Apple’s WWDC 2021 keynote didn’t give us any new hardware — sorry Mac fans and AirPod upgraders. Nor did the company address the legal issues and protests from app developers and companies over the cut it’s taking. Instead, we got an Apple making its devices both more interconnected and at least a little friendlier with non-iOS (or MacOS) machines.
The biggest indicator of the latter was FaceTime, which got upgrades including spatial audio, background blur and a grid view. The app will also now work with Android devices and PCs through a web app, meaning you can share FaceTime calls with people even if they don’t own Apple hardware. It’s a first.
As is usually the case, the new iteration of iOS dominated. This year’s theme seemed to be a combination of further privacy improvements for users and an attempt to corral notifications and offer at least some control back to those feeling overwhelmed by constant pings. Apple calls it Focus, and it’ll center around switchable profiles on your iPhone. These will decide which notifications get shown, and even customize your homescreens to reflect whether you’re in work or play mode.
We’ll touch on some of the bigger announcements in detail below, but pretty much every major piece of Apple software got something. For all things macOS, watchOS, Safari, Siri and the rest, read on.
— Mat Smith
You may need a HomePod mini to serve as a hub, though.
It wouldn’t be WWDC without more Siri. We got two major announcements for Apple’s voice assistant. Your voice-activated requests will now be handled on-device, and Apple says this will be faster and, for common requests, function without WiFi or data connection. These common requests include timers, app launchers and music playback.
Since it was introduced nearly a decade ago, Siri has been limited to Apple devices. Going forward, however, third-party devices will be able to take advantage of Siri as part of an update to the company's HomeKid system. It sounds like these third-party devices won't be full-fledged devices running Siri themselves. Instead, it'll relay the command to a HomePod mini, which will then send the request. Continue reading.
It'll let you easily control your Mac and iPad from the same keyboard and mouse.
After a thorough redesign last year, the next version of macOS might seem a little tame in comparison. The most notable feature seemed to be Universal Control, an evolved form of Apple's Continuity that lets you seamlessly use your keyboard and mouse across Macs and iPads. Yes, third-party apps like Across have offered this sort of thing for a while, but they've been hard to set up. With Universal Control, you’ll be able to swipe files across from your Mac to your iPad, and even use the same cursor between both. You can even cast your iPad’s display to bigger Apple screens. Continue reading.
Sleep tracking has been upgraded, too.
While WWDC didn’t offer us the strong independent wearable teased in rumors earlier, it did make the Apple Watch more capable. WatchOS 8 enhances the existing features in the Breathe app with a new Mindfulness app that adds new animations and ways to reflect. The latter appears to be a new spin on guided meditation — if you’re able to read your Apple Watch’s introspective queries and not balk at them. (I might struggle.)
If you wear your Watch to bed, it'll also now track metrics like time to sleep, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and respiratory rate. Previously, it only tracked the amount of time you spent asleep each night. You won’t see many changes to the workouts app on your Watch, but tai chi and Pilates workout types will arrive on the app this fall. Fitness+ subscribers will also have access to new "artist spotlight" workouts with playlists focused on major music artists. Continue reading.
More from WWDC 2021
The techs were employed by a contractor, but it's still a huge privacy lapse.
Apple was in the news for reasons unrelated to WWDC as well. According to a report in The Telegraph, Apple paid a "multimillion-dollar" settlement to a woman studying at the University of Oregon after two iPhone repair techs at a Pegatron facility in Sacramento, California, posted her explicit photos and a video online in 2016. She sent the iPhone in for a fix, but noticed that the perpetrators shared the media through her Facebook account as if she'd posted them herself. While the incident happened on Pegatron's watch, Apple paid the settlement and received compensation from Pegatron. Continue reading.
The agency tracked down the payment through the Bitcoin public ledger.
The US Justice Department has recovered part of the ransom Colonial Pipeline paid last month to regain access to its computer systems after it was locked out of them by “apolitical” ransomware gang Darkside. The agency says it seized 63.7 Bitcoins, worth nearly $2.3 million.
The attack had real-world consequences and led to fuel shortages across parts of the East Coast and southern US. Following the incident and an executive order from President Biden, the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued mandatory cybersecurity guidelines for all pipeline companies. Continue reading.