WWDC 2021 – macOS Monterey, iOS 15 & iPadOS 15

WWDC crept up on me this time. I usually keep up with the leaks that are customary to any Apple event but this time apart from the odd 14” & 16” MacBook Pro leaked imagery, I really didn’t know what to expect.

The intro for the whole event was much more interactive than usual as there were people live chatting about the event or at least it seemed as such with a whole range of message bubbles displayed before the event started with a whole host of Memoji surrounding them.

Then there was a whole section about how developers would start WWDC and to be honest, I didn’t really get the whole premise.

Tim Cook walked towards the stage and there was plenty of cheering and encouragement however when he actually got out on the stage, it turns out all of that was added in post as the auditorium in Apple Park was filled with Memoji characters which were designed to mimic the usual hoard of developers and Apple staff present at WWDC. It was a nice touch but the usual cheering and charm that we have become accustomed to in all events that took place before 2020 was missing. Cook announced that WWDC 2020 had 20 million + viewers which was a record for the event.

Craig Federighi appeared on the screen as a Memoji and Tim Cook handed the stage over to him to talk about iOS 15.

iOS 15

The next generation of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 15, was designed around Staying Connected.

FaceTime

Facetime was the first big thing as digital communication has been core to the world still running regardless of the pandemic at hand. Facetime calls are being evolved to make them more natural, comfortable and lifelike. Spatial audio is going to be a core part of this which will help conversations flow better during group Facetime calls as you will be to hear the voices of your friends and family based on the location of where they are displayed on the screen.

Voice isolation is also a big thing in iOS 15, machine learning will be used to block all ambient noise whilst prioritising your voice to ensure a more personal experience. On the other hand, Wide Spectrum Mode is designed to allow you to pick up all audio from your devices surrounding. This is perfect for those times when you are using Facetime on a device as a group as it will pick up all audio through the microphone.

The new grid view will allow you to see all of the members on the group Facetime as blocks of the same size with the person actively talking highlighted with a white halo. Portrait mode is now also possible allowing for a blurred background similar to what Zoom and Teams have had for a while now.

FaceTime links allow you to create a link for a FaceTime call which can be shared through iMessage, Mail, WhatsApp and the Calendar. This also allows you to schedule future calls so it is perfect for when you have friends that you need to put something down in the diary for them to turn up.

SharePlay

SharePlay is another brand new feature which although sounds simple, is actually quite a cool combination of tools. You are now able to share Apple Music tracks with friends and family over FaceTime so you can enjoy music simultaneously. Video content is also compatible with SharePlay so apps like Disney+, Twitch, HBOMax and TikTok can also be shared during a FaceTime call when you press the SharePlay button. Apple didn’t go into the specifics of whether all participants of the call would require an active subscription for the video platform and whether they need the individual applications or if FaceTime facilitates video sharing.

The last feature of SharePlay which will help me personally immensely is the SharePlay Screensharing. If you are the family techie, I am sure you will be familiar with the nightmare that is trying to walk others through doing something based just on their descriptions of what they can see. Now they will just be able to share their screen with you and you’ll be able to tell them exactly how to proceed.

Messages

Next Apple moved over to the iOS 15 messages app. The first feature is a new way to see multiple photos within a chat, a new collage mode will be displayed with various stack designs for your photos. Next is the ‘Shared With You’ feature, across system apps including Apple Music, Apple News, Safari and Apple Podcasts a new section will be shown where links shared within the messages app will be shown for you to peruse at your own leisure.

Notifications

The notifications panel is now redesigned with larger app and contact icons. Notification summary is Apple’s approach to organising your notifications based on what they believe is relevant to you. Notifications from people are exempt from this as they are displayed based on when they arrive.

Focus

Apple also brought ‘Focus’ to the stage. It is designed to allow you to separate your personal and professional life especially as you may be working from home so need to be able to differentiate between those different times in your life.

Personal mode allows you to ignore work-related apps such as Outlook, Slack and Facebook Workchat and you can customise the apps included within the various categories. Work mode means that personal communication will be minimal and only urgent calls and texts will come through. Sleep mode will allow you to keep notifications to a minimum with only urgent calls and texts coming through. Finally do not disturb is what you are used to so far.

