Apple AirPods, Home, and TV: Everything Announced at WWDC 2020

While iPhone, iPad, Watch, and Mac OS are the tent poles of Apple’s announcements, they’re not the only thing that got announced. Let’s talk about some of the other stuff Apple talked about in their announcements.

AirPods

There were 2 major software announcements regarding the AirPods. One for all AirPods, and another for the Pro model.

Image courtesy of Apple

Starting with iOS 14 and macOS 10.16 “Big Sur”, AirPods will be able to intelligently switch between your different devices, assuming their linked to the same iCloud account. So they said if you’re using the AirPods on your Mac for listening to, but a call comes in on your iPhone, then the AirPods can intelligently switch to the call of the audio. This is a fantastic feature at least for me personally, because I like to use my AirPods on my Mac at times, and then when I’m aware it’s annoying to have to go into my Bluetooth settings on my iPhone and wait for them to reconnect there. At the same time, I wonder if there will be any trouble with the AirPods not knowing when to switch, or if you want to answer the phone call on your Mac or iPad that you’re currently using. I’d imagine Apple would allow this to happen, or perhaps sense what device you’re actively using when the call came in similar to the way it handles the “Hey Siri” commands when you have multiple Apple devices listening.

For AirPods Pro users, Apple is introducing what it calls “Spatial Audio”. If the media you’re watching supports 5.1, 7.1, or Dolby Atmos surround sound, then the AirPods Pro’s gyroscope and motions sensors, in conjuction with iOS or macOS’ and own sensors to keep the sound in sync with direction of sound of the audio source. That way if you have 2 characters one screen, one on the left and another on the right, not only will you have them sounds that way in your headphones, but if you turn your head to the right the characters will sound like they’re both now on your left, coming from the direction of the screen. I imagine this can really help not just with immersion in movies, but also in games, particular in AR games like in the upcoming ARKit 4 Apple announced at WWDC

Home:

Apple’s Home endeavors are growing as well as adding some nice new touches.

Homekit: It’s no secret that while Homekit is great, it hasn’t gotten as much traction compared to Amazon or Alexa. At the same time, it can be a bit of a hassle to switch between system once you get in deeper than a few light bulbs. Apple announced at WWDC that it is partnering with Google and Amazon, among others, for a unified standard. In the future, this means instead of seeing multiple labels for supporting Google Assistant, Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, Samsung Smart Home, and whatever other groups their are for unifying smart homes. There’s not a timeline just yet on this, but hopefully we’ll start seeing this sooner rather than later. While this can be seen as a tacit acknowledgement of Homekit’s lack of adoption, I think at the same time this could be a big step forward in general for home automation if consumers know whatever device they have and whatever assistant they use, they’ll be able to easily use all their devices.

In the meantime, Homekit is getting some upgrades in the Home app. When you connect a new Homekit compatible device in the Home app, you’ll automatically receive suggestions for automations for that device. So if you attach a smart bulb, then the Home app might suggest adding that light to turn on or off at a schedule, or turn off when you leave home. While you’re in the Home app, you’ll also notice some of your most used or favorite devices at the top of the screen indicating their current status.

Adaptive lighting: You can now set adaptive lighting in Homekit based off things like time of day. While you could have Homekit change colors, now you have these changes beyond just asking Siri to do it. As example, you could have your Hue lights start of in a warmer orange light during the morning, turn it to a blue or whiter color during the day to stimulate activity, and then shift back to a warmer color in the evening to encourage relaxation.

Image courtesy of Apple

Cameras: Cameras were another place Apple called out as being very popular with home automation. One of the next places many smart cameras have gone has been with face recognition. This has a lot of privacy implications, but Apple is allowing it to recognize people’s faces and notify you of who’s at the door based on people you’ve tagged in Photos. Anyone it doesn’t recognize will just be notified as someone at the door. How will it “announce” people? Well through HomePod or Apple TV! Now HomePod will notify you with the name of the person it recognizes at the door, and the Apple TV can show a Picture-in-Picture view of either the announcement or you can just ask Siri to show you the camera view without taking you out of media. More on the Apple TV later.

