Apple had their annual Worldwide Developer Conference today with all the newest software updates and features coming to their various platforms. Let’s talk about the changes coming to your iPhones and iPads.
This is the biggest overhaul to iOS’s interface in a long time and adds a whole slew of new additions and changes, many of which we’ve been clamoring for. Some are familiar if you’ve used other platforms while others are brand new.
Default browsers and email: Finally! Apple will now let you set a third party browser or email app as your default. That means if you use something like Brave, Firefox, or Chrome, you can have apps open that instead of Safari or Mail. It wasn’t even announced at the keynote, I only found it scrolling over Apple’s announcement page later
App Library: Apple is now giving you new ways to adjust your home screen. Instead of just having many pages of Apps and folders, you now can simplify it down a lot. First, the very last home screen will be the new “App Library”. Apps will be automatically added to prearranged folders like Social, Finance, etc. The top 2 folders will be the Suggested, using the same Siri suggestion technology, and a recently used to help you get back to apps you commonly use and launch them then and there. On top of this, there will be an app only search bar that will list all your apps in alphabetical order and you can search through them from the top of the screen.
If this sounds like a pain to have to move to that screen just to access all this, don’t worry. When you access “wiggle mode”, the home screen edit mode where you can move apps and uninstall them, then you can also delete home screen. Any apps on those screens will not be removed, but rather hidden and viewable in the App Library.
Widgets: While Widgets have been a part of iOS, they’ve been mostly cordoned off to their own screen at the far left of iOS and never as fully integrated as they are on Android. That changes with iOS 14, which will let you drag widgets from that screen to your home screen among the icons. These can also be resized to various sizes like a 4 icon square or a couple of rows to show you more information. Beautiful and data rich, these different sizes and the methods by which you add them are somewhat similar to the way the now-defunct Windows Phone handled things. You can also add more widgets to the menu from the wiggle view that appears when you start adding widgets or enter the mode. You’ll tap on the widget in the selector, add it to the screen, and select the size. Apple has also announced a new widget called “Smart Stack” can be added to a home screen. The widget can automatically change based of what it thinks you need, such as news in the morning, weather during the day, etc. This reminds me a lot of the Siri watchface that Apple Watch has to learn your behaviors and show you the most relevant info from its observations right when you need it. How well this works in practice will be interesting to see. That said, I think this has some real potential given how much more we do on the iPhone than our Watch.
Calls: One of the features I remember using back in the glory days of iOS jailbreaking was the change to the phone call interface, and now something similar is being changed in iOS 14. Now when you get a call, the call will appear as a somewhat larger notification at the top of the screen. You can tap to accept it or swipe it away to decline the call. While it’s certainly nice on iPhone, this is even better on iPad. Apple said it will even be supported by apps using the iOS call screen API like WhatsApp, Skype, etc.
OS level Picture in Picture: Picture-in-Picture (PiP) is now being brought to the whole of iOS. Now if you’re watching a video and go back to the home screen, you’ll now have you video pop out and ve viewable while you go to other apps. You also can pinch in and out to make the video bigger or smaller on screen. If you like listening to the audio of the video without wanting to watch it, they’ve thought of that too. just drag it to the left or right side of your screen so it’s just the audio playing and a little arrow to pop the video back out. No word if this will let you listen to YouTube with a locked screen, but I’m sure that will be tested soon.
Siri: Siri is getting smarter and less in your face. When activated on an iPhone or iPod Touch, Siri now pops up as an orb at the bottom of the screen with its answers popping up at the top of the screen. This also means that Siri and you can more easily reference stuff on screen (say you’re looking at the recipe and want to tell Siri what ingredients to add to your grocery list). According to Apple, they’ve now added 20x more facts and answers from a variety of new integrated sources. While more of a Messages feature, you can ask Siri to send an audio message if you prefer to do that instead of just a text message. And in an improvement to privacy (more on that later), dictation now runs completely on device when activated from the keyboard. This is a huge step forward for Siri as a privacy conscious smart assistant.