If you have Focus mode turned on, then anybody who messages you through the Messages app will receive a notification that you have Focus turned on, this means they can either wait for the message to be delivered once you turn Focus off, deliver the message silently or deliver it normally.

Live Text

Live Text allows your iPhone to use OCR technology to pick up text from within the camera, screenshots and photos with the ability to manipulate it including copying, calling numbers and searching for the text within Safari.

Spotlight Search

Spotlight Search has been enhanced too with the ability to search for photos directly now without going into the Photos app. You are also now able to search for actors, TV shows and movies from within Spotlight. Memories within the photos app is now also more customisable.

Apple Wallet

Apple Wallet’s car key feature is finally being launched later this year, with house keys, corporate badges/passes, hotel door keys also being introduced. In select states within the USA, you will also be able to scan in your ID and it will be possible to use this as official ID. The TSA (American Airport Security) will also begin accepting this later this year too.

Weather

The weather app has a brand-new design which is based on the current weather conditions, UV Index and shows you where the sun is live based on the time of day. There are also high-resolution weather maps showing the current air quality amongst other things.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps benefits from a new interactive globe, with Spain & Portugal added to the updated modern Apple Maps. New details are also being added for commercial districts and marinas including elevation and interactive features. Road details such as traffic lights, zebra crossings, bus, taxi and bike lanes will now also be visible in select countries across the world. You will also be able to see upcoming traffic with detailed lane instructions also indicated during navigation.

Transit features are also being updated, with the ability to see local bus and train stations and save your favourite ones. You will also be told when to get off when you are approaching your destination station. If you get off at an unfamiliar station, you can use the camera to guide you to the correct direction to reach your final location.

AirPods

AirPods Pro feature conversation boost which helps the AirPods focus on the person talking directly to you with the ability to remove ambient noise for a smoother conversation. Siri is also now able to announce notifications alongside your messages, so for example if you have ordered food, you will be able to receive notification through your AirPods when it has been delivered. Your Focus notification preferences are also considered so you won’t be disturbed if you don’t want to be.

Proximity view will allow you to see where you left your AirPods with a visual indicator alongside an audible notification. You will also get a separation alert if you leave one AirPod behind. Spatial Audio is also coming to tvOS and any of the new M1 powered Mac’s alongside Dolby Atmos being available from today onwards.

iPadOS

The iPad benefits from all of the iOS 15 features alongside new updated larger widgets to take advantage of the larger real estate with enhanced functionality within those widgets. The App Library seen on iOS is now also available on iPadOS 15 and it has a new permanent home in the dock. Multitasking also has a better split view and a shelf mode within supported apps such as Safari which allows you to easily switch between windows.

Notes

Apple Notes now allows for mentions within shared notes so the person tagged will receive a notification, an activity view down the side allows you to see what others within the shared note have done since you last opened the note. You can also add #tags within notes for enhanced searchability and organisation.

Quick notes is a new feature primarily available on iPadOS and macOS which allows you to pull up from the bottom right of the screen (using the Apple Pencil on your iPad) and make notes. You can save these so you can view them later and they will be available within the standard note’s app for viewing. You are able to view the notes on your iPhone however it is not possible to create new quick notes.

Translate

The iPad will also be getting the translate feature with the ability to auto-translate live conversations, practice handwriting in another language using your Apple Pencil alongside system wide translation. The iPhone and Mac will also be getting the system wide translation.

Privacy

Apple focused heavily on privacy in the presentation. The Mail app now supports privacy protection in which your IP address, location and email opening status will now be hidden from the sender of the email. Safari also will now hide your IP address by default with all trackers that have been prevented shown in the Safari Privacy Report. Apps also benefit from this with the App Privacy Report shown in Settings with trackers blocked. You will be able to see which apps have requested access to device hardware and software information including your camera, contacts, microphone and location.

Siri will now be conducting a significantly higher amount of speech recognition on device rather than in Apple’s servers. This means that requests will be actioned quicker as they are not reliant on your internet speed, with the ability to make many offline requests when you do not have an internet connection including to applications such as opening the photos app, turning on dark mode and setting your alarm via Siri.

iCloud+

iCloud finally gained + status with iCloud+ in which Apple introduces their own VPN called Private Relay, the ability to hide your email when signing up for websites with a random iCloud email provided by Apple that forwards all emails directly to your own email. You are also able to have unlimited HomeKit Secure Video cameras but the best part is that it is available as part of any existing iCloud paid subscription plans without the need to pay anything extra.

