Apple: no new hardware, but here’s a walkie-talkie app...

By Bloomberg News, June 5 2018
Apple: no new hardware, but here’s a walkie-talkie app...

Apple decided not to pull back the curtains on any new hardware at this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference, focussing instead on a range of software upgrades for its iPhone and Mac operating systems.

More significantly, the two platforms will merge next year, allowing apps built for its iOS mobile operating system to also run on Mac computers. 

Bringing iOS and MacOS together

Apple said it will combine the different software systems underpinning iPhone and Mac apps, creating a larger, more-attractive ecosystem for millions of developers.

The two app platforms will merge next year, allowing apps built for its iOS mobile operating system to also run on Mac computers.

The first examples of iOS and macOS converging will come in this year’s update to the Mac operating system, called Mojave. Four Apple-built iOS apps – Home, Apple News, Stocks, Voice Memos – will now work on Mac computers, the company said.

The iPhone depends on the App Store, but Apple developers had to make different apps if they wanted their offerings to work on Mac computers, too. Merging the two systems will reduce work and the company’s confirmation was greeted by cheers from the audience on Monday.

“Finally, Apple is acknowledging that iOS and macOS have been competing unfairly for resources, and that iOS is the dominant platform,” Steven Troughton-Smith, a developer and longtime voice in the Apple community, wrote in a message.

“Hybrid applications will be possible, bringing the strengths of iOS to the Mac, and the strengths of Mac developers to iOS.”

The Mac App Store is a ghost town of limited selection and Apple customers have long complained that some Mac apps get short shrift.

For example, while the iPhone and iPad Twitter app is regularly updated with the social network’s latest features, the Mac version gets few updates and is widely considered substandard. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features at the same time.

To more cheers from developers, Apple also announced a redesigned Mac App Store for the Mojave update, expanding a new look the company introduced to iPhones and iPads last year. The new Mac App Store includes editorials about the latest app updates.

Apple executive Craig Federighi said new security and privacy tools are coming to the macOS upgrade to better protect emails, text messages, and data backups. There will also be additional privacy tools in the Safari web browser, he said.

The update will also help users de-clutter their Mac computer home screens, which can become crowded with icons and files. A tool called Stacks groups files of the same type into stacks on the desktop. There’s also deeper integration with iPhones, allowing Macs to use the iPhone’s camera for tasks like scanning documents. 

A faster iPhone OS 12

Apple is giving the software that runs iPhones and iPads a needed overhaul, with iDevice exec Craig Federighi talking up iOS 12’s improvements in performance and reliability, in addition to enhancements to augmented-reality applications.

The update includes support for multi-player AR games, additional features for the Siri digital assistant, and new ways to search for photos, block notifications and conduct FaceTime video conference calls.

For years, some consumers have criticized the iOS software for bugs. Last year’s major release, iOS 11, had a bevy of problems related to phone calls, incorrect characters appearing in Apple’s iMessage service, apps crashing and appearing on the Home screen in the wrong place.

Apple said on Monday that devices will launch up to twice as fast, while adding that it’s focusing primarily on speeding up older gadgets. There are underlying changes to the camera app to also make taking pictures faster.

The Siri upgrade will integrate the voice-based technology with more outside apps. Apple is also launching a new Shortcuts app that lets users create their own Siri commands. The company said Siri gets 10 billion requests per week. Apple, however, didn’t discuss improvements to Siri’s underlying technology, which has been criticized by some users.

Apple said the new iOS 12 will include other features like:

  • a For You tab to better highlight past photos users have taken, and new way to send images to friends
  • a revamped Stock tracking app with Apple News integration
  • a redesigned Voice Memos application for the iPhone that’s also coming to the iPad for the first time
  • an upgrade to iBooks with a new design and a new name: Apple Books.
  • support for third-party navigation apps in its CarPlay system, including Google Maps
  • new Animoji characters, like a ghost and a dinosaur, plus a feature that lets users create virtual emojis that look like themselves
  • the ability to use Animojis in FaceTime and do group video calls with up to 32 people.

Apple is trying to cut the number of software bugs with this year’s upgrade. Executives decided in January to postpone more advanced features, like a new design for the Home screen and a new Photos app, to focus on quality.

While the iPhone is Apple’s most important product, iOS software is the heart of the device. As phones from competitors like Samsung Electronics Co. and Google become more similar in hardware capabilities, software has increasingly become a differentiator. 

What’s new in WatchOS 5

New fitness and connectivity features for the Apple Watch, ratcheting up competition with FitBit.

Kevin Lynch, head of Apple Watch software, said new WatchOS 5 software will have workout tracking for yoga and hiking, along with new features for running outside, including custom pace alerts and counting steps taken per minute. A much requested feature, automatic workout detection, is also coming, Lynch said.

This year’s software update includes a new Walkie-Talkie app, which was originally announced in 2014 but not released until now. Apple is also removing "Hey Siri" for its command for the Apple Watch, letting users just speak commands to the digital assistant. There are also new notifications and an app for listening to podcasts.

Since launching in 2015, watchOS hasn’t caught on as a major platform for developers, with big names like Instagram, Google Maps, Twitter, Amazon and eBay discontinuing their watch apps. The new features announced on Monday are designed to reignite interest in the category from users and developers. This is especially important as Apple plans new smart watch hardware later this year.

Apple is working on a pair of new Apple Watches that keep the overall size of the current models, but include slightly larger, edge-to-edge screens. These changes will be the most notable external enhancements since the Watch launched about three years ago, but the new models will still support bands from earlier models, a person familiar with the device said.

New iPhone software to help you use your iPhone less

Apple also introduced a slew of ‘anti-addiction’ features to help iPhone users put down their phones – at least temporarily – after criticism people were addicted to the company’s flagship device and following similar moves to combat smartphone addiction by competitors.

Yes, there’s no small amount of irony in that Apple wants you to use your iPhone less!

The tools includes updates to Do Not Disturb and new ways to manage notifications. Instead of waking up to a string of notifications missed over night, users will get a new “Good morning” screen summarizing the alerts.

There’s also a larger array of controls for muting notifications and grouping alerts to reduce the number sent to a user.

The most notable enhancement is called  Screen Time, an activity report showing how much time you’re spending inside of individual apps, how often you pick up your phone and which apps are sending you the most notifications.

People can set time limits on specific apps and get alerts reminding them to stop using that software as the limit approaches. It then shuts the app off, until users change the setting. The time-limits feature will synchronize between multiple devices via Apple’s iCloud service.

As part of the anti-addiction initiative, there are also new parental controls that limit kids from using their devices. Parents will be able to choose times when certain apps or app categories can’t be used. Some apps, like the core phone-calling function and education programs, can be available at all times.

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