Library feature automatically organizes all your apps in one easy-to-navigate view grouped by category. It offers suggestions for apps you’re likely to use next, and can also be searched alphabetically from A to Z. Users can choose how many Home Screen pages to display and easily hide pages for quicker access to the App Library.
Apple’s Maps feature is focusing on more eco-friendly ways to travel, spotlighting cycling routes, electric vehicle charging stations and more. Cycling directions take into account elevation, how busy a street is, and whether there are stairs along the route, while electric vehicle routing adds charging stops along a planned route based on current vehicle charge and charger types. Maps will also include City Guides, created by a selection of trusted resources like Time Out and The Infatuation, that provide a curated list of interesting places, restaurants and attractions to visit in a city.
Noting users’ desire to be more informed about how third-party apps are using their information, App Store product pages will feature a summary of the privacy practices of each app for users to view before downloading. The summary will feature the app developers’ self-reported privacy practices, displayed in a simple, easy-to-understand format that shows how your data will be used and tracked. In addition, users will be able to choose to share their approximate location rather than precise location when granting an app location access, and get even more transparency into an app’s use of their microphone and camera.
As part of its watchOS 7 update, Apple is adding four new workout categories: dance (which is optimized for four of the most popular styles of dance fitness – Bollywood, hip-hop, Latin and dance cardio), functional strength training, core training and cooldown. The company has worked on specific algorithms for the dance, core training and functional strength training categories to allow the watch to recognize certain movements associated with the exercises to fine tune the metrics users can see during and at the end of their workout.
Plus, the Activity app on iPhone has been renamed to Fitness, and will allow users to view all of their activity and workout information in a new streamlined display.
Apple says one of its most requested functions for watch has been the ability to track sleep – and watchOS 7 delivers just that. The watch’s accelerometer will be able to detect micro-movements that signal respiration during sleep, which will in turn allow the watch to monitor how well you are sleeping and just how many hours of rest you got overnight. In the morning, you’ll be presented with a visual that shows these stats. And speaking of the morning, the Apple Watch will offer a silent haptic alarm or gentle sounds to ease users into their day.
Plus, Apple is also introducing a new Wind Down function which allows users to create a personalized bedtime routine – which may include a meditation or listening to relaxing music, for example. Once in Sleep Mode, the watch screen will automatically darken and Do Not Disturb will be activated.
The new software update for Apple Watch will allow users to not only customize their watch faces like never before, but also give them the ability to share watch face designs with family and friends, and even download new designs from websites and apps. The Nike Run Club App is one such app where a customizable face is available for download which shows your current run statistics as well as your pace from your last run and your achievements.
A sign of the times (though Apple says it had been looking to introduce the feature since before COVID began), Apple is introducing a new automatic handwashing detection feature in watchOS 7. Specialized machine learning allows the watch to detect the hand motions typically associated with handwashing, confirmed by audio of running water or soap. Once the watch has detected you are washing your hands, a 20-second countdown timer will appear on screen – if you finish up before the time has run out, you’ll be prompted with a message to keep washing. The feature is also able to remind you to wash your hands when you return home – no doubt an invaluable function as we all start to venture back out into the world in the coming months.
For the first time, Apple is offering a beta version of iOS 14 and watchOS 7 to the public ahead of the official update in the fall. Click here to try them out when the beta is live next month.
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