Apple also recognised that when individuals pass away, their friends and family may want to have access to their data, they are able to gain access with a new tool called Legacy Contacts where you can nominate individuals to have access to this. You can also add friends and family members as emergency contacts to help recover your account if you ever find you are locked out.

Apple Health

The Apple Health app now has a new Mobility feature which captures your walking steadiness as you walk including the length of your step, your speed and how often you put both feet down on your feet at the same time to calculate your overall walking steadiness. This is indicated by a measure of Ok, Low or Very Low in the Health app.

You can already see your labs within the Health app but Apple now explains what each test is measuring and what the outcomes indicate for your overall health. This means medical jargon is less likely to be an impact with the ability to improve your health. Long term trends are also shown in the Health app, such as increased average daily walks or decreased exercise levels.

You are also able to share your healthcare data with a supported healthcare provided (current only in the USA) which will help them get a better understanding of your long term health.

Health data can also be shared with family members so if you have elderly parents or if they have medical problems then you can monitor their health remotely if they live away from you.

Apple Watch

The Apple watch gets a new Mindfulness app which includes a mode for you to reflect and think about something that makes you feel good or something you want to improve about yourself. The sleep app measures factors such as your length of sleep and how much blood oxygen you have. It now also has the ability to measure your respiratory rate.

You can now get a portrait mode photo as your watch face and there are new enhanced messaging features within the Apple Watch such as sending GIF’s which I personally find a bit pointless.

Apple TV

The AppleTV also now gains access to SharePlay alongside the other devices so you can watch content on the big screen alongside your friends and family alongside the ability to use your HomePod Minis as stereo speakers. The AppleTV also gets a ‘For all of you’ section where you can watch content based on the likes and dislikes of family members.

Siri is now also available through an API for third party manufacturers so you can speak to your thermostat which will past the request through your HomePod with the same secure communication to action it. The home app also has the ability to detect packages for HomeKit cameras and you can view multiple cameras on your AppleTV.

MacOS Monterey

Finally, Apple got to the next iteration of macOS. MacOS Monterey got just a handful of upgrades that were all meaningful and useful updates for the most part.

Universal Control

Universal Control was launched which allows you to use a single keyboard and mouse for your iPad, MacBook and iMac. I am not 100% sure whether this requires all the devices to be running the M1 chips but it seems like it will be limited to recently launched devices.

Universal Control also allows you to drag and drop photos, videos, links amongst other things between devices so you could in theory drag a photo from your iPad onto your iMac to put within a Pages document. This continuity is just something you can’t see on any other ecosystem.

AirPlay to Mac

You will also now be able to ‘AirPlay to Mac’ in exactly the same way that you have been able to do so between iOS / iPadOS and your AppleTV (including TV’s that have the AppleTV app). This is great especially when you want to share content on a larger display without needing to share it through Airplay or iCloud.

Shortcuts

Shortcuts is also coming to the Mac. You will now be able to create a shortcut to open Microsoft Word, your email and also start playing your work playlist with the click of a button.

Safari

Safari has also been fully redesigned. The ‘world’s fastest browser’ has ‘legendary power efficiency’, with a new smaller search bar at the top and tab groups down the left hand side in the tab menu. You will also be getting the same experience on iPadOS with the iPhone getting a redesigned Safari too, with the search bar being placed at the bottom with a redesigned interactive start page. You will also be able to use web extensions on both iPad and iPhone for the first time ever.

Summary

Whilst we weren’t expecting a full redesign as we saw that last year with Big Sur, the features Apple added to macOS were meaningful and theoretically beneficial to all macOS users.

The plethora of small feature upgrades and improvements meant that it ended up being a fairly long WWDC (hence this extra-long article) and surprisingly without any hardware as I had previously expected. Is there any features you feel like you would specifically benefit from? Let us know in the comments below.

About Siddu Munjal

Reviewer & Partner Outreach for MobileTechTalk - Tech is a key part of my everyday life and I would probably be extremely lost without it.

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