The 2022 WWDC Keynote
Today, Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). As it always does, it started the conference with a presentation of what's in the works for all its major platforms, sharing highlights of the iOS, watchOS, iPadOS, and macOS updates set to be released in the fall. There was also a surprise MacBook Air refresh, which we'll get to in a bit.
iOS and iPad OS
Let's begin with the iPhone and iPad. The below features are coming to both platforms, unless otherwise noted. Version 16 will completely re-design a few areas, and add new features to others. We start with something that hasn't gotten any attention in years: the lock screen.
Apple is turning the lock screen into a sort of analog to Apple Watch faces. You can add widgets to it, change the font and colors of the date and time, and choose a different image for each lock screen you create. When you're on a lock screen, simply swipe left or right to move between the various lock screens you've set up. You can even choose a specific one to be used when a focus is enabled. To prevent them from showing atop your widgets, notifications now roll up from the bottom. Apps can now consolidate notifications into a single, constantly-updating display, such as something showing the scores of a game or the progress of an Uber ride. This way, you won't be flooded with dozens of notifications that clutter up your shiny new lock screens, but will just have a single notification that keeps updating itself.
The next area that's getting a major overhaul is Mail. This app will gain an improved search, which can automatically ignore or fix misspellings, search attachment text, and search for synonyms of what you type. Action reminders can be set, such as reminding you to follow up on an email you sent if the recipient hasn't replied in a while. You can schedule mail sending, and can even undo the sending of a message, though how long you have to do so is not yet known.
Messages is gaining a few new tricks. Similar to the Mail app, you can now undo the sending of a message. You can also edit a message you sent, and mark a thread as unread. I love this last one, since I often use the unread status as a way to remind myself to act on a message. Now, if I accidentally open the thread, I can set it back to unread so I have my reminder again.
Messages will now be more integrated into sharing. For instance, you can start SharePlay on a song you're listening to right from Messages. Also, Apple is letting any app which wants to hook into the "Shared with You" feature introduced into Messages last year. This means that, if Google chooses to implement this, you might be able to see YouTube links people send you through iMessage in a new section in the Youtube app.
Speaking of the Messages app, a new feature will let parents get and act on requests inside Messages. If you have a child whose phone you are managing, that child can send you a message asking for more screen time. Rather than digging through your settings, you can make that change right in Messages. Adding a new device is now much simpler as well: pre-configure the settings you want, bring the child's device near yours, and follow the quick setup guide to get everything configured in a few taps. Adding a child's iPhone or iPad should now be much easier.
Dictation is getting some useful updates in iOS 16. First, it works even while the keyboard is active. This lets you dictate some text, highlight part of it with your finger, use the keyboard to type new text in its place, then continue to speak. (We don't know how this will work with VoiceOver yet, especially if you aren't using headphones.) Second, dictation now tries to insert punctuation automatically, and supports emojis. Yes, you could already dictate emojis, but the support seems to have been expanded.
Wallet and Apple Pay are gaining some new abilities. With zero work from app developers or merchants, users can now split a purchase made with Apple Pay into four equal payments. These must be paid within six weeks, but there are no extra charges to use the option. We don't yet know what happens if the user fails to pay on time.
The tap to pay feature announced last year, where you can simply tap your phone or NFC-enabled card to someone else's iPhone or iPad to pay them, is rolling out to the U.S. market with the launch of iOS/iPadOS 16. This will let merchants turn iPads into payment terminals, or use their phones to accept payments. It will be interesting to see how this gets used in the real world. Speaking of merchants doing neat things, Apple will support order updates directly through Wallet, letting vendors send you shipping notifications, order delay alerts, and other information directly through the Wallet app if you make a purchase with Apple Pay. This might take some time to show up, as there are a few pieces required to make it work on the vendor's side.
The Wallet app can send and receive keys in iOS 16. Keys can be to a car, house, office, or other lock, though only Apple supports them for now. The company said it is working to make its keys an open standard, so other platforms can add support as well. Still, you can send keys to users just as you'd send anything else, such as via email or iMessage. It's never been easier to give someone access to your house, if both of you have the right hardware and your lock supports the feature.
