Apple has announced a range of new features for iPhone users, including digital car keys, maps for cyclists, updated translation features and a new home-screen layout.
On Monday (22 June), Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) kicked off. For the first time ever, the entire event is being held online due to restrictions on travel and gatherings put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19. The conference, which showcases new Apple software and technology, will run until Friday.
Apple CEO Tim Cook opened the event with a keynote, where he touched on recent demonstrations that have been held across the US protesting systemic racism.
Cook mentioned some of Apple’s plans to “aim far higher to build a future that lives up to our ideals”, including Apple’s new racial equity and justice initiative that has committed $100m to challenge barriers that limit opportunities for communities of colour. He also talked about the launch of Apple’s new developer entrepreneur camp aimed at black developers.
Cook went on to mention the Covid-19 pandemic, which is affecting almost every corner of the world. He noted that while this year’s WWDC has had to make some significant changes to go ahead in the current circumstances, it has ultimately made the conference more accessible for many developers around the world.
Perhaps the most anticipated segment of the event keynote, which can be watched here, was the reveal of the new features that Apple plans to introduce to iOS 14, including a big change to the operating system’s interface.
For users who have pages and pages of apps on their devices, Apple will automatically categorise and sort those apps into a new App Library, prioritising the ones that are used most. This aims to remind users of some of those forgotten apps on the last page of their home screen.
In addition, Apple introduced new widgets that can be placed between existing apps anywhere on the home screen, Android-style. This includes weather, news and Apple Watch widgets. These home-screen changes aim to make it easier to categorise apps and view information at a glance.
App Clips and new video features
One of the most interesting features unveiled this year was App Clips, which provides a small part of an app experience for the moment it is needed. App Clips are designed to load within seconds to complete a specific task, such as renting a scooter, purchasing a coffee or paying for a parking space, without opening a full app.
App Clips can be discovered and accessed by scanning a new Apple-designed App Clip code, or through NFC tags and QR codes. They can also be shared in Messages or from Safari. Apple said that the feature provides “all the security and privacy expected from apps”.
iOS 14 also acknowledges the increase in popularity of video, and provides picture-in-picture display on the phone, enabling users to watch videos on one end of the screen while they go about their business in other apps at the other end of the screen.
Changes to Siri and iMessage
Siri will no longer take up the full screen, enabling users to reference apps or maps while talking to the voice assistant. Apple has also introduced a new speech-to-text transcription feature that is managed entirely on-device to improve speed and privacy.
Siri will help users with translations, even when they are completely offline. Siri can now translate any combination of the following languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian.
The Siri app also has a new feature that allows two users speaking any two of those languages to have a real-time conversation that the app will translate to text or audio.
For those who use Apple’s built-in Messages app, the company has introduced some new features to make group chats run more smoothly on the platform. People can finally add icons to group conversations and the last person who sent a message to a group chat will now appear in a tiny circle beside the chat’s icon.
Apple has also introduced a feature that allows participants to mute conversations unless they are mentioned by name. Another new feature added to Messages is the ability to pin conversations to the top of your list to make sure they’re easily accessible when needed.
Navigation and cars
Later this year, Apple plans to roll out a new version of Apple Maps to users in Ireland, the UK and Canada. The navigation app will now include cycling directions, which suggest the quietest or fastest routes for cyclists, along with warnings about the incline of cycling trips.
Apple Maps will also include a new feature for electric vehicle owners that will help decide the best route, taking battery range and charging locations into consideration.
The company has updated CarPlay to provide new wallpaper options and built-in apps that help users find parking spaces, charge their cars and order food through the dashboard, which is now included in many new cars.
Apple also showcased a new feature that enables users to unlock their cars using their phone as a key, which will launch with the new BMW 5 Series this year. Apple expects other car manufacturers to support the feature in the future.
It works using NFC technology built into iPhones, and users can unlock the vehicle without having to remove the device from their pocket, handbag or backpack. As a security measure, Apple said that the digital key will not be stored in the cloud, but locally on the iPhone – similarly to Face ID and the Apple Wallet.
Users can also share keys with other iPhone users, choosing how long they want to grant permission to family or friends. Apple suggested that this feature could be used by parents to lend vehicles to teenagers or to restrict their usage of the vehicle to a certain timeframe.
A similar feature has been available on selected Android devices, called BMW Digital Key.