WWDC 2020: Apple Redesigns Desktop, Mobile Software

Alongside the announcement that it is to shift from Intel to ARM processors, Apple has also announced a host of updates to its macOS, iOS, iPadOS and watchOS software at its annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC).

The company said the next macOS update, called Big Sur, features the software’s biggest redesign to date, which makes the OS run in a way more similar to the iPad or iPhone.

It features a customisable start page, with a refined app dock and Finder, a translucent Menu bar and one-click access to the Do Not Disturb feature.

The Mail app gets a more colourful interface and Photos features an updated sidebar, along with animations that should run more quickly using Apple’s Metal technology.

Image credit: Apple

New iPhone features

The new Safari browser features Privacy Reports, improved tabs and built-in translation in seven initial languages, Brazilian Portugese, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish.

In iOS 14 widgets can now be dragged and dropped amongst other apps.  The widgets are available in various sizes and can be grouped into a “smart stack”.

The update allows iPhones to function as a car key to unlock some new BMWs, with other cars to be added in future.  Users are to be able to share their key digitally with family or friends using the feature, which relies on Apple Wallet.

The new OS adds a feature called Clips that allows users to download specific app functions, rather than an entire app, to carry out a task such as paying for a coffee or renting an e-scooter.

App developers will now need to provide more information about the data they collect on users, with Apple displaying a summary of how apps use data such as location or tracking information.

Image credit: Apple

The OS gets a new App Library that groups them into categories, while users will now be able to designate their own default email app or web browser.

Siri no longer takes over the whole screen, with responses appearing as small notifications, while there’s a new picture-in-picture display for apps and a Translate app that can handle an initial 11 languages and which works offline.

Image credit: Apple

Apple Watch

watchOS now allows users to design their own watch faces and swap them with friends, and users will now also be able to download selected third-party watch faces.

watchOS 7 adds a sleep tracking feature and the Activity app, now called Fitness, adds new workouts and cool-downs.

Maps on Apple’s mobile platforms now gets cycling-specific directions and routes for electric vehicles that include charging points.

watchOS can now detect when the user is washing their hands and offers a countdown indicating whether washing has gone on long enough to kill the novel coronavirus.

Apple’s animated Memojis add customisation features such as the ability to add face masks to characters, a feature some industry watchers found appealing.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the new hand-washing app on Apple Watch and face mask Memojis emerges as some of the big stories of WWDC,” commented CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood.  “I never cease to be amazed how gimmicks like this capture the public’s imagination.”

Image credit: Apple


iPadOS’ Scribble feature now allows users to handwrite into any text field with the Apple Pencil, with the writing automatically being converted into text.

The feature can recognise English and Chinese within the same field and can recognise addresses and phone numbers.

The AirPod Pro earphones will now have spatial audio, intended to create a cinema-style surround-sound experience, while Apple TV will be able to identify specific people via feeds from third-party video doorbells via facial recognition.

The feature will only work with friends and family pre-identified via the Photos app.

Image credit: Apple
Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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