(CNN Business)Apple kicked off its annual developers conference on Monday by unveiling new features on iOS 15 that cater to our lives as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, including updates to video calls on FaceTime and digital keys in Apple Wallet.
On FaceTime, Apple (AAPL) will offer new options to let users watch movies or listen to music together during a call. It is also introducing a new grid view to better broadcast every face on a call. Android and Windows users will now also be able to join FaceTime calls.
“We’ve all found ourselves using video calling for just about everything,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, said during the virtual keynote presentation on Monday.
Apple is also introducing updates to its mobile wallet that will allow users to unlock everything from their home to their hotel room with digital keys in the app.
“You can never leave home without your keys, so we are continuing to add keys to wallet and making them even better,” said Jennifer Bailey, VP of internet services and Apple Pay, citing recent additions such as car keys to unlock a vehicle from your iPhone. BMW and others will ship cars with this feature starting later this year, she said.
The company will also make it possible to store identity cards in Apple Wallet. Starting this fall, users can scan their driver’s license or ID into the wallet app — in participating states — where it will be stored in an encrypted form. Bailey said Apple is working with the TSA to use that digital ID at airport security checkpoints.
The features were announced during the keynote at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, a multi-day event that’s typically heavy on software news. iOS 15 will be available to the general public in the fall.
Keeping Apple central for users — and developers
Like many tech companies, Apple and its products became even more central to our lives during the pandemic as countless households were forced to live and work more behind screens. Apple’s announcements on Monday hinted at how the company hopes to remain a key part of our lives even as many resume working and socializing outside the home.
For people still frequently glued to their screens, Apple introduced a new iOS feature called “Focus” that will let users select what kinds of notifications they want to receive, and from whom, at certain times of day. For example, a user can set their phone on “work” mode, and opt to only receive notifications from coworkers, emails and Slack messages. When other notifications are turned off, users can set a “do not disturb” auto-reply for messages.
“With Focus, you can carve out time in your day for work and personal life,” Federighi said.
On iMessage, Apple wants to make it easier for users to keep track of the photos, links and other content they’ve been sent. Apps including Photos, Safari and Apple Music will now include a “shared with you folder” to highlight content that has been sent through messages.
The company reminded developers that the App Store now has 600 million weekly visitors from 175 countries and regions, and said it has paid more than $230 billion to developers since the App Store launched in 2008.
Doubling down on privacy
As expected, Apple doubled down on its privacy focus during the keynote.
“At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right,” Federighi said, referencing recently implemented features such as app nutrition labels. “We don’t think you should have to make a tradeoff between great features and privacy. We believe you deserve both.”
The company introduced a variety of new security features, including one called “mail privacy protection.” The email app on Apple devices will now hide users’ IP addresses and their location, so companies sending emails can’t link that information to users’ other online activity. Additionally, senders can’t see if or when users open their email.
Siri is getting a privacy update, too. The virtual assistant app will now process audio right on your device, rather than sending commands to a server, to alleviate concerns about unwanted audio listening by third parties. In 2019, Apple apologized for letting contractors listen to commands that users give to Siri. The change will also make Siri’s response time faster, Apple executives said.
Subscribers of iCloud+ can take advantage of additional new privacy features. They include Safari “private relay,” which encrypts the traffic leaving a user’s device, so no third parties (including Apple) can intercept and read what they’re searching for. And the “hide my email” feature will let subscribers input a randomly generated email when signing up for an account on a new website that will forward messages to their inbox. This will reduce the number of companies that have access to users’ direct email addresses.
These privacy changes will likely “cause further consternation among those companies’ dependent on user data for tracking, advertising and monetisation,” CCS Insight Chief Analyst Ben Wood said in an email.
iPad multitasking and finding lost Airpods
While Apple did not make any new hardware announcements on Monday, it did introduce software updates to refresh products like the iPad and AirPods.
iPad OS 15 updates will make it easier for users to work on the go. Those who own the device will soon be able to place widgets among the apps on their home screen, such as widgets for contacts or Apple TV, including new, larger formats made for the iPad’s display.
A new “multitasking” feature on iPad will let users work on two apps at the same time using a split view, and a simple swiping mechanism to switch between apps on split view.
The company also announced system-wide translation for iPad OS, as well as for iOS and Mac OS. Users can right-click on text on any app — including text selected from a photo — and translate it. An “auto translate” feature can listen when you talk to your iPad and translate that speech.
Apple also introduced a new feature on AirPods called “conversation boost” that is designed to help people who are hard of hearing. The tool focuses a user’s AirPods Pro on the person talking in front of them, making it easier to hear in a face to face conversation. It can also reduce the amount of ambient noise.
And users will be able to find their AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with Apple’s bluetooth “Find My” network. If users think their missing AirPods are somewhere nearby, they can also select “play sound” on the Find My app and the AirPods will make a chirping sound — all useful as people get back to living life outside their homes.
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