review apple pushes privacy and data security with upcoming os updates at wwdc

Apple pushes privacy and data security with upcoming OS updates at WWDC

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference kicked off with a bang yesterday.  You’ve already seen the biggest hardware announcement the company had to make: a new Mac Pro. The truth is, though, that a Mac without macOS is just a PC, and anybody can build a PC for $6,000. More important than the (cheese grater-chic) hardware is the software, so let’s take a look at what the Mac maker has announced.

macOS Catalina

Later this year, macOS 10.15 Catalina will ship to users via the Mac App Store. New to this version of the OS is the Voice Control app. The coolest demo of the whole dang show depicted how to use a Mac with nothing but your voice. Controlling a computer with your voice isn’t exactly a new concept, but the level of detail in the pre-recorded demo was pretty high. It started with a command to wake up, so apparently sleeping Macs will wait for your command.

Two new security-focused features will arrive with Catalina, too. The Find My app purportedly combines Find My iPhone / Find My Mac with Find My Friends. This feature will apparently make it easier to find a misplaced or stolen MacBook. Apple says Macs with Catalina installed will send out a Bluetooth signal on occasion. Any other Apple device nearby that receives it will then anonymously phone home and let Apple know where it is. Apple says this communication is end-to-end encrypted and anonymous to the devices around the Mac and to the company itself. 

The second security app is a Activation Lock. Apple users can already remotely lock iDevices if they’re lost or stolen, and the only way (the only easy way, at least) to access them is with the password for the device’s associated iCloud account. The same Activation Lock feature is coming to Macs with T2 chips. The company believes this will prevent Macs from becoming the target of theft since they’ll become large aluminum paperweights.

Apple has integrated iPad support into macOS Catalina in a couple of interesting ways. Folks who frequently travel with both a Mac and an iPad will probably like Sidecar mode, which turns the iPad into a secondary display. The Apple Pencil works with this duo as an input device, too, so the artistic among us can sketch out new designs with the iPad directly into an application like Illustrator. 

The next version of macOS will be the first version of the operating system to ship without iTunes since Steve Jobs used Photoshop benchmarks to “prove” the Power Mac G5 was faster than a Pentium 4 (man, I feel old just typing that). Instead, the company will ship separate Music, Podcasts, and TV apps that will replace most of iTunes’ disparate features. Finder will also pick up some of the slack, as the primary OS shell will handle iPhone sync duties. 

Safari built in to iTunes? Craig Federighi (jokingly) said iTunes was so monolithic it could have happened.

No doubt those apps are made possible—in part, at least—by Project Catalyst. The current version of macOS, Mojave, shipped last fall with a framework that allowed Apple to make macOS-native apps from their iOS counterparts. The Stocks, News, Memos, and Home apps in that version were Apple’s first steps into building universal public-facing applications as part of the Mac platform. This year, Catalyst will be available to developers targeting Catalina. Apple showed off a new version of the Twitter desktop app and Atlassian’s Jira Cloud desktop apps that all use this new framework. 

Also using Project Catalyst is Apple Arcade. As we correctly surmised when Apple announced Arcade in March, the company’s subscription-based game delivery service will include games built for macOS, iOS, and tvOS from a single project. Apple showed off Gameloft’s Asphalt 9: Legends as part of the demo, and quoted Gameloft as saying it didn’t take much effort to get a desktop version of the game running with the same Metal graphics engine used on iOS and tvOS. 


iOS 13

Cook started his presentation about the operating system which powers the iPhone by noting that 85% of active iOS devices are running iOS 12. He took a shot at Google, noting that the last numbers Google reported indicated that only 10% of Android devices are running the latest OS, which he says shipped prior to iOS 12. 

Apple’s most popular operating system will receive some new features this fall, too.  Despite having so many active devices on the latest OS, the first two “innovations” Apple announced came from other systems: dark mode and gesture input. Dark mode is probably welcome to everyone with an iPhone X or XS variant, since OLED displays can save power by not drawing a mostly white, static screen. Gesture input is something I’ve enjoyed since Swype came preinstalled on my first smartphone (an LG Optimus V, if you’re curious) in 2011. To say this addition is overdue is a gross understatement. 

Is this Android?  No, it’s iOS 13.

Another welcome change is rebuilt Maps data. Apple says it’s driven and flown over four million miles collecting refreshed street and aerial data that will make its maps much more accurate. That’s welcome news to this writer, since Maps frequently instructs me to make a U-turn in the middle of busy streets and or drive around the back of a building to make sure I’ve “arrived.” This new (and hopefully improved) mapping data will launch for the whole United States by the end of 2019 and the rest of the world sometime after that. 

