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WWDC 2021 roundup

Posted in Apple

Just like last year, I’ve written a list of the announcements that stood out at this year’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC).

For the first time, it doesn’t feel right to section this list software type; the Apple software ecosystem is becoming so unified that when a feature lands on iOS, it’s also on macOS. Instead, I’ll focus on each feature.

As always, this is far from a definitive; it’s just the things that stood out to me as someone who uses but doesn’t develop Apple software. Most things were mentioned during the WWDC keynote, but there are a few beauties in there that went under the radar!

FaceTime

Unsurprisingly after a year in and out of lockdown, FaceTime got some major upgrades, and it’ll be a viable cross-platform video chat option:

  • FaceTime calls will have URLs, meaning you can share them with anyone and they can join a FaceTime call; this goes for those without an Apple device, who can join via their web browser!
  • FaceTime now has calendar integration, which will be handy for scheduling calls
  • Screen sharing will finally be possible via SharePlay

Notes

  • Tags are coming to Notes, which means a word beginning with a # will allow grouping; I can see myself adding #receipt when I use Notes to scan a receipt for a business expense
  • Smart Folders will allow folders to be created using tags; an easy way to organise notes
  • Activity view and Highlights make a lot of sense, as I never know what changes have been made by the people (mainly my wife) I share notes with
  • @ mentions will be great to nudge people I’m sharing a note with
  • I can now treat Notes a bit like Voice Memos since dictation won’t time out after 60 seconds; it does it all on-device, so less latency and no need for a good internet connection

Safari

I’m a big Safari user, so it’s great to see so many improvements to Apple’s web browser:

  • The new tab navigation on iOS is very sensible: it’s at the bottom of the screen, and goes from tab to tab with a swipe, just like the app switcher bar
  • The redesigned browser chrome on macOS looks very nice indeed: lots more space, and the website fills the whole window
  • Pull to refresh a page on iOS makes a lot of sense
  • Tab Groups look very handy for keeping my millions of currently open tabs organised across all of my devices
  • Redesigned default form controls on iOS sounds interesting
  • Extensions will be available for iOS and iPadOS, not just macOS, so I’ll be able to use extensions like Dark Mode for Safari
  • Two factor verification codes can be generated from Apple’s new Password Manager app, which integrates with Safari

Privacy and security

  • iCloud Private Relay is very exciting! It’s a sort of Safari-only VPN that fully protects your web browsing from marketers, and, unlike typical VPNs, nothing is stored to Apple, so there’s no need to keep your fingers crossed that they’re doing the right thing with your data
  • Mail Privacy Protection stops those intrusive email tracking pixels finding out your location, when you opened an email, and so on
  • Hide my email will let me sign up to newsletters and services I might not want to, then ‘burn’ the randomly generated email address if I want to unsubscribe or stop the unsolicited marketing spam
  • A ‘microphone on’ indicator will appear next to the Control Centre icon on macOS; hopefully they’ll add this to the hardware, next to the green ‘camera on’ indicator

Honorable mentions

  • Digital Legacy isn’t the cheeriest of features, but will allow my mum, dad, wife and other loved ones to nominate people to access their account when they die. This will save the added heartbreak of losing precious photos, or having an arduous legal process to get them
  • Custom email domain: I’ve never used my @me.com or @icloud.com address, so using a custom domain for that account will mean I can move my personal address out of Gmail, where it’s currently an alias
  • Universal Control looks like the logical evolution of SideCar, where the iPad and Mac can work together seamlessly; could be a good reason to finally buy myself an iPad!
  • A Collaboration folder in Finder will list all of the shared documents I have access to with iCloud
  • Low Power Mode for Mac!
  • Live text in Photos looks handy: it recognises words in the pictures you take, allowing you to select them like text, look a place up on the web, translate something, call a number on a sign, etc.
  • Separation notice for AirPods (and AirTags) will mean they won’t get left at home accidentally
  • Photos’ Suggest less often will mean I can stop those photos of the toilet, bath and sink we removed and sold appearing on my homescreen’s Photos widget!
  • Siri will finally work without an internet connection for actions that really shouldn’t need an internet connection!
  • On-device personalisation will hopefully mean that Siri might understand my Scottish accent one day…
  • The UI in Messages when you’re sent multiple photos is much better; who knew carousels could be useful!
  • The iOS keyboard magnifying glass that appears just above your finger is back!
  • Multiple timers for Apple Watch and HomePod
  • I like the look of the new Mindfulness app for WatchOS

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