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Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking at the online Worldwide Developer Conference 2021. Screenshot: Axios, via YouTube

Apple used its annual Worldwide Developer Conference to detail new features coming to the next versions of the company's software for iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Why it matters: The online-only gathering comes amid growing pressure from developers and regulators for Apple to loosen its tight grip on the App Store and related payment mechanisms.

At a high level, Apple detailed iOS 15, which is coming in various forms to iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch, along with MacOS Monterey, the next version of the Mac operating system.

  • As usual, Apple is giving developers access to beta versions of the new software immediately, with public betas in July this fall and a final release this fall.

Here are some of the specific improvements:

FaceTime
  • Apple is adding the ability for those using Android or non-Apple devices to join scheduled FaceTime calls via a browser.
  • FaceTime will also begin allowing users to share screens, watch movies or listen to music within a video chat. It's working with a bunch of partners including Disney+, TikTok, Hulu and HBO Max, among others.
  • Apple is also adding spatial audio and voice isolation, to make sound from video chats more clear.
iPad
  • Widgets can finally be placed anywhere on the home screen alongside app icons, adding a feature long available on Android.
  • Improved multitasking in iPadOS 15 makes it easier to discover and switch among different views, such as split screen.
Apple Watch
  • WatchOS 8 adds new mindfulness features, such as a guided reflection. Apple Watch will also be able to begin tracking respiratory rate while sleeping. Apple is also adding Pilates and Tai Chi to the types of workouts that can be tracked.
  • Apple is also improving photo handling on the watch and adding the ability to find items from the watch.
Mac
  • MacOS Monterey, the next version of the Mac operating system, adds support for Universal Control, which lets people use a single mouse and keyboard to work across a Mac and iPad or multiple Macs.
  • The Shortcuts feature is being brought over from iOS to MacOS Monterey and the Mac will also become an option in AirPlay for playing music or movies.
iCloud
  • A new digital legacy feature will make it easier to give access to someone in the event you die.
  • Apple is adding new features to paid iCloud accounts including an internet relay service for encrypted, more private browsing and a separate "hide my email" feature for filling out Web forms without revealing your actual email.
AirPods
  • A conversation boost feature will help those with mild hearing loss
  • Siri can read time-sensitive notifications automatically
  • iOS 15 will let AirPod Pro and AirPod Max be more easily located using "Find My" app.
Photos, Messages and more
  • A new Focus setting offers options beyond simple "Do not disturb" for indicating if one is working, spending time with family or otherwise unavailable.
  • In Messages, Apple is adding the ability to flag items for later reading.
  • Apple is expanding the ability to use your iPhone as a digital key beyond cars to homes, hotels and workplaces.
  • Apple will also let you scan your Driver's License in participating states later this year. The TSA is working to implement this Apple said.
  • Apple is adding systemwide language translation across iPhone, iPad and Macs.
  • On the privacy front, new mail privacy protection feature hides IP address so e-mail marketers can't determine location or link to other activity. Meanwhile, an app privacy report gives an overview of how different apps use your information. Apple will also handle voice recognition for Siri on device by default.
  • In health, Apple is adding a walking steadiness feature to see if you are at increased risk of falls. Apple will also let family members share health data with one another, including that of kids or older parents.
  • Home devices from other companies will be able to access Siri for voice input as part of a new program.

Our thought bubble: Apple began its keynote focused on specific features, not operating systems, as it typically does. It's a sign of how Apple is breaking down the historic boundaries around software for different devices.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Sep 14, 2021 - Technology

Apple debuts iPhone 13, updates iPad and Apple Watch

Screenshot: Axios via Apple.com

Apple on Tuesday debuted the iPhone 13 alongside modest improvements to the iPad and Apple Watch, which now features a larger display.

Why it matters: Apple has enjoyed robust sales throughout the pandemic, but needs to convince another wave of customers to upgrade.

Sep 13, 2021 - Technology

Apple releases emergency security update to block spyware vulnerability

Apple store front. Photo: Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images

Apple released emergency security updates Monday after it was discovered that an Israeli cyber surveillance company's spyware could infect iPhones and other devices without the owner even clicking on a link.

Why it matters: The fix to the intrusion by the NSO Group's Pegasus software came the day before Apple is expected to introduce its latest crop of iPhones. The company touts the security and privacy of its smartphones among its key selling points.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.