HomePod didn’t get talked about as much, which is sad for the the few of us HomePod fans out there. But there was a brief slide that mentioned that HomePod is finally getting support for third party streaming services. While Apple hasn’t said much, it’s likely that HomePods will still come with Apple Music as the default, but much like Alexa you’ll be able to set another vetted music service like Pandora or Spotify in the the Home app.

TV

The Apple TV is getting a few new features improving gaming, home functionality, and some of Apple TV+’s content.

Games: While Apple TV is not really what one would consider a game console, it is becoming more like one. For example, the Apple TV will now allow local multiplayer with other Apple TV users. Meaning that if the game in question has local multiplayer, someone can start playing with you using their Apple account on Apple TV. Likewise, Apple TV is allowing resuming of gameplay right where you left off, meaning that when you stop playing on your Apple TV, the next time you sign into your Apple account on that TV, it’ll pick up right where you left off, just the same as the sleep function on modern gaming consoles.

Picture of the Xbox Elite and Microsoft Adaptive controllers - Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

Also regarding gaming is the Apple TV is adding support for the Xbox Elite gaming controller and Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller. While the Elite is generally meant for those who are more serious about their gaming and getting the most out of their controller, the Adaptive controller is meant for those wanting to play games that are unable to use traditional controllers due to motor limitations, thus opening it up to more people. Both of these are good, even if Apple TV is not a traditional gaming platform, but I think more systems should support the Adaptive Controller. This just shows Apple’s commitment to making its devices more accessible to more people.

Picture-in-Picture: Now if this feature sounds familiar to you, it’s because this was added in tvOS 13, but it was only available through the Apple TV app. Now, it is available with any video. As an example, Apple showed off running a workout app on Apple TV and then having a news stream running at the same time. This actually is a good use case, as many people like listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks while exercising, though as far as on TV I’m not as sure about other use cases. That said if you have any on TV that you’d like to see then I’d love to hear them.

Image of workout app with picture-in-picture of a news stream.
Image courtesy of Apple

Home view: PiP is not being limited to just video, as Apple showed off that you can bring up your smart cameras through Apple home with Home view, whether it’s someone coming up and being detected by your smart doorbell, or just checking up on someone working outside. You’ll also be able to trigger some scenes to adjust things like your lighting, temperature, etc. It won’t be the full Home experience like on your Mac or iOS device, but it’s a nice touch, particularly the camera functionality.

Double the AirPods, double the fun!: Apple allowed you previously to connect a pair of AirPods to your Apple TV to listen privately, but now you can do that with 2 sets of AirPods. So as an example, if you have sleeping kids, but wanted to watch a movie with your partner, you were stuck each having a single AirPod. Now you can each use your own AirPods and the Apple TV will stream the audio to both, which is maybe more of a niche case, but I can think of parents who can appreciate that.

4K for more things: If you have an Apple TV 4K model, then this will be of interest to you. While many apps can support 4K playback, one major app that didn’t was YouTube, which maxed out at 1080p on the Apple TV 4K. Now with tvOS 14, you’ll finally get crisp 4K YouTube (when the video supports it). Part of the reason this has been a problem, is because Apple and Google both cling to different formats for 4K video. So it’s unclear if one company or the other decided to capitulate and license the other’s codec (likely Apple licensing Google’s VP9 codec), or if they met in the middle and started using the newer AV1 format. We’ll likely find out more later, but either way you’re getting more 4K.

Not just from Google, but if you AirPlay 4K video and photos from your iPhone or iPad (assuming they’re also running iOS/iPadOS 14, then you’ll be able to see them at that fully resolution. Meaning if you want to show this stuff off to your friends, you’ve got a better way to do it now.

Apple TV+: Lastly, while the Apple TV+ service hasn’t necessarily been doing gangbusters, Apple is still expanding its reach and catalog. As far as devices, Sony and Vizio smart TV’s will soon have the Apple TV app available on their platforms.

And for their next tent-pole series, Apple announced that the “Foundation” series will be available for viewing on Apple TV+ starting sometime in 2021. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Foundation series is a seminal work of science fiction written by Issac Asimov, also known for “iRobot” and “The Gods Themselves“, among many other works of both fiction and non-fiction. It’ll be interesting to see how well this can be adapted, as its style has made it somewhat difficult to adapt. This will be a moment to wait and see, but it seems that Apple is hoping this to be their big breakout moment.


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