Apple may not have launched the ‘mixed reality’ smart glasses everyone is waiting for, but two new laptops and a slew of upgraded features for iPhones, Macs, iPads and Apple Watches were enough to keep the tech industry focused on the world’s biggest tech giant this week.
For Apple, the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was also the first major in-person event held by the company in more than two years, with thousands of developers, industry executives and media descending on the Cupertino campus to mingle and engage in some hands-on demonstrations.
While the biggest single point of interest was the newly redesigned, and newly pricey, MacBook Air, Apple also rolled out a number of notable software upgrades that will kick in over the coming months.
The most eye-catching of these is a feature called Apple Pay Later, which will be restricted to the US for the time being. This will allow users to buy something using Apple Pay but split the payments over four interest-free instalments. If launched in Europe and other markets, it will bring Apple into competition with services such as Klarna. It also deepens Apple’s presence in financial service adjacency, with hire-purchase schemes already in place for hardware upgrades.
Other highlights of iOS 16 include new customisation options for the lock screen, family photo sharing and the ability to edit or even to delete texts that are already sent in Messages.
For this one, users will have 15 minutes to either edit or delete texts sent through Apple’s Messages app to others also using iOS 16. The feature won’t work for general SMS texting (to non-iPhones) or when one of the Apple devices isn’t using iOS 16.
Editing sent messages and posts is a feature often requested of social media and messaging apps. While the likes of Gmail has allowed a version of this for a while (holding an email for 30 seconds to allow for a quick review and edit), Whatsapp has said it may soon introduce something similar. Twitter, however, is a holdout: it has steadfastly defined user requests to allow for post-tweet edits.
One interesting new safety feature of iOS 16 is aimed at the victims of abusive partners. It includes an emergency reset that allows someone to sign out of iCloud on all their other devices, reset privacy permissions, and limit messaging to just the device in their hand.
Otherwise, the iPhone’s lock screen will now have a choice of photos with multiple filters applicable, as well as widgets including calendar events, weather, alarms, battery levels and activity ring progress.
The fonts of the date and time can also be changed around.
Another lock screen feature is ‘Live Activities’, which will allow people to keep abreast of things that are happening in real time on their lock screen, such as a sports game, workout or food delivery order.
Meanwhile, a new iCloud Shared Photo Library will allow users to file photos to a family-access iCloud library for every participating family member to see. The photos can be filed directly to the iCloud library at the time of the shot, or from their own Photos library.
Apple has also spent some time upgrading its live text capabilities. In iOS 16, users will be able to pause a video on a frame and let their phone grab any text that’s visible. The Live Text feature will also now allow for the conversion of currency or text translations.
A nifty feature called ‘Visual Look Up’ will let users tap and hold an image, lifting it out of its background to be draggable into apps such as Messages.
CarPlay, meanwhile, is getting some upgrades. Chief of these is the ability to stream or provide content to multiple screens within a vehicle, possibly allowing for more harmonious staycation road trips among families.
Apple says that it is working with a number of major car manufacturers to integrate CarPlay more into the instrument systems, allowing for a wider range of controls and display functions for things like radios, speedometers and climate control. It’s not yet clear to what extent car manufacturers will comply, as Apple’s vision of the service comes close to a complete takeover of all the car’s inner screens, treating the car like computer hardware for which its software is the emerging operating system.
Apple Maps is also getting some significant upgrades, including the ability for up to 15 stops to be included in multi-stop routing. Apple recently revealed that it is driving across most Irish counties this month to update some data in its Maps databases.
And there are also some updates to parental controls, with Family Sharing making it slightly more streamlined to set up and control an account for a child. When a child asks for more screen time, a parent can control the request from within Messages.
Apple’s iPads also got significant software updates, with more multitasking now available for those who want to use the tablets for work.
Meanwhile, Apple will now make iPhones work automatically with Mac computers as webcams.
As for availability, a public beta will be available to iOS users next month at beta.apple.com.
But if you have an iPhone 7, iPhone 6 or older, you’re out of luck — the new iOS 16 features only apply to iPhone 8 models and newer.
Meanwhile, Apple Watch owners will soon be able to store greater chunks of their medical history to help track heart conditions and update doctors, according to the latest updates to be applied to the Watch’s operating system in WatchOS 9.
However, the upgrades won’t apply to those buying the most affordable Watch model, the Series 3. This is down to the technical requirements of the overall WatchOS 9 upgrade, which Apple will only facilitate with the higher-end models on sale in recent years, including Series 4, 5, 6, SE and the current flagship 7 device.
The new AFib History feature, initially available in the US but likely to be rolled out later in Europe, aims to build a medically useful profile of a person’s potential heart issues by tracking the frequency of abnormal heart rhythms, also known as atrial fibrillation (AFib), over an extended period of time.
According to Apple, users who are diagnosed with AFib will be able to turn on the AFib History feature to access information that includes an estimate of how frequently a user’s heart rhythm shows signs of AFib. This is designed to give deeper insights into the AFib condition, according to Apple. Users will then also receive weekly notifications to understand the frequency better, as well as getting a detailed history in the Health app, including lifestyle factors that may influence AFib, like sleep, alcohol consumption, and exercise.
The feature has been cleared for use by the US FDA regulatory body, and will likely need similar approval in Europe.
Apple adds that users will also be able to download a PDF with a detailed history of their AFib and lifestyle factors, which can then be shared with doctors and other medical professionals.
Alongside this, Apple is adding a new app called Medications that aims to let people track what medicine or supplements they’re taking. The app, which will work with the Health app and will also be viewable on iPhones, will allow for schedules and reminders to be set.
Apple insists that all of this sensitive personal health data remains encrypted when on the device and when it’s being backed up to iCloud.
Otherwise, the WatchOS 9 update includes a lot of new fitness features that should interest runners, swimmers and those who take workouts regularly.
However, the company had nothing to say about its most-anticipated new product — the ‘mixed reality’ smart glasses that are currently under development.
The gadget is widely expected to be Apple’s next big thing, with hopes that it could match some of the company’s biggest inventions over the last two decades.
‘Mixed reality’ glasses are said to be smart glasses that mix virtual reality with the possibility of other functions.
Apple is believed to be working on features such as VR FaceTime for the headset, which is tipped to be released early next year.
Apple is expected to launch the device with several ready-to-go apps and services and is also expected to make it easy for other software firms to launch apps for its new system, in the same way it does for its iPhone App Store.
It’s generally understood that the glasses will have an operating system, said to be called RealityOS, like an iPhone or an iPad.