It’s been a long week.
I love Apple events, and I love covering them, but there’s just so much stuff to digest.
This is particularly the case with Apple’s online-only, pre-recorded keynotes skilfully packing so many new features, announcements and previews into such a short space of time.
And don’t get me started on the Memojis.
However, now that the dust is settling a little bit, I’ve had time to reflect on what was announced at this year’s WWDC. I’ll cover each operating system in turn.
So, here’s what I think about the iOS 15 features that are heading our way later this year.
Dissecting the headline
“In touch. In the moment.”
That’s the headline on the iOS 15 preview page. We’re told that iOS 15 will come packed with features that’ll help us “connect with others, be more present and in the moment, explore the world, and use powerful intelligence to do more with iPhone than ever before”.
I noted during my initial reaction to the event that I wasn’t keen on the idea that the pandemic had in some way adjusted Apple’s development roadmap. However, having thought about it a little more, I think that was a bit of an overreaction. Like everyone, I’m uncomfortable with the thought that our lives may have been irreversibly changed long-term.
I think the iOS 15 headline is, therefore, nothing more than a reflection of how important digital communication is to us all. The ability to connect immediately with people, whether that be via voice, text, imagery, or sharing a file or experience, is a smart and natural focus (excuse the pun) for the next iteration of iOS.
FaceTime gets all the air time
Apple is clearly proud of FaceTime, but this year, it really got the red carpet treatment. It also looks set to create something of a customer churn problem for the key players in video conferencing.
Later this year, FaceTime will basically turn into Apple’s version of Zoom – with bells on. We’ll get the ability to share screens, blur out backgrounds, isolate background noise and – wait for it – share links to our FaceTime calls with just about anyone.
That’s right – you’ll be able to join a FaceTime call from an Android device or Windows computer.
Think about that for a moment. Did you ever think you’d read the words “invite anyone to FaceTime” on Apple’s website?
This really is huge. All but the largest of corporates and those with deeply embedded Zoom or Teams configurations will undoubtedly be drawn to FaceTime for its ease and, crucially, absence of ongoing costs.
But it goes a step further. There’s a new feature called SharePlay which is also integrated with tvOS, iPadOS and macOS. This enables multiple people to watch the same TV show or movie, or listen to music together in perfect sync. This isn’t just a cool feature – it’s a boon for content producers, too, who will undoubtedly leverage this new way of experiencing their shows, latest blockbusters and newest albums to drive even greater exposure.
Oh, and FaceTime is getting Spatial Audio, too. Because of course it is.
The FaceTime updates were so significant and weirdly unexpected (at least, on my part), that they overshadowed a lot of what followed.
But there was some juicy stuff in there, so let’s dig into it.
Shared with You: goodbye, clutter
I lose count of the number of times each week I delve into my iPhone to try and retrieve something someone sent to me several weeks ago.
I rarely find what I’m looking for, and it’s always a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, iOS in its current guise isn’t the best at keeping your phone clutter-free. Shared with You looks set to solve that.
This neat little feature is embedded within all corners of iOS. You’ll find it in Photos, Apple News, Safari, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and the Apple TV app. It essentially groups together all of the stuff that’s been shared with you, in the respective app to which it relates.
That should make finding things ultra-easy, particularly when you take into account that it’ll even intelligently exclude all of the memes and screenshots from the collection of photos you receive on your family WhatsApp group.
However, it’s the little details that make a big difference, and I’ve just discovered that you can actually reply to the message from which the piece of content originated, without going back into Messages to find the original conversation. Neat!
When will Apple realise that no one cares about these?
The only time I ever see a Memoji is when someone accidentally sends me one rather than a proper emoji.
Inevitably, it is always followed by the message “oops, sorry – didn’t mean to send that!”.
Put them to bed, Tim – figuratively (although you’ll probably do it literally and create a little movie out of it, won’t you?).
Focusing on the moment
I invest a lot of time – literally – in being as productive as possible. Ever since I began working independently, I’ve been able to squeeze maximum productivity from every ounce of my day.