Wallet has one other trick, which expands on something it could already do: it can save transit cards. New this year is the ability to view a card's balance, and reload it, right from Wallet. This integrates with the new Maps app, which will offer to let you view the right card in Wallet, and can show transit costs. Maps also now supports multi-stop routes, and can even save a route you take often. If your route takes you first to the local gym, then to the nearby bakery, then back home for a nap, you can hit all three locations just by starting a single route.
iPadOS 16 will offer a few features specific to the iPad. The most notable is Stage Manager (only supported on M1 iPads), which offers an easier way to manage multiple apps. Unused apps stay off to the side in small windows you can tap to re-open, while your main app (or two--you can still use two apps at once) stays on the screen, ready to be used. You can resize apps more exactly, and can even scale the entire display to shrink everything and thus fit more on the screen.
Safety Check is a feature Apple says will help keep people safe. If someone is in an abusive relationship and is trying to leave, they can quickly revoke access from the partner they are trying to get away from. This will immediately stop sharing the survivor's location with their abuser, will cut off access to any shared passwords, will let the survivor sign out any other devices they may have left behind, and more. The feature is basically a cutoff switch for as much shared access as possible, making it that much harder for the abuser to track them down.
There are several other features worth mentioning that don't fall into a single category.
- You can now share a tab group in Safari with other people. Anyone can add or remove tabs, and you can see which tab others are viewing.
- You can share an iCloud photo library with other people; everyone can contribute photos, but each person can decide which photos get added.
- iPadOS will get a Weather app for the first time, and offers weather assets developers can use in their own apps.
- CarPlay can now control the climate, radio, and other aspects of a car, and offers widgets. Compatible cars won't arrive until late 2023.
- A focus can now hide parts of apps, such as only showing you work-specific Safari tabs or hiding some calendar events or message threads.
- Live Text now works on videos. Pause a video, then use the Live Text feature to pull text from the frame.
- The Translate app now supports the camera, letting you point your iPhone or iPad at text and have it translated.
- Apple News now has a sports section where you can track your favorite players and teams, and your favorites are synced across all your devices. If you have Apple News Plus, you get more detailed information.
- iOS 16 gains the Quick Note feature we saw introduced last year in iPadOS 15.
- The Home app has been completely rewritten, and now offers accessory categories, up to four camera views at once, and other features to make it easier to manage HomeKit devices.
- iOS will now get security updates, which don't require a full iOS update but can instead be installed more frequently to fix vulnerabilities that much faster.
- The True Depth camera on iPhone can now be used to customize Spatial Audio.
- iPhone can now track your activity using step counting and stairs climbed, adding activity to the new Fitness app even if you don't have an Apple Watch.
- iPadOS 16 offers new collaboration tools for iWork and other apps, such as adding everyone from an iMessage thread to collaboration on Pages.
- iPadOS 16 lets you customize the toolbars in some apps, and offers system-wide undo support (no, I'm not sure what that means either).
As with iOS 16, this year's Apple Watch software update focuses more on improvements than big features.
The Workout app got the most attention. When you are doing a running workout, Apple Watch can now track your ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and stride length. When running, hiking, strength training, or during several other workout types, you can see your heart rate zone, and set alerts for when your zone changes, indicating that you should push harder or slow down. You can customize workouts with durations for active versus rest times, and get alerted when it's time to switch from one to the other. A new mode meant specifically for triathlons lets you set up a custom workout with biking, swimming, and running all set up in order, so you don't need to manually switch between types during the event.
The next big health feature is sleep. Apple Watch has been able to track your sleep for a while, but it never went into much detail. In watchOS 9, you will get your time asleep, and how much time you spent in light, REM, and deep sleep. Third party sleep-tracking apps have offered this for some time, so it's good to see Apple finally offering the feature. Plus, Apple says it did validation with huge numbers of people and engaged experts and medical-grade equipment to make sure the data is accurate.
Speaking of medical data, Apple Watch is now able to track atrial fibrillation history. If you have afib, your watch can automatically keep track of when, and for how long, your heart is in this state. The data is saved to Apple Health, and you can grab a PDF of the history to share with your doctor or review yourself.
The final health-related update is medications. iOS 16 now lets you add medications to the Health app, along with how often you take each one. If you add a medication and iOS detects a possible interaction with something else already in your list, your phone will alert you. A complication on watchOS can remind you which medications you have to take, and let you check off each as you take it. You can also log meds you take occasionally, such as ones for allergies. Adding a medication can be done by typing part of the name and choosing it from the list, or by using your phone's camera to get an image of the label. You can choose to share your medications with family, which seems great for a caregiver trying to make sure their patient is taking their meds.
There are four new watch faces, though none seem to have much utility for VoiceOver users. The re-designed astronomy face now shows real-time cloud cover on the image of the Earth, there's a face with hand-drawn art, there's a new lunar face that claims to celebrate various cultures' lunar-based holidays, and there's one with some nifty animations for the digits.
