Apple announced major updates to iOS 11, macOS and Siri yesterday, including changes on how its voice based assistant Siri responds to commands, multi-tasking features on iOS and new connected home device launch (HomePod). These announcements was made during the Apple WWDC developer conference held yesterday.

Software updates

iOS 11

Most upgrades to iOS 11, Apple’s new mobile OS are meant for ramping up productivity and multitasking. For iPad users, there is a new Docking station on the bottom which allows users to switch between apps instantly. The dock also suggests apps while a user is working including the “ones you opened recently and the last one you were using on your iPhone or Mac”. Apple also borrowed a bit of multi-tasking from Windows10. On an iPad with iOS11, users can open a second app and slide it over each other to create a ‘Split View’ feel. Note that the Mac already has this. Some other hardware-based additions on iPad include instant notes and markup on feature (for all files including pdf) using Apple Pencil and a document scanning/editing utility.

For iPhone users, the most important update is around payments. Apple now allows users to send money to other Apple users via iMessage. Users can request and send money using the native messaging app using credit and debit cards. Apple Pay allows users to load digital money to a wallet and pay in stores and other apps supported by Apple or transfer money to banks from within the app. The iMessage platform is also borrowing an important update from WhatsApp—cloud backups. Apple’s property messaging platform is now directly integrated with iCloud. Note that iOS11 is currently in beta mode and public release is expected by the end of June.

Siri

Apple’s AI-based personal assistant Siri gets a new voice and more follow-up results to queries with new visual interface for results, reports TheVerge. Siri also has a new translation feature for English to Chinese, Frech, German, Italian and Spanish, which is in beta mode as of now. Additionally, Siri is now open for developers, allowing them to integrate their apps with Siri. The assistant will also perform deeper “on-device learning” or learn user patterns based on what they ask Siri. The deep-learning feature is live on all Apple devices with Siri, but the company claims that such info shall remain private to users.

macOS High Sierra

The biggest update to Apple’s desktop OS is a new file-system which boasts support for High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and an update to Metal, Apple’s graphic processing technology for applications like machine learning, virtual reality and other forms of content creation. The new Apple File System (APFS) APFS makes copying files and directories easier, helps protect data from power outages and crashes and a native encryption system.

Other important updates to Sierra:
For photo processing: the Photos app in High Sierra adds a new always-on sidebar that presents albums and organisation tools.
For Virtual Reality: Using Metal 2 and High Sierra OS, developers can create 3D and VR-based gaming content. The company said that game development company “Valve is optimizing their SteamVR platform for macOS and enabling connection of the HTC Vive headset, while Unity and Epic are bringing their VR development tools to macOS.
Adblocking on Safari browser: A ‘Reader’ option to block autoplay videos and other intrusive ads including in forms or audio and animations. “Safari can automatically use Reader to open articles in a clean, uncluttered format,” Apple said.

ARKit for developers 

For developers, iOS11 has a new framework that allows them to build AR based applications. The ‘ARKit’ uses visual image processing techniques to track objects around it and it doesn’t require constant calibration since Apple claims that its AR engine works on a real-time basis. By triggering inbuilt-cam, ARKit can be used to create 3D shapes and other animated objects on the screen. But as pointed by this CNET report, there is still no absolute use case for ARKit, and probably Apple is banking on the open-source developer community to find one.

Hardware Updates

HomePod

Apple now has a new product focused on the connected home segment that looks to compete with Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. The Apple HomePod boasts an inbuilt A8 chip with WiFi and the speaker has ‘spatial awareness’ feature that automatically tunes volume levels based on the surrounding. It costs $349 and is currently available in US, UK and Australia only. Note that Google Home is priced at $129.

Here are the important features:
-Air Play 2 support allow users to use HomePod with compatible speakers for additional sound. AirPlay is an audio streaming protocol developed by Apple, mainly meant to support connected home solutions.
-Support for Apple Music allows HomePod users to stream entire library saved in a user’s profile.
-Advanced support for queries, allowing users to fetch answers for questions like “Who’s playing drums on this track?” or “What was the top song on May 5th, 2016?”
-Apart from this HomePod does everything that Amazon Echo/Google Home does: unit conversion, news, weather, traffic, sports, reminders, check mails, timers, alarms, etc.
-Privacy feature on HomePod: The device is activated using “Hey Siri” command, but Apple says it won’t forward queries to its servers until the statement is completed. Secondly, all voice inputs are encrypted using an anonymous Siri identifier.