I use a bunch of apps to achieve this, but I’m always looking for more help in this increasingly noisy world.
iOS 15 will come with a new feature called Focus. The idea is that your phone adjusts its display and notification preferences to best match your current task or state.
There’s a bunch of suggested Focus options to get started with (including driving, fitness and reading), but you can create your own, too.
I need to get my hands on the beta version of iOS 15 before commenting fully on this because the information provided during the keynote was rather sparse. It wasn’t entirely clear how customisable the focuses are, but I look forward to trying them out, and it’s nice to see that they synchronise across multiple Apple devices.
Following Android’s lead: notifications
I love notifications on Android. It’s the one thing I always miss after switching back to the iPhone after a brief time with my Pixel 4a.
Notifications in iOS have improved immeasurably over the years, but they’re still a bit clunky at times. So much so, that I rarely clear mine – they’re a right mess. This is partly because I always forget how to do so (it’s not as intuitive as Apple would have you believe), but mainly because I simply don’t check them once they’ve aged.
In iOS 15, the app and contact icons are larger, and they’ve introduced something called the ‘Notification summary’, which provides a daily summary of your notifications based on a schedule set by you. We’re told that the summary is “intelligently ordered”, whatever that means, and, from the look of the screenshots, appear to provide more information than standard notifications.
We’ll see. To me, it looks like we’re still a way off Android’s mastery of this.
But will it take me to the right place?
I’ve not had the best experience with Apple Maps. It consistently takes me to the wrong place – sometimes a couple of hundred yards out, occasionally three or four postcodes short of my destination.
I need to trust maps platforms completely. It’s why I’ll always default to Google Maps, which is, in my experience, flawless.
That said, Apple Maps is pretty – particularly on CarPlay.
The updates in iOS 15 look rather cool, too. I like the look of the new guided directions. As someone who immediately switches off voice guidance on any sat nav I use, this more illustrative route guidance would be very useful indeed.
They’re also adding an “all-new city experience”, which basically 3D-ifies key landmarks in about four cities across the world.
I can’t get excited about Maps, I’m afraid.
Yay, Safari (yeah, I’m not part of the Chrome Crew)
I’ve never understood why so many people are obsessed with Google Chrome. I only use it when I absolutely have to.
Safari has been my browser of choice for years. I love the way it is (obviously) so deeply integrated within all Apple OS’s and platforms, and it’s plenty fast enough for my requirements.
This year, we’re going to get new-look tab management and tab groups. I like this – a lot. I’m a big tab user, and the idea of grouping them together based on what I’m working on (and being able to share them) is very welcome indeed.
There’s also Extensions, which are coming to iOS for the first time. That’s one thing I enjoy about Chrome, and another reason I’ll sometimes head back to Google’s browser for certain tasks. I just hope developers jump on this sizeable opportunity for a more customisable web experience on iOS.
…and the rest
As always, there were plenty of minor updates to iOS which deserve just a brief mention in my rundown.
I’ll offer one thought for each.
- Wallet: ID cards and car keys, but only if you live in the States and drive a BMW.
- ”Intelligence”: This primarily focuses on a new live text feature that completely obliterates the need for Microsoft Lens.
- Visual Look Up: AI like this is really impressive – and I look forward to seeing which breed of dog iOS thinks I own (that’s the main thing we’ll all use it for, right?).
- Spotlight: I only use it to find apps, but richer results is always nice.
- Photos: I get the feeling that the Memories feature is something people either a) try once, smile at and forget about, or, b) have no idea exists.
- Apple Music Lossless/Dolby Atmos/Spatial Audio: Lots of thoughts here.
- Health: Walking steadiness = DrunkMode? Sorry – it’s genuinely lovely to see the continual addition of health features that’ll mean a lot to so many people.
- Privacy and iCloud+: Easily the stand-out announcements from the keynote; goodbye VPNs, and hello yet more brilliant privacy features on iOS.
See what I mean? There’s so much to cover.
I’ll be getting my hands on the beta as soon as it goes public, so stay tuned for further, hands-on thoughts.