Translate: Language support is expanding with Apple’s new Translate App. They said this app will focus on conversations and not just words, so that it can be used more easily with phrasebooks and in live conversations. When used in landscape mode, the app will switch to a conversation mode with a single microphone button, with one language on one side and the 2nd language on the other. Apple says it’ll be easily able to distinguish which of side to use based on the language of the person speaking. On top of this the app will use Apple’s Neural Engine and will work offline out of the gate, meaning more privacy and better use if you’re going somewhere where you don’t have an internet plan or any access at all. Note you will need to download those languages in advance, much like you do on Google Translate. Apple says it will support 11 languages out of the box, with more to come, with the starting languages being: English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian.
Translation will now also be native in the Safari browser. If the page displayed isn’t displayed in your native tongue, it can offer to translate that on the fly as you scroll down the page.
How well these translations work will be interesting to see. If this does focus more on conversation then just words, that’s a really good step to making it more usable in everyday life. But this could be an Apple Maps situation where you end up saying the wrong thing and it takes 3 years to become usable.
Messages: Conversations: Can pin conversations at the top for individual or group convos. Memoji: More age options, more hairstyles, blushes, fist bumps, etc. More messages: inline responses, mentions as you type peoples names, only get notified in group when you’re mentioned, new group appearance at top of messages (most recently active larger or can set group photo).
Maps: The updated maps that Apple introduced in iOS 13 are coming to Canada, Ireland, and the UK, with possibly others to come. The maps include more 3D renders of buildings while navigating, updated routes, and more. Apple maps is also making it easier to find great places with new guides for restaurants and other places of interest, which automatically update from trusted resources (meaning beyond Yelp) and can make recommendations to you.
Apple is also improving on its commitment to the environment by helping you find more environmentally conscious ways to travel with Maps. This comes with a new dedicated cycling navigation option for iOS and Apple Watch. It will now help navigate you based off known bike lanes or bike safe paths. The function is notify you of elevations (both before at the route planning stage and as you actively are using it to navigate, notify you when you’ll need to get off to take the stairs, and notify you of quiet or busy roads for your safety and route planning. Currently this will start out in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Beijing, & Shanghai, with more cities to come.
Further adding to this green message is the addition of EV routing specifically for electric vehicles. Apple said it can help measure your car’s charge (presumably through Car Play or app) and help you find compatible chargers specifically for your vehicle, even automatically adding them on your route. It’s not clear if this will be something you’ll set in your phone ahead of time or what, with Apple announcing it’s already got support from BMW and Ford. However it will be added, this will be something that will be a big help to the adoption of EV vehicles and the reduction of range anxiety.
Lastly, Apple is improving its Maps with improvement to showing traffic congestion and green zones. Chinese citizens will also be able to add license plates to their phone.
CarPlay: CarPlay gets some modest updates as well. You now will have the ability to set a wallpaper to give your CarPlay ride a little more color and flair. Also being added to the roster of allow auto apps are apps related to finding parking, finding EV charging stations, and mobile food ordering app categories.
Mobile keys are coming natively to iOS 14. Starting with the 2020 BMW line, you can now create digital car keys on the iPhone to unlock your car via NFC. Apple showed the user putting their iPhone on charging pad in car to allow the car to start (perhaps wireless CarPlay, but no word as of yet. The digital key will be stored in the iPhone’s secure element meaning no one can get access to it if they break into your phone. That said, you can delete and create new digital keys, and the keys can be deleted via iCloud in the event your phone is stolen. Lastly, you’ll be able to text digital keys to your contacts with or without restricting options like speed (teen drivers beware). Not only that, but the feature is being backported to iOS 13 devices to help expand the roster and ensure others can use this. Apple noted this is not entirely a proprietary standard, as they are working with the industry on a standard, meaning you will be able to send these digital keys to your Android using family and friends as well. Apple also says they want to use U1 chip for distance access, but for now the NFC chip will be the limitation until they can safely implement this.