System apps besides the keyboard get new features, too. The Music app will display time-synced lyrics while listening to your favorite songs. The Photos app will get some new lighting options for portrait modes and new filters and effects when editing. You’ll be able to rotate your portrait-oriented videos before uploading them to YouTube without downloading a third-party app, too. Let’s be honest: we’ve all hit the record button and then held up the phone horizontally like we’re supposed to only to have the video come out sideways. 

Two AirPod owners will be able to justify their purchase by bumping their phones to instantly share music from one device to the next. AirBud owners will hear Siri reads a messages as they come in and prompt the wearer for a reply. Speaking of Siri, Apple demoed a new “Neural TTS” version of its digital assistant. The company used machine learning to teach Siri to speak with a more natural voice. It seems like we’ve heard this before, so we’ll see if it sticks this time around. Though Siri’s voice does sound more natural, it hasn’t escaped the Uncanny Valley just yet. 

Home Pod gets Handoff with this update, so you can easily switch your music, podcast, or in-progress phone calls from an iOS device to Apple’s smart speaker. Multi-user support is coming to Home Pod in the form of voice recognition. It will now learn the voices of the people who live in the house and tailor its responses to those users’ voices. That includes musical preferences—telling a Home Pod to “play some music” should respond with that user’s preferred playlists. 

Privacy, privacy, privacy!

No, the subheading does not mean that Steve Ballmer took the stage at WWDC yesterday. Instead, “privacy” was the word that Apple used in an attempt to differentiate itself from its competition in both the desktop and mobile worlds. The topic came up in demo after demo. Not-so-humble brags about protecting user privacy accompanied the new Find My features in Catalina, for instance. Apple has been advertising privacy-focused features and policies since the first of the year. 

Location privacy is a big deal in iOS 13. Users have more granular control over location sharing, for instance. A new option allows users to share their location with an app only once before it has to ask permission to access the location again. Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi also says the company has closed off access to detecting local networks as a means to circumvent location sharing controls. iOS 13 will also give users access to more detailed reports about which apps request location data and how often. 

Apple has also debuted its own single sign-on technology imaginatively called Sign In with Apple. That means that instead of signing into an app with a Facebook or Google account, users could potentially sign into an app with their Apple ID. In fact, once Sign In with Apple is commercially available,  Apple will require any app that allows third-party sign-in to support this service. 

Sign In with Apple

The company is also trying to combat spam a couple of different ways. First is an option to send all unknown callers directly to voicemail jail without collecting Go or passing $200. The second is through email obfuscation. iCloud will generate a random email address for apps users don’t want to give their real addressses to, and once those randomized addresses become spam magnets, users can disable them. 

HomeKit privacy also took center stage yesterday. New home security cameras from Netatmo, Logitech, and Eufy will be able to upload encrypted video directly to iCloud so that users can keep an eye on their homes, and that data will disappear after 10 days. That storage won’t count against the iCloud subscriber’s storage limits, either. HomeKit-enabled routers from Linksys and some ISPs will keep smart devices from phoning home automatically, too. 

The Mac platform didn’t get left out of the privacy party. In addition to Find My and Activation Lock, Mac users will enjoy additional confirmation prompts the first time an app attempts to capture audio or keyboard input. Catalina will also prompt users when an app tries open a file in the Documents folder, other media folders, external drives, iCloud Drive, or the desktop. The operating system also resides on its own read-only volume, which may finally kill the Hackintosh. 


iPadOS—a fork off the ol’ block

Absent from the iOS 13 discussion was the iPad. That’s because Apple has split its tablet OS from its primary mobile operating system and named it iPadOS. The update adds several interesting gesture features that make use of those gargantuan iPad Pros. For example, iPad owners will be able to pin their device’s widgets to the home screen. Thanks to their relatively larger screens, iPadOS also gets gesture support for cut, copy, and paste. 

Slide Over supports multiple apps with is own switcher on iPadOS

Slide Over and Split View have been the iPad’s multi-tasking system for a couple iterations of iOS. This allows iPad users to put multiple apps on the screen at a time, like Safari and Messages. Now, the Slide Over app list has its own recent apps list so you can quickly switch between Slide Over-capable apps. A single app can also be opened multiple times with separate documents open in each, and that works in tandem with both Slide Over and Split View. Lastly, Exposé comes over from the Mac to show small representations of all open apps and windows for easy switching. 

Several desktop features have made their way to the mobile OS, too. Safari now has a built-in download manager. The Files app, which browses files on the device, now has a column view so you can see the path you’ve taken to get to a file and show a preview with Quick Actions. Files will natively read SD cards and USB drives and access SMB shares on Windows PCs and Macs, too. 

The iPad Pro goes hand-in-hand with the Apple Pencil. Federighi says Apple already had a low 20-milliseconds of input latency, but thanks to some prediction algorithm tricks, that’s been brought down to nine milliseconds of lag. That’s pretty impressive. iPadOS also has a new shortcut to jump into markup mode, and can also capture an entire document instead of just what’s currently on the screen. 


Next up is Apple’s wearable system, watchOS. Like all watchOS updates, watchOS 6 brings new features and more native apps. This time, Audiobooks, Voice Memos, and Calculator make the jump from phone to watch. watchOS 6 also comes with new APIs that allow developers to create apps that don’t need a companion iOS app. That also means the App Store has also transitioned to the Apple Watch. 

Other new APIs in watchOS 6 allow developers to give extended runtime to session-based tasks, meaning they’ll be able to run in the background. That’s a perfect fit for new streaming audio APIs. Apple showed off several apps that will stream audio, allowing cellular-equipped Apple Watch owners to go for a run without their phones and still listen to streaming audio. Apple demonstrated streaming audio running through MLB At Bat allowing wearers to listen to live baseball, which is the only sport that matters. 

Health was also a big focus in Apple’s presentation. VP of Health Dr. Sumbul Desai showed off several new watchOS health-related features. Activity Trends will compare recent activity data with data from the past year and either congratulate wearers on staying active or offer advice on getting back to their previous activity levels. The Noise app will periodically listen to ambient noise and determine if sound pressure levels have hit a point that could impact hearing long-term. Sticking with the privacy theme, Dr. Desai pointed out that recorded sound is not kept or sent to Apple. Lastly, fertility tracking hits both watchOS and iOS this fall via the Health app. 


tvOS 13

tvOS, the iOS-based system that runs on the last couple generations of Apple TV, picked up a handful of new features. First is multi-user support, which means I don’t have to see Phineas and Ferb or My Hero Academia in my Suggested feed any longer. Just like iOS, the Music app on tvOS 13 will display time-synced lyrics, which should be great for sad Karaoke parties. Tim Cook also reminded everyone that Apple Arcade will come to tvOS, and because of that, the Apple TV got some much-needed controller compatibility updates. Both the Xbox One Bluetooth controller and Sony DualShock 4 will be compatible with tvOS 13. 

The D in WWDC stands for…

You’d be forgiven for thinking the WWDC keynote was meant for everybody to watch. After all, user-facing features were the focus of the presentation. However, Apple paid lip service to the people who spent thousands of dollars to go to this conference in the first place.

First up was augmented reality API improvements. RealityKit is a graphics rendering, animation, physics, and audio engine for iOS. That means that instead of using Unity or Unreal to run an AR application, developers will be able to do all the heavy lifting with first-party APIs. ARKit 3 picked up new occlusion detecting abilities that can detect people moving around in a room littered with virtual objects and motion capture APIs. Mojang was there to show off MineCraft Earth, which turns your surroundings into a virtual MineCraft world. 

Next up were improvements for XCode, Apple’s integrated development environment, and the Swift programming language. XCode has a slick new drag-and-drop enabled editor that works on running applications for iOS and watchOS. Enabling an iOS project to create Mac apps just requires checking a box to target the Mac platform. 

A new UI framework, SwiftUI, aims to combine macOS’s AppKit with UIKit from iOS. Developers will still need to take into account each platform’s unique features and layout constraints, but they’ll be able to use the same APIs and even the same projects to target both. Apple was coy in its demos, since they relied on custom controls that were built outside the demo. Because of that, it’s impossible to guess how much development effort SwiftUI will save. 

Coming Soon

None of what Apple announced yesterday is available today except in the form of a developer-targeted seed. Tim Cook told the crowd that a public beta will come in July, and all of these various OS revisions will ship this fall. 

0 responses to “Apple pushes privacy and data security with upcoming OS updates at WWDC

  1. I still need your help about the dead animal stink in my car. You’re the expert around here.

  2. Make sure you get that great monitor stand, bro. It’s really great value for money!!

  3. No, you saying you name at the end of your posts triggers me. Once is enough, bro.

  4. At least it’s only launching about a third of it now!

    But the idea that macOS would barely have been touched without Catalyst doesn’t seem true for now, but it’ll certainly reduce the friction and turnaround time between bringing new iOS applications to macOS.

