The Apple Watch, iPad and Mac highlights from WWDC 2020

23 Jun 2020

Apple Memoji characters using Mac laptops. Image: Apple

The company has unveiled lots of new features for the Apple Watch, as well as new privacy features for MacOS and the iPad.

On Monday (22 June), Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2020 kicked off, with a keynote from Tim Cook and a walkthrough of the new features we can expect to see in iOS 14 later this year.

This included a digital car key powered by NFC technology, an upgraded Apple Maps that focuses on electric vehicles and cyclists, and the iPhone’s new App Clips feature.

But there were plenty of software announcements relating to Apple’s other products, including the Apple Watch, the iPad and Mac OS.

WatchOS 7 additions

The tech giant previewed the latest iteration of the Apple Watch’s operating system, WatchOS 7, which has new, enhanced customisation tools and new health and fitness features.

The company said that personalisation will be taken to “an entirely new level” with shareable and discoverable watch face configurations to suit “any activity or lifestyle”. Watch faces will now be shareable through Messages or Mail and can be discovered through the App Store or from links through websites and social media channels.

Additionally, the watch will enable users to log new and different types of workouts including core training, dance, functional strength training and cool down.

Three different Apple Watch screens displaying different apps.

Some of the new features that will soon be available on the Apple Watch. Image: Apple

WatchOS 7 will also allow cyclists to see cycling directions from their wrist, with Maps advising users when to dismount and walk the bike or take stairs to save time. The wearer can choose a route that avoids steep hills or takes the most direct path.

Following the introduction of the Noise app in WatchOS 6, which is used to measure ambient sound levels and duration of exposure, WatchOS 7 will add further support for hearing health with headphone audio notifications.

Wearers can use this feature to understand how loudly they are listening to media through headphones using their iPhone, iPod or Apple Watch and how these levels may impact hearing over time.

From sleep hygiene to hand hygiene

For the first time, WatchOS is introducing sleep tracking features, providing new tools to help users get the desired amount of sleep, get to bed on time and create a pre-bedtime routine to meet their sleep goals.

The Apple Watch will track sleep through the detection of micro-movements from the watch’s accelerometer, which signals respiration during sleep. The watch will use this information to capture when the wearer is sleeping and how much sleep they get each night. In the morning, the user will see a visualisation of the previous night’s sleep, including periods of waking.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Apple Watch will also introduce automatic handwashing detection technology, which will ensure that wearers wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. The watch will use its motion sensors, microphone and on-device machine learning, along with a 20-second countdown timer, to establish if users are washing their hands thoroughly.

Changes to MacOS

Apple also previewed the latest version of Mac’s operating system, Big Sur. The OS introduces a redesign and new features in Safari, such as quick translation and a new privacy reporting tool. Mac’s updated Messages app will let users send and receive more expressive messages and keep track of group messages.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering, said: “MacOS Big Sur is a major update that advances the legendary combination of the power of Unix with the ease of use of the Mac, and delivers our biggest update to design in more than a decade.”

MacOS has a new Control Center that delivers quick access to controls from the desktop and an updated Notification Center that includes more interactive notifications and redesigned widgets that come in different sizes.

The company said that it has focused on creating a “privacy-first” Safari experience in the biggest update to the browser since it was launched in 2003. Safari now aims to load frequently visited sites an average of 50pc faster than Chrome, according to Apple.

A laptop screen displaying lots of apps.

A preview of Big Sur on a MacBook Pro. Image: Apple

The browser has new features for greater personalisation, and provides a new Privacy Report that gives users added visibility into how Safari protects browsing activity across the web. Users can choose when and which websites a Safari extension can work with, and can use tools such as data breach password monitoring.

Big Sur will offer users more control of their data, according to Apple. It said that, inspired by the convenience and readability of food nutrition labels, the company has created new privacy information details in the App Store to help users understand the privacy practices of apps before they download them.

New Apple Maps features will also be available to Mac users, including Apple’s new Guides feature which lets users find things to do and custom guides of restaurants, parks and tourism spots.

iPadOS 14

The company also previewed iPadOS 14, which has new features and designs for FaceTime calls, Siri interactions and Search functionality. Apps on the iPad will have new sidebars and toolbars, consolidating controls in one place. There are also new features for the Apple Pencil, including Scribble for iPad, which allows users to input handwritten notes into any text field such as search bars.

FaceTime and phone calls on the iPad will appear as a lightweight banner so they don’t take up the entire screen, allowing users to take a call while continuing to work or play on their device. Siri will also now appear at the bottom of the screen when activated, and can quickly get out of the way when users need to launch other apps.

A photograph of an iPad displaying the latest version of iPadOS, which includes widgets.

A preview of iPadOS 14. Image: Apple

The company has also launched redesigned widgets, including the Smart Stack that uses on-device intelligence to surface the right widget based on factors such as time, location and activity. The iPad will also be able to avail of the new Apple Maps features outlined in the iOS 14 update.

New accessibility features will be added such as Headphone Accommodations, which amplifies soft sounds and tunes audio to help music, movies, phone calls and podcasts sound crisper and clearer.

Sign language detection in group FaceTime calls will also make the person signing more prominent in a video call. Meanwhile, screen reader VoiceOver will automatically recognise what is displayed visually on the screen so that more apps and web experiences will be more accessible to more people.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic