Apple is ready to embrace the dark side — and kill off the app that started it all.
WWDC, as it’s known, brought small but welcome iterations on existing products — some of which are long overdue. In them, we can see the world’s most influential consumer tech company trying to use privacy as a differentiator, even if it didn’t go as far as I’d hoped in offering new protections from the growing scourge of data brokers and apps that track us without our knowledge.
Also noticeably missing was much discussion of America’s number one tech problem — robocalls — beyond a new ability for iPhones to automatically send unknown callers to voice mail.
Most of Apple’s upgrades will arrive as free software updates to iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches in the fall. Public beta versions of Apple’s new software become available in July — but exercise caution installing it on a device you rely on.
There was a bit of hardware news of interest to professionals who use Macs to make graphics and edit video. A new Mac Pro, shaped like an oversized cheese grater, promises to be the most powerful and expandable the company has ever made, with a price that starts $6,000.
What are the most useful new updates — and where is Apple still not delivering what we really want? CEO Tim Cook took over two hours to present it all onstage Monday. Here’s the seven announcements I think matter to most of us.
iOS 13 gets dark mode
Goth is back! Dark mode in iOS 13 adds a black background to apps including News, Calendar, Notes and Apple Music. Even the keyboard has white on a black background.
Why does this matter? Mostly because it looks cool. The jury is still out on whether using white text on a black background is good for beleaguered eyes.
And Apple didn’t say this in its presentation, but dark mode might also save you a little battery life if you’ve got one of its higher-end iPhones (the X, XS or XS Max) that uses a display tech called OLED.
Say farewell to iTunes. (Good riddance.)
Over the years, the iTunes app that powered Apple’s resurgence with the iPod and then iPhone has become so bloated and saddled with functions that it has become hard to use.
On the new version of MacOS called Catalina, iTunes is being replaced with three purpose-built apps: Apple Music, Podcasts and Apple TV. These apps essentially bring the Mac more into alignment with iOS, where these three separate apps already exist.
The end of iTunes reflects a bigger shift in online media consumption: the end of the download era. While Apple Music and Apple TV apps will still allow you to buy and download media, their main function is giving you access to streaming subscriptions like Apple Music and Apple TV+, the company’s forthcoming TV services.
We’ll have to see how well the Apple Music app works for people with large collections of ripped and purchased music.
Okay, but without iTunes, how will you sync your iPhone with a Mac? That function has moved directly to the MacOS Finder.
New privacy help: One-time location sharing and “Sign in with Apple”
Apple has some small but important privacy tweaks in iOS 13. First, when an app asks for your location, now you’ll get the option to share it just once. There’s no reason to allow many apps to keep tracking you.
And a new “sign in with Apple” option for apps offers a more privacy-friendly version of the Facebook and Google sign-in options that many apps use today. It uses a tried and true privacy-protection technique: the pseudonym. Instead of handing over your real email address, Apple generates a random-looking one that automatically forwards to your real account.
What I would have liked to see is something like a “do not track” button for iOS that tells apps they’re not allowed to gather personal data and share it with third parties like marketing companies and data brokers.
iPad software gets more capable
Also in the long-overdue category, the software that runs the iPad is branching out away from the iOS that runs the iPhone and getting its own name: iPadOS. It’s an important step forward for devices like the iPad Pro, which is a powerful piece of hardware held back from replacing a laptop by its software.
Among the improvements that caught my eye: iPads can now read external USB thumb drives directly in the Files app. Apps like Adobe’s Lightroom can also import photos directly (without taking a side trip through the Apple Photos app, required today).
iPads have long had the ability to multitask, but they gain the ability to run two instances of the same app at once. And the Safari browser is also now equivalent to the app for Macs, allowing you to interact with websites as on a desktop -— a critical improvement for users of Google Docs and other professional software.
Health apps for hearing and period-tracking
Two new apps get Apple even deeper into the business of our health. A hearing app for the Apple Watch will alert you when you’re in a dangerously loud place.
And there’s a new app to track menstrual cycles, helping women stay on top of fertility. Do you really want to share such intimate information with Apple? Unlike some other period tracking apps, it says it will encrypt the information so nobody can peer in.
The Apple Watch gets an app store
An app store is a baby step toward independence for the Apple Watch. You can browse and pay for apps right on the Watch, and updates will also download on their own.
The WatchOS 6 update offers a few more watch faces, too, but still no store for them. What gives?
Find a lost Mac with the help of other Macs
This is just cool: A new app called Find My can help you locate a lost Mac laptop even if it is offline and sleeping. It sends out Bluetooth signals that other nearby Apple devices can detect and report about to iCloud, so you can find it.
Apple says this network effect is anonymous and encrypted — and shouldn’t much impact battery life.
Read more tech advice and analysis from Geoffrey A. Fowler: