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WWDC 2021: No New Hardware But Plenty of Software Changes Coming This Fall

There was no new hardware announced at WWDC 2021. That doesn’t mean the annual keynote wasn’t exciting, because it was.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) for 2021 officially started with Tim Cook’s annual keynote address. The nearly two-hour-long recorded event offered no new hardware but many software announcements.  Was the WWDC 2021 keynote a success? Mostly, but there was no new feature or update announced that shined over the others. Here are my stray observations for Monday’s conference kick-off.

WWDC 2021: What Was Announced

As expected, the Apple keynote featured the unveiling of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, tvOS 15, and the next version of macOS, which is called Monterey. As is usually the case at WWDC, iOS and iPadOS got the most focus.

Healthy Developments

The Apple Watch was barely mentioned at the keynote. And yet, a big chunk of the show highlighted new features coming to the Health app on iOS 15. The new update provides more information about your general health over time and makes it possible to share your long-term health data with your doctor or family members. The app also pulls more information from imported lab results. Sensors on both Apple Watch and iPhone add mobility and steadiness metrics, while the Watch gains a new mindfulness tool and advanced sleep monitoring.

There’s a lot to see here, and it’s nice to see Apple’s obsession with fitness and health continues to extend in different directions. With the upcoming “Apple Watch Series 7” perhaps including a blood glucose monitor, this could be Apple’s biggest year to date for wellness.

WWDC 2021 iOS 15

FaceTime Rediscovered

During the pandemic, FaceTime and other video communication tools took a backseat to upstart Zoom. Hoping that never happens again, Apple has added a new feature to FaceTime to attract new users and keep the current ones happy. Called SharePlay, the tool lets FaceTime conversations continue while participants screen share, listen to music, or watch TV shows or movies.

And this sharing doesn’t just extend to iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV users. For the first time, you can invite Android and Windows users to your chat. Additional features include a new grid view and portrait mode, plus a mic mode that lets you minimize the sound around you.  Supported devices will also add spatial audio to FaceTime calls. The feature makes it possible for voices to sound like they’re coming from the direction where each person is positioned on your screen.

Because Apple Wants Us to Focus

How many hours a day are you on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad? Probably a lot. Focus is a new feature coming to various Apple platforms designed to help you to concentrate better on the task at hand. With Focus, your day is arranged into different buckets. In turn, notifications are muted based on what you’re doing at the time they are received.

For example, you might not want to know what’s playing on HBO Max tonight or wish to see joke texts from your college friend during working hours. Conversely, during personal time, you might want to skip the latest text from your boss or email from a work associate. Focus allows you to manage notifications based on these buckles, automatically silencing those that aren’t appropriate for the time of day. Sounds like a time-saver, no? It does, although the details will make or break Focus in the long run.

New Photos Improvements

Each year, Apple introduces something new to the Photos app that no one was expecting. This year, it’s interactive memories plus Apple Music integration. Apple has added the ability to create new memory mixes with personalized looks using songs from Apple Music. Based on the keynote, the tool looks simple to use and could make image-sharing even more special.

iPad Gains Promising New Tools

WWDC 2021 iPadOS 15

On iPadOS 15, Apple has made it possible to create a full screen, Slide Over, and Split View using a new multitasking menu. By doing so, you can work on multiple apps at the same time. There’s also a new shelf feature that makes it possible to move between open app windows quickly.

Additionally, iPadOS 15 also brings widgets to all of your iPad home screen, plus an app library. Both features first arrived on iPhone with iOS 14.

Big Unknowns

Before WWDC 2021 began, many experts predicted Apple would reveal all-new MacBook Pro models at today’s keynote. It did not; in fact, new hardware wasn’t even on the menu. This omission almost certainly means another big holiday quarter where new devices get announced every few weeks. Besides the next round of iPhones, Apple’s expected to reveal an all-new 14-inch MacBook Pro and second-generation 16-inch MacBook Pro. Both will feature Apple silicon. Beyond this, we’ll probably also see a new iPad later this summer and perhaps a new Mac Pro before the end of the year. And don’t forget the next-generation Apple Watch.

Without new hardware, we really don’t know just how far Apple plans on pushing the new software updates beyond what we saw today. And yes, this is entirely normal, as Apple’s newest devices always seem to open new features hardware exclusive.

So Much to See

There’s a lot yet to unpack from today’s keynote address and additional features to explore. Those mentioned here are just the start. Stay tuned in the months ahead as we discover more about Apple’s latest software titles.

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