Apple has revealed big software changes at its annual developers’ convention overnight, with novel ideas such as a digital car key and a handwashing timer on your watch standing out.
The Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was delayed by three weeks and had to be broadcast via a live stream from Apple’s California headquarters due to coronavirus, with the pandemic influencing some of the announcements.
Here are some of the key moments from the conference.
Apple wants to listen to you wash your hands
WatchOS 7, the new operating system update for the Apple Watch, will include a feature that tracks how long wearers are washing their hands for.
Vice-president of technology Kevin Lynch said the new feature would automatically detect when a wearer started washing their hands.
“Our approach here is using machine-learning models to determine motion, which appears to be hand-washing, and then use audio to confirm the sound of running water or squishing soap in your hands,” he said.
“During this you’ll get a little coaching to do a good job.
“You’ll see a countdown along with haptics and sounds to make sure you wash as long as you’re supposed to.
And they want you to leave your keys at home
Senior vice-president for software engineering Craig Federighi said Apple was “rethinking” car keys.
“They’ve been around for over 100 years, but they become big, bulky and ripe for reimagining,” he said.
This translates to software that essentially allows iPhone users to replace their physical car key with an app.
But the feature hinges on how high-tech a user’s car is.
Emily Schubert, the senior manager for Apple’s car experience engineering team said the digital car keys use field communication (NFC), a system which allows for the wireless exchange of information when devices are within a few centimetres of each other.
“Now you can leave your keys at home and unlock and start your car with your iPhone,” she said.
“You just tap to unlock and I place my phone on the charging pad and then push to start.
“Digital keys have security benefits, they live in the secure element of your iPhone and if it goes missing, you can turn off your keys remotely via iCloud.”
The other benefit of a digital key is you can share a one-time key with a friend or family member, just like sending a message, and they can unlock and drive your car.
But if you’re wanting digital car keys, you’re going to need to upgrade your ride — the feature will initially only be available for a 2021 BMW model.
Apple is making its own chips
There was a hardware announcement too.
The company will switch to its own Apple ARM chips for its Mac computers, ending a nearly 15-year reliance on Intel to supply processors for its laptops and desktop computers.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook said it marked the beginning of a major new era for the company.
“Silicon is at the heart of our hardware. Having a world-class silicon design team is a game changer,” he said.
The switch brings the Mac into line with iPhone and iPads, which already use Apple-designed ARM chips.
The new chips will allow Apple to increase performance and battery life compared to Intel’s offerings, which have flatlined in advancements in recent years.
But while the first computers using the new chips will be available this year, Mr Cook said Apple expected the Mac transition to take about two years.
This move will give software developers for Apple’s largest pool of third-party apps — those built for iPhones and iPads — access to its laptops and desktop for the first time.
Mr Federighi said that for those offerings, most iOS apps “will just work, with no changes from the developer” on the new Macs.
What’s the deal with Apple ARM?
It’s not an iPhone-compatible robotic limb or an extension of the Apple Watch, it’s just a type of processing chip that Apple has designed alongside technology company ARM.
It means Apple has more control over the chip, customised for Macs.
But analysts questioned whether consumers are going to care about an Apple-designed chip.
“I mean, there might be a small few number of people, but certain not everybody.
“But the reality is, because Apple does that, they are in much more control of the overall experience.
“Many of the security benefits, for example, and the privacy benefits that exist on iPad and an iPhone are only there because they design their silicon.”
Apple version of Google Translate
There are also plans to introduce an app called Translate, Siri data science and engineering director Yael Garten said.
“We know our users want more than just translating phrases. They want to have entire conversations,” she said.
“And we believe conversations between languages should feel natural and easy and have the ability to stay private.”
Social media users compared the app to the Google Translate app, which had more than 100 languages. Apple’s take will offer 11 downloadable language options.
The company played up the app’s privacy features and machine-learning system designed to produce “natural-sounding conversations”.
“I could have a conversation with someone in Mandarin and they could have a conversation with someone in Russian. Just tap on the microphone and say, ‘what are your store hours?'” Ms Garten said.
The iOS 14 iPhone operating system update to be released later this year will also allow:
- Widgets on your phone home screen
- Let you set a new default app for the web browser and email
- Let you reply to messages in a threaded conversation in the Messages app
- Show more nuanced detail of what data each app will request about you
- Let you play videos in picture-in-picture mode while you are using other apps
So when is the new iPhone coming out?
It’s all speculation at this stage.
This wasn’t an iPhone launch. The WWDC is fairly tech-focused for computer programmers and mobile app makers. while it’s more of a teaser of things to come for consumers.
However, Apple is expected to roll out as many as four different iPhone 12 models this year, including its first version that will be able to work on the next generation of ultrafast wireless networks known as 5G.
Apple typically unveils its new iPhones in early September and then starts selling them toward the end of the month.
The company gave no indication whether the pandemic-driven disruptions in work in the factories that make iPhone parts would push back the release of the next model.
Analysts believe the iPhone 12 will be released later than usual, but are expecting it still will be on sale well before the holiday shopping season.