  5. [quote<]based on the iTunes codeset[/quote<] I'm not sure which would be worse: Catalyst or iTunes forks. *runs screaming from the room*

  6. Only Podcasts is a Catalyst app fwiw. Music and TV are native rewrites, and are based on the iTunes codeset rather than the iOS Music and TV.

  7. I just got the 32GB iPad on sale, and I really like it so far (esp the physical qualities), but the new iPadOS features that they’re celebrating as mind-blowing innovations are almost all things that have been on Android for a few years already (e.g. swype functionality, multiple document viewing, etc.). I’m glad Apple is getting with the program on those things because right now I’m missing them! Will be a super tablet once that’s installed.

  8. Meaningful privacy and public internet access are mutually exclusive terms.

    We have already cross the Rubicon on this one. The future of the computing world is going to be a panopticon whatever we like it or not.

  9. Oh good! Now apps can stop spying on my location non-stop!

    *installs facebook, twitter, instagram, etc and posts pictures and openly blabs about everything that is being done and where every 5 minutes*

  10. My post was meant to be humorous. Derfunk is on my fav 5 list. I’m glad we can all have different points of view and remain mostly civil.

  11. I only figured out that it can do that just a few months ago, so I was sharing if you hadn’t found it. I use it Facebook for the rare occasions I need to log into it . Or when visiting sites that eat my CPU because they have terrible adds.

  12. Well yeah, you can game it into opening a few tabs, but if the app gets suspended long enough that Firefox Focus decides it’s time it should hit the “scrap it” button, or when it occasionally figures you told it to even when you didn’t, you’ll lose all open tabs at once. You can’t actually rely on it keeping anything around for long, as by design, it leans towards being *very* twitchy about closing and wiping everything.

    I’m sure it’s a great browser if you’re a spy or something. I don’t feel the need to sacrifice quite *that* much convenience.

    Interestingly enough, I do keep Focus installed even on my iPhone, as you can actually use it as an adblocker plugin for Safari, and it does a damn fine job 🙂

  13. I definitely agree that we can all do better, and I think constructive criticism (both of others and ourselves) is useful for that purpose. It sounds like we are generally on the same page.

  14. Those people just have misaligned self-interests. They’re interested in feeling good and destructive behavior often has that effect.

  15. Blastdoor converted me with his passionate speeches. My next phone will be an iPhone. Then a MBP but not a MP.

  16. [quote<]Dichotomizing virtue into "perfect" and "not perfect" results in everyone falling into the "not perfect" bin[/quote<] This is very much my way of thinking. Not to excuse anybody, but for continually pushing forward. Forgive me for not jumping for joy over Apple doing what it was supposed to just because someone else isn't. It helps me stay focused to know that someone out there is better at _____ than I am and does a better job of being thoughtful of other peoples' feelings at the same time. I'm constantly trying to a better husband, dad, developer, writer, and guitar player. And I can't do it all. It's exhausting, and I kinda hate it but I've had enough complacency.

  17. [quote<]It used to be that making money in a way that benefits all parties was the goal, not some higher standard.[/quote<] In economics textbooks perhaps, but in real life that's much less common. For example -- robber barons; Spanish conquest of the New World; enslavement of the Hebrews -- history is full of examples in which people make money in a way that does not benefit all parties. Making the active choice to make money in a way that benefits all parties is commendable -- it is noticeably different from what many other people are doing. Note that I wasn't blaming Trump for anything (though I'm happy to blame him for a lot). I'm blaming Gordon Gecko type thinking for the fact that we are now stuck with Trump. Dichotomizing virtue into "perfect" and "not perfect" results in everyone falling into the "not perfect" bin, which makes it easier for Tump-like people to escape consequences by claiming "yeah, but e-mails."

  18. It used to be that making money in a way that benefits all parties was the goal, not some higher standard. It bred brand loyalty and kept people willingly coming back for more.

    I don’t entirely blame Trump for this. I also blame Google and Facebook who have turned making money by compromising people a way of life.

  19. I hate Apple and their anti-competitive stance on some things (mostly the store and forcing proprietary languages). But if I ever drink the juice it will be for two reasons.
    1) Privacy
    2) Watch (Gear is good, Apple Watch is better IMO)

    One really big thing stopping me from switching, and this may seem petty, is a freeking back button. I HATE fumbling my phone to find an “x” in any corner other than the one closest to my hand. Get a malvertisement? Back. Want to close a picture? Back. Not sure how to undo what you just did in a menu and haven’t saved yet? Back.

