The company’s annual developer conference, streaming online this year, has been rich with announcements. Here’s the latest news from the WWDC stage.
SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS LOOK forward all year to the crush of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. The big gala, held every June, gives Apple devs a chance to share knowledge, contacts, and stories (plus a few late-night refreshments) with each other in person. Of course, Apple also uses the venue to announce all of the new software features—and new hardware—coming to the company's lineup in the second half of the year.
This year's WWDC, like so many other events, was moved online. Developers may not get to hang out in meatspace this year, but they are able to watch the educational sessions as streaming videos. The Monday morning WWDC keynote is also being streamed, and Apple has been using the occasion to deliver its usual slate of updates. Here are the highlights:
New Macs Will Run on Apple-Made Chips
Rumors that Apple would ditch Intel’s x86 chip architecture for its own ARM-based processors in Mac computers have persisted for years. Today, it finally happened.
In the announcement, which was kicked off by Tim Cook but then tossed to engineers in an “undisclosed location,” Cook highlighted three major milestones in Mac history: the move from PowerPC to Intel chips in 2006, Apple’s transition to MacOS X, and now, this one. ARM-based “Apple Silicon” chips will give Apple’s computers an efficiency bump, and the company will no longer rely on Intel’s update cycles to push its capabilities forward. Apple emphasized that it already has plenty of experience scaling low-power SoCs for iPhone and even the Apple Watch, which suggests that the battery life on Mac laptops may soon get a boost. And this move also brings Apple’s custom-designed neural engines to Macs, which is important for compute tasks that increasingly use machine learning.
But as with the transition from PowerPC to Intel in 2006, there could be some bumps along the way. Apple says that developers will have everything they need to make apps that run on ARM-based Macs in the new version of Xcode, and that Xcode will continue to support apps for both Intel x86 Macs and Apple Silicon Macs. Still, developers who haven’t already built for iOS will have an adjustment period. And while they’re more than suitable for the average consumer, it’s an open question if ARM-based processors can keep up with the demands of Apple’s professional creative class. The move to Apple Silicon will start with new Macs released later this year, and the entire transition should take two years, Apple says.
iOS 14 Will Make Your iPhone More Customizable
The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system adds a new home screen. The new App Library view includes all downloaded apps automatically organized in folders, starting with Siri suggestions—based on your typical app use—and recently added apps. With this new feature making it easy to find whatever you’re looking for, you can now hide pages from view to get yourself even more streamlined. Widgets are also getting a new look, as well as the ability to be dragged from the widget panel to your home screen. Siri will no longer take over your whole screen when you activate it, instead appearing as a small overlay near the bottom of the screen. Also, a new translate feature claims to give anyone the ability to hold real-time conversations with others who speak different languages. These cloud-powered translations appear to be similar to Google Translate on Android phones. The Picture in Picture feature lets you continue to watch videos while multitasking on your iPhone screen. We've got a full round-up of all the latest in iOS 14 here.
Apple Is Reimagining Car Key Fobs
Car key fobs are the biggest, bulkiest, and ugliest item on your keychain. But within the next few years, we’ll all be able to unlock, start, and share car access with our iPhones. Apple’s car-experience engineering manager, Emily Schubert, demonstrated the iPhone’s newest car-unlocking features on the 2021 BMW 5 series. Just use the phone’s built-in NFC chip to tap to unlock your car, place your phone on the charging pad, and tap a button to start the car. You’ll also be able to quickly share your car keys in iMessage (with restricted options for teen drivers) and turn off your car key in iCloud. These features will be available next month on the BMW, but Apple is also enabling the features in both iOS 13 and 14. It’s also working with other car manufacturers to develop the features in other cars—hopefully not just the most expensive ones on the market.