4 key updates from the 2021 Apple developer conference

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The tech giant’s annual WWDC event opened with a host of announcements, including privacy updates and improvements to Siri.

This year’s Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, or WWDC, kicked off online yesterday (7 June), starting with the first details about the next version of Apple’s operating system, iOS 15, which is due to be released later this year.

Apple’s SVP of software engineering, Craig Federighi, said the new release is “packed with features” that will complement the way customers use their iPhones.

Along with the new operating system, the Apple event brought announcements of a whole host of other new features. Here are some of the major updates you need to know about.

Privacy updates

Apple has been making waves in the last year with its privacy updates by turning off what’s called IDFA, or identifier for advertisers, by default. This allows users to prevent apps from collecting their data and has caused a rift with social media giant Facebook.

Now, privacy is top of Apple’s agenda again with new protections in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, MacOS Monterey and watchOS 8.

In the Mail app, the company’s privacy protection will stop senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user, such as when the recipient opens an email.

Additionally, the company said its intelligent tracking prevention is “getting even stronger” by hiding the user’s IP address from trackers.

In terms of apps, users will be able to see how often each app has used permissions it has previously been granted, such as location, photos and microphone access, during the previous week. This will be possible with the App Privacy Report.

A crucial update that has garnered particular attention is Apple’s new Privacy Relay feature, an internet privacy service built into iCloud that ensures all traffic leaving a user’s device is encrypted.

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This means that a user’s web browsing behaviour will be obscured from internet service providers and advertisers.

However, according to Reuters, this particular feature will not be available in China due to the country’s closely controlled internet and surveillance system.

Siri updates

The Apple event also revealed improvements to digital voice assistant Siri. The company announced that Siri will be able to process audio on-device by default in iOS 15, meaning it will not need an active internet connection to work.

The move is another privacy-conscious step by the company, which said it follows a preference for using machine learning features on devices rather than sending data away to be processed.

The digital assistant is also coming to third-party manufacturers and their devices. While a list of devices or manufacturers wasn’t given, the feature was demonstrated on an Ecobee thermostat at the event.

FaceTime updates

The WWDC event also brought updates to FaceTime to compete in the video call market, battling key players such as Zoom and WhatsApp.

This includes the ability to share video and music experiences through a new feature called SharePlay. The company also announced that developers can use the SharePlay API to integrate their services, with Disney Plus, Hulu and TikTok already on board.

The company is also bringing other features such as spatial audio to reflect the speaker’s location on screen, voice isolation to reduce distracting background noise, portrait mode to blur a user’s background and shareable FaceTime links to allow users to join from non-Apple devices.

Photo text updates

While not new to other smartphones, Apple has announced a new feature that will allow AI to digitise and read the text in photographs, allowing pictures of handwritten notes to be deciphered and searchable.

According to Apple, the Live Text feature uses “on-device intelligence,” which can also recognise and copy text quickly after the user takes a photo of text, such as the Wi-Fi password in a café or a business’s phone number.

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com