Apple started its annual developer conference, WWDC 2018 with a keynote that offered a peek into all the latest updates to its mobile, desktop/laptop, wearable and TV platforms. The company also highlighted other key initiatives focused on improving privacy, security, and also decided to climb on board the digital wellbeing train.
Here are some of the key highlights from the event:
Siri is a bit unusual among Apple products from this decade. For once Apple was the early mover, pushing out an integrated voice assistant with its devices well before Amazon or Google. But Apple’s voice assistant has stagnated in terms of features and sophistication, leaving Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa to fight for the crown. Apple is attempting to correct this imbalance by giving Siri a much-needed upgrade.
Siri can now make suggestions based on things you do habitually, like ordering a particular beverage at Starbucks every day or dining out on weekends. Another important new feature called Shortcuts for Siri works with third-party apps. For example, Apple demonstrated that asking Siri for your “travel plans” might bring up the flight number and address of the hotel you booked through your travel app. While no integrations with Indian apps were shown on stage, but the possibilities for apps like Zomato, MakeMyTrip among many others look promising. Shortcuts also work on the HomePod and Apple Watch but you’d lose out on the detailed visual feedback.
Apple snipes at Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg’s Worldwide Apology Tour 2018, following the Cambridge Analytica disaster, brought into focus the numerous ways Facebook collects user data even when they are not actively using Facebook. Facebook’s Like button which has been plastered virtually on every site has been able to collect user’s web browsing history, without the user’s knowledge in most cases.
At WWDC, Apple took a direct shot at Facebook’s ubiquitous little trackers onstage. Apple’s VP of software Craig Federighi while describing Safari’s new anti-tracking features said, “We’ve all seen these like buttons and share buttons. Well, it turns out, these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not. So this year, we’re shutting that down.”
Curbing digital addiction
Following Google’s lead, Apple’s iOS 12 will give users detailed insight into how much time they are spending on their mobile devices, and offer new controls to help them manage their habits. The tools, led by a new app called Screen Time and updates to Notifications and Do Not Disturb, seem to be a response to multiple researchers and tech critics highlighting the issue of tech addiction.
Screen Time, which is the biggest addition, lets you monitor both your own smartphone use and that of other members of your family (like your child’s Apple devices) A bar graph shows you how much time users have been spending on various activities, like “social networking,” “games,” and “entertainment.” You can also look at the amount of time spent on specific apps and set daily time limits for usage of those apps. Do Not Disturb now flips on during bedtime; it silences your phone and hides all notifications until you wake up. Another feature called Downtime lets you schedule times of the day when access to apps will be blocked, for instance, social media notifications during work hours or work email notifications during dinner time.
There’s a new addition called Memoji which seems to be the mix between the iPhone X’s AniMojis (animated emojis) and BitMojis (third party digital avatar tool). The face-tracking tech that formerly animated the poop emoji now powers Memoji, a customizable character made to look just like you. So your iPhone X owning rich friend will have more ways to annoy you now.
Facetime has added support for group chats of up to 32 people. You can also now use Apple’s camera effects in FaceTime too, which means you can decorate your face with filters, stickers, Animoji, and Memoji, to annoy your friends or look super unprofessional during a work conference call.
There was a new macOS update announced labeled Mojave so that Apple can still pretend it cares about the desktop and laptop user while actually focussing most of its effort on mobiles and wearables. There is a redesigned app store for the Mac and a new ‘dark mode’ that headline another lackluster macOS update.