  20. Maybe things have changed since you’ve used it, but Firefox Focus can do multiple tabs, you just need to long-press a link and open in a new tab. Like you, though, I haven’t found any other way to open a second tab in the more traditional ways.

  21. I think you guys are falling into the trap of mistaking cynicism for wisdom. I think it is commendable to make money in a way that benefits people rather than hurts them. Trying to spin a story in which everyone is evil and greedy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it benefits the worst of us. A very tangible example of the consequences of this fallacy can be seen when looking at who now sits in the oval office.

    Thanks a lot, Obama.

  22. Right. Tim (or someone else at Apple) said, “I really want this, and I bet other people want it so badly they’d pay through the nose to get it.” And they were right. Nothing noble or “commendable” there, just good business sense.

  23. I just have to disagree with…

    [quote<]because nobody does something that isn't in their self-interest[/quote<] Plenty of people do, and unfortunately I see it every day. Pretty sure I'm included too.

  24. Greed usually is good. The problem is that many people conflate greed with stupidity, just as they conflate reciprocity with cutting off the nose to spite the face.

  25. I am not by any means an Apple guy, and will probably never own any of their products, but credit where it’s due they’re probably the only one of the large tech companies that’s not bat-poop evil when it comes to privacy stuff.

  26. After my first venture into iPhone land, I went back to Android for a while, but in the end I came back again (picked up the same iPhone 6s model I had the first time round for cheap).

    To a large extent, that was because of the clearly superior privacy controls, and specifically because Safari lets me default to running in private mode, and stays that way for all tabs I opened.
    I literally tried every single browser I could find on Android (Firefox, Brave, Dolphin, Opera, etc, etc, etc…) and the ONLY one I could find that would allow private mode by default was Firefox Focus – which comes with the downside of mandating you only have a single page open at a time, no tabbed browsing.

    Safari just makes it so damned simple… open a private tab, all tabs will default to being private from then on, until you open a regular one again.

    Aside from Apple taking this stuff seriously, I feel that everyone on Android are so utterly hellbent on taking things in the opposite direction entirely, and avoiding giving you any control whatsoever, that there’s really only one player in town if you value some level of privacy control on a mobile platform.

  27. “Doing what’s important to yourself” is a pretty low bar for commendation. Everyone already does that. Even if they don’t SAY that’s what’s important, the fact is we all get 168 hours a week and what we do with them is what we think is most important. If what they do doesn’t align with what they say they want, then they have priorities to adjust, sure, but everyone is already doing what’s in their own interests. And they turned it into a profit machine.

  28. I have to pick nits on the “greed is good” idea…. If we define greed to mean “self-interest” then everyone is greedy because nobody does something that isn’t in their self-interest, as they define it. But there are very important differences in how people define their self-interest.

    Most companies seem to define their self-interest in terms of short term (next 1-4 quarters) profits and the personal wealth of senior management.

    Apple seems to define their self-interest in terms of long term (5-10+ years) profits and the personal values of senior management, which appear to involve a few things other than money. For example, call me naive, but I really do believe that Tim Cook — a guy who grew up gay in Alabama — has a strong personal commitment to privacy. Similarly, I also believe that Steve Jobs — a guy who was providing QA feedback on products while dying of cancer — really did passionately believe in making high quality products.

    So… I don’t think they are in it just for the money. Of course they like money and they need to make money to ensure the long-term survival of the company, and so they have had to figure out a way to build a business model that is compatible with their values and achieves profit. I think it’s pretty commendable that they’ve done that.

  29. There was definitely a lot of spin in the presentation yesterday (and has been since those “what happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone” ads in Vegas in January), but overall it’s hard to deny that they are protecting privacy as much as seems possible. It’s one of those very extremely rare “greed is good” moments, because they’re motivated to do good by money.

  30. As someone who is not an Apple fan, I read this article with suppressed kudos. Seems to be a lot of very good security-focused features and quality of life features Apple has pushed out with this. They’re still spinning the RDF, but at least it seems they’re doing it to protect the users data and privacy in as much of a way as a corporation can or says it does for the consumer.

  31. I don’t know whether the privacy thing is on the radar of regular customers. Maybe more so than 5 years ago, but probably not as much as it will be in another 5 years.

    But there is going to come a day when people wake up to the importance of privacy and I think Apple’s long term, consistent, and credible (because it’s consistent with their business model) commitment to privacy will pay off big time. For example, whereas AR glasses from Google were regarded as creepy and threatening, I suspect that when Apple ultimately releases a much better version of that product it will meet far less skepticism simply because it comes from Apple.

  32. Yeah, I think it’s an interesting approach. Rather than stripping things