Apple Watch has other new tricks, too:
- Active apps will now be pinned to the start of the Dock.
- Banner notifications have been revamped, though the presenter didn't explain what that would mean.
- More rich complications have been added, but we didn't get a list of what these are.
- The watchOS podcasts app has some new abilities, such as searching for new podcasts or playing live-streaming episodes.
- Developers can now use Apple Watch to start or stop calls, or mute/unmute the mic, on a connected iPhone. This works for any app that chooses to use the feature, such as Google Meet or Zoom.
macOS 13 Ventura
This year's macOS update has many of the features we saw on iPhone and iPad: the updated Mail app, Stage Manager, shared Safari tab groups, and others. There are a few Mac-specific ones worth talking about, though not as many as on the other platforms.
The first new feature coming to the Mac actually involves the iPhone: you can use your phone as a webcam. This works wirelessly, and supports all the advanced camera tricks that iOS has to offer. For instance, you can use Center Stage to keep yourself in focus, blur the background, darken the background and lighten your face, or even switch to an overhead view of your desk without re-positioning the phone. The front-facing camera, and a lot of AI magic, makes all this possible. You just need a stand for your phone, and you're ready to go. This works with any Mac app which can handle a webcam, too, not just with FaceTime.
Spotlight gets an overhaul in Ventura. It now uses a full window, not just a small popover, and it can do a lot more. You can manage timers or run shortcuts, use Quick Look on documents it finds, and it can even search text found in your photos.
As mentioned, Stage Manager comes to the Mac as well as iPad. This is a new way of managing multiple apps. As I understand it, it puts all apps as small windows on the left side of your screen, except the app you're actively using. To switch active apps, you simply click the window of the new app you want. You can also drag files onto these windows to add those files to the chosen app, without having to pull the app into the foreground. If you want to use two apps side by side, you can; Stage Manager will simply show a single window with both apps in it, and will restore them just how you had them if you click this window. I won't know how all this works with VoiceOver, if it does at all, until I get my hands on the beta.
Other, smaller macOS improvements/changes include:
- System Preferences has been re-designed
- Metal, Apple's graphics API, can now handle upscaling and pulling assets more efficiently
Surprise: New MacBooks
Yep, that's right: there are two new MacBooks coming out. They sport the latest Apple silicon, named M2. While neither is as good as the M1 Pro, M1 Max, or M1 Ultra, the M2 MacBook Air and M2 MacBook Pro are a step up from their M1 counterparts.
The M2 is about 35% faster than the M1 in computing, 25% faster in graphics-heavy tasks, and 40% faster in AI applications where the neural engine is used. It has 25% more transistors than the M1, but doesn't use any more power. This means that it can beat the M1 in every test, while offering the same battery life.
As with the M1, we have a fanless M2 MacBook Air, and a MacBook Pro with a fan and slightly better M2 chip. Both computers now support MagSafe. The Air has a full-height row of function keys, while the Pro still uses the Touch Bar. The Air gets several upgrades that make it feel a lot like the M1 MacBook Pro from a couple years ago: it has thinner bezzels, giving it a 13.6-inch screen; it has four speakers and three microphones, with Spatial Audio support; the screen has a peak brightness of 500 nids, matching the previous-generation Pro. And all this is in a package that's 20% less in overall volume than the previous MacBook Air, and weighs 2.7 pounds.
Confused? Let me make it worse. The M1 Air is still being sold, and still costs $999. The M2 Air is $1199--again, it's smaller, has a better screen, runs faster, and has MagSafe. The M2 MacBook Pro starts at $100 more than the M2 Air, and has the active cooling and extra cores to do a little more than the Air. However, it's bigger than the Air. You can also jump up in price, and get a MacBook Pro with M1 Pro or M1 Max chip. These are faster than the M2, even though they are variants of the older M1. TL;DR: if you want a new MacBook, find someone who knows the lineup very well, and also knows what you need your computer to do. Things are kind of confusing right now.
Until The Fall
That's all we'll get for major announcements from Apple until the fall. Now it's time to install betas and test everything, at least for some of us. Remember: betas are NOT stable, and should NOT go on any machines you rely on. Beta test at your own risk. Public betas should launch sometime in July, and the final releases should arrive in fall of 2022.
What grabbed your attention? Are there any features, whether listed here or that were discovered after the big event, that you can't wait to play with? Personally, I want widgets on the lock screen, the new sleep and workout features in watchOS, and to see what's changed with VoiceOver on macOS.