Apple is trying to make us love our iPhones a little less.
Helping consumers and parents combat addiction and encourage healthier relationships with technology was on Apple’s agenda at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.
The event known as WWDC offered dozens of new software capabilities and tweaks, but was short on surprise and big-picture vision for the future of personal technology. Apple CEO Tim Cook touted the success of Apple’s app store, but he and other executives who took the stage for a two-hour keynote had little to say about seismic tech shifts such as artificial intelligence, which set the tone at similar conferences in May from rivals Google and Facebook.
There was also no new hardware. Unlike Apple’s other confabs, where executives take the stage to make sales pitches for new devices, WWDC was targeted at programmers who make apps for the iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch and other products. Apple previewed new versions of software, called iOS 12, WatchOS 5, tvOS 12 and MacOS Mojave, which won’t be finished and released widely for several months.
What are the most interesting new features and why do they matter? We've got answers in a Q&A.
How is Apple addressing smartphone addiction?
Well, Apple executives didn’t exactly call it “addiction.” But Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi used a variety of euphemisms for it: “We might not realize just how distracted we’ve become,” he said.
He introduced three iOS 12 features to help limit distraction and help people understand how they’re using their iPhone and iPads:
An updated “do not disturb” mode lets you snooze notifications and other distractions for a window of time that you choose. And when you use “do not disturb” during bed time, your iPhone shows a mostly black screen until you tap the screen in the morning to dive in. No more midnight peeking!
2) There are new ways to tame the flurry of notifications from apps that want your attention. Pressing on a notification, you can tune how often you’ll get them in the future from the app that sent it. Notifications are now grouped by type, app or topic. And iOS 12 will also recommend curtailing notifications from apps you don’t often use.
3) The biggest change is a new “screen time” report that lets you see how long you spend using each app, and let you set limits. If you go over your own limit, iOS 12 will pop up a reminder and block the app, though you can grant yourself an extension. Parents can also use this system to monitor and remotely place limits on how their children use their own devices.
These features are a welcome flag in the sand from Apple, but stop short of making Apple a leader in this space. Children still need to have their own devices -- there’s still no way to switch a parent’s own iPad into a kids mode. Some of the features Google announced last month for its forthcoming Android P operating system go further. One example: When it’s getting time for you to go to bed, your Android phone will slowly fade to grey to help you “wind down” for the night.
What else is new in iOS 12?
Apple said its biggest focus was on reliability and speed, promising apps would load twice as fast in high-performance situations. There was no mention of the impact on battery life.
There’s also some new fun to … get you to spend even more time on your iPhone:
Users of the iPhone X will be able to make personalized animated emojis, called MeMojis.
Augmented reality apps using Apple’s new AR Kit 2 software let multiple people play games or enjoy experiences simultaneously.
The Facetime video calling app now supports group conversations of up to 32 people.
What’s new with Apple Watch?
It’s a walkie-talkie now. Yup, Watch users will be able to send short audio messages to each other with a tap. Each message is preceded by a double beep, so you can live out your movie commando dreams. Watch also got smarter about workouts, and can sense when they start and stop. Watch will also show some simple web pages, such as a restaurant menu or the text of an article, on your wrist.
When can I get the new software?
Tim Cook said the updates were coming “this fall.” In the past, iOS updates have arrived in September at the same time as new iPhones.
Apple is making beta versions of its software available to developers, but download them at your own risk -- and certainly don’t put them on devices you rely on for daily use.
Wait, was there really no new hardware?
That’s right. No sign of new iPads, MacBooks -- or even the AirPower wireless charger Apple first promised last fall but has yet to deliver.
What happened to Siri?
Siri got some upgrades, but didn’t have a futuristic demo anywhere near as impressive as Google’s Assistant holding its own in human conversation. Still, Siri is becoming a more capable assistant, if you’re willing to take some time to teach her. Any app can now work with Siri, and users can use a new “Shortcuts” app to pull together different actions and trigger them with a single word. So you could say “go home” to Siri to get your favorite commuting podcast going and show you real-time updates for your next train.
But there were some odd oversights. The HomePod, Apple’s smart speaker, is a key showcase for Siri but barely got a mention. And Apple didn’t lay out a full vision for how Siri’s new smarts will really make life better for the average iPhone user — it was more focused on people who already depend on the voice assistant and want some advanced features.
What’s changing about my Mac?
Apple’s new operating system for Macs is called Mojave, like the desert, and continues the trend of moving more things from your iPhone over to your Mac. The News and Voice Memos apps from the phone will work on your Mac, as will the smart home management app Home. Apple is also making it much easier for developers to make the same apps for iOS and macOS — though the company said it won’t ever merge them completely.
Mojave is also getting a new look by embracing the dark side. The new “Dark Mode” changes Apple’s crisp white look to a dark background with gray text — which some people find easier on the eyes. It’s also getting a redesigned app store that looks more like the mobile version.
Unlike iOS, this new version of macOS won't support all the same machines as its previous system. In this case, Macs made before mid-2012 — with some exceptions for Mac Pro models with advanced graphics cards — will lose support.
What’s the most surprising thing Apple announced?
It took a swipe at Facebook and other companies that track people through Web browsers. Apple’s Safari Web browser on macOS Mojave and iOS 12 devices will now notify users when Facebook’s Like button (and similar “share” buttons and comment widgets) attempt to discreetly track their activity.
Apple is also taking new steps to thwart sites that attempt to “fingerprint” Web browsers and then use that to track people across websites.
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