Three Big Themes at Apple’s WWDC

June 8, 2021 / Carolina Milanesi
Three Big Themes at Apple’s WWDC featured image

I am not sure if it’s the lack of down time for stage walk-ons or that Apple has got this digital event thing down to a science, but the pace of this year Apple’s Developer Conference (WWDC) was incredible. The overall impact of the announcements across iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS will take a little bit longer to assess, but when looking at the breadth of the news, I would summarize the keynote under three areas:

  • Deepening multi-device and cross-service value
  • Privacy and security as enablers
  • Building the foundations for the future

Deepening multi-device and cross-service value

I have argued for a very long time that Apple’s long-term goal has always been to deliver more value to those users who engage with multiple Apple devices. The WWDC’s keynote paraded a long list of examples across devices and services that made it clear that while Apple doesn’t lock customers in (as Tim Cook recently said at the Epic vs. Apple trial), it focuses on not giving them a reason to look elsewhere.

Universal Control

Universal Control gives users the ability to use a single mouse and keyboard to move between a Mac and an iPad, supporting up to three devices. Given the new iMac and iPad Pro launch on the M1 silicon, I can see users planning to pair iPad for on-the-go computing needs to a home/office iMac welcome this added functionality as driving higher return on their investment.

Shared with You 

Shared with You is a new feature that takes articles, music and pictures that people shared with you in iMessage and creates a tab in Apple News, Apple Music and Apple Photos for you to consume from within the apps at your earliest convenience. This is not just convenient; it creates more stickiness to apps such as News that a browser could easily bypass.

Apple Music and Memories

The Apple Photo app added Memories back in 2018. Memories is an intelligent curation of your favorite moments brought together by stitching photos and videos into a movie that adds music tailored to its length and mood. Now users will be able to use music from their Apple Music subscription as a soundtrack. Using the new feature called Memories Mixes, a user can intelligently pick songs, pacing, and an overall look. Experts curated sets of songs based on music taste and the user’s listening history to choose from.

FaceTime

It is also clear that for Apple, opening up services and features to devices built on non-Apple operating systems only makes sense when doing so adds value to its customers. Look at the difference between opening up FaceTime to Android and Microsoft devices as well as browsers while not doing so for iMessage. Limiting FaceTime to iOS devices meant that as a user, I was unable to call friends and family who relied on non- Apple devices. At work, the limits of running on a single vendor are even more marked as, despite the high penetration of iPhones in business, no workplace can afford to standardize on only one vendor. With iMessage, users are not prevented from communicating with people on other devices. They might have a less rich experience, but the core functionality remains.

Privacy and security as enablers

Privacy is a human right has been a slogan we have heard Tim Cook and other Apple executives say at many events, and the WWDC keynote was no different. A lot of attention has been given to iOS 14.5 new app tracking transparency feature, which increases visibility for consumers of what data apps are tracking and gives them the power to decide whether they want to be tracked or not. With iOS 15, Apple expands that transparency by adding a privacy dashboard that clearly summarizes which app has access to what data and when. Apple also added the ability for Mail to block invisible trackers and a lot more on-device intelligence for Siri.

As Apple dives deeper into privacy to the point of launching a new service for iCloud, it is obvious that the benefit is not just a nice marketing slogan but a business differentiator that might help add value that competitors cannot easily replicate not because of the technology they have access to but because of business model they run on.

Health and Wallet

Apple added the ability to share health data, not just lab data, with your doctor. It also added the ability to view the health data of your children or your parents. As we start to reconnect with people, it is evident that the pandemic highlighted needs that had not been top of mind before, such as monitoring the potential deterioration of our parents’ health when we cannot connect with them in person or regularly.

Apple Wallet has grown to store our credit cards, reward cards, car keys, house keys, hotel keys and now ID cards.

With so much valuable information in one place, users must be confident in the level of security used to keep it safe. But security is not the only concern. Users must also trust that this information will not be accessed and used by Apple or their partners. Trust is also required by business partners such as hospitals, health insurances, hotel chains, car manufacturers and state governments who decide to make the feature available on Apple’s devices. Their brand will be damaged too if users face any issues.   

iCloud+

The new iCloud Plus provides a VPN called Private Relay, Hide my Email that lets you create single-use email addresses that will forward to your actual email and unlimited storage for HomeKit-enabled home security cameras.

iCloud is a service that you might have come to rely on if you are entrenched in the Apple ecosystem with multiple devices. Yet the reality is that there is a lot of competition from Google, Microsoft and Dropbox. Some providers have proven more generous in their free storage allocation, and others offer a much more seamless cross-platform experience. Apple’s focus on privacy might grow in appeal as we store more data in the cloud, both generated by us, such as photos and also by our devices such as wearables and cameras.

Building the foundation for the future 

The last thread I noticed throughout the keynote was an investment in the future. Whether it was about driverless cars or AR, Apple provided the tools for developers to start building apps and some initial experiences for consumers to start building confidence. 

3D object design and Maps

To make it easier for developers to create realistic 3d objects, Apple launched Object Capture, a new macOS API that uses photogrammetry to turn a series of 2d images into photorealistic 3d objects. The new API cuts down the time and the development cost, potentially accelerating the catalog of 3D objects available but also increasing fidelity by making the process timelier.

In Maps, Apple added a great deal of information that helps drivers today but will be even more critical for self-driving cars. From turn lanes to bus and taxi lanes to navigate traffic and crosswalks and bike lanes to help navigate intersections and busy city centers. For highways, Apple added the rendering of overlapping complex interchanges in three-dimensional space, making it much easier to see upcoming traffic conditions or to know which lane you need to be in. To experience AR in real life, iOS 15 catches up to Android by adding three-dimensional directions to a selected number of cities.

 

There were other announcements that I look forward to experiencing, such as multitasking on iPadOS, Quick Notes and the improvements to Safari tabs. Developers have already been sharing first impressions on social media, and users will be able to get a glimpse in July when the beta rolls out.

 

 

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