CarPlay will also be getting the enhancements previously noted to Apple Maps via the iOS 14 update
App Clips: App Clips is a new feature coming to iOS that seems very similar to Android’s Instant Apps introduced back in 2016. App Clips will allow users to get the full functionality of an app without needing to download the full app or create an account. So if you’re in a store and want to use a feature, like mobile check-in or you want to buy something through an online store without the app, etc. this will give you a way to do so. App Clips can be accessed in a variety of ways like tapping an NFC tag, scanning a QR code, seen from the web view of a site that has an app, or links texted to users.
Apple is offering App Clip codes that can be set up at business and used with NFC or camera to allow users to use their existing smart functionality. The App clip can also be customized, so a store can have a Yelp tag so that it will open the App Clip for Yelp but brought up for that shop. The App Clip will let you install the full app from the App Store and is accessible from your Library either in clip or full app form should you decide to download it.
App Clips will use Apple Pay and Sign-in with Apple so you don’t have to give credit card info or create an account, or install full app, thus making it easier for customers to do business without giving up privacy, security, or just the hassle of setting up another app. And they will only take up 10MB or less in size per-clip
These next features are specific to iPad. All the features of iOS 14 will be in iPadOS 14, but there are some particular changes for the bigger screens.
Sidebars Everywhere: Many native apps like Photos, Files, and Music will now have a sidebar that can appear and disappear at will (though some are permanent). You can then tap the sidebar icon to access new parts of the app, or things like photo albums, music playlists, specific folders in Files, etc. It also means you can select and drag multiple items like photos into the sidebar to add them to things like folders.
Files: In Files you’ll have the ability to tap an option to change how you view and sort files and folders in the Files app much like Mac OS’ Finder using a toolbar at the top. It’s also worth noting that
Music: Music now has an option fullscreen player view with album art and lyrics when listening to music. Useful for karaoke night or just enjoying the music itself.
Siri: Siri also gets a reduced Siri profile, but with a slight tweak in the placement of things. Instead of the bottom center, Siri will appear at the bottom right of the screen. Likewise any information it provides will also be just above the Siri orb rather than at the top of the screen. This just seems like easier placement in general.
Universal Search: This adjustment to the iPad’s built in search feature looks and functions more like Mac Spotlight than ever before. It will allow you to not just search for apps, contacts, and do basic calculations, but also search for documents and photos in files and other apps, better web search results and answers, and navigate to websites which open in Safari. And it just appears as a bar over the top of the screen like Spotlight on Mac, rather than the whole screen like previous iterations.
Pencil and Handwritten text: This is perhaps the biggest change specifically to the iPad and makes handwriting as powerful as typed text.
First there’s what Apple calls “Scribble”, which will allow you handwrite something in a text field like a search bar, email body, etc. and have it converted to text. Meaning you don’t have to put the pencil down. It can even recognize multiple languages, as in the demo we saw text being written in English then in Mandarin characters side-by-side.
Handwritten text itself gets an upgrade where it can be stored like in notes. Now handwritten text can be selected and copied to different places just like typed text. So you could copy and paste it just as is in 2 different notes, or in a picture. If the app you’re copying 2 doesn’t support handwritten text, it will automatically convert the information to typed text. And the text can be interpreted through iOS’ data detectors, so phone numbers and addresses can be called or searched for respectively.
Drawing with the pencil also gets an improvement. Now when you draw a shape, you can hold your Pencil at the last point at the end to have the iPad to create ideal version of the basic shape you drew. While not necessary, it’s nice if you want to try to make something a little more visually appealing.
Lastly, if you scratch over some handwriting or drawing with the Pencil, then it will delete the item. All this makes the iPad a far more capable drawing and writing device overall.
So that’s all the big stuff for iOS, but there’s still a lot more. iOS received a lot of privacy updates, as well as big updates to the Mac and Watch platforms, and new TV and Home features. What were some of your favorite features? What were some of the things you wished to see that maybe didn’t get addressed? Let us know in the comments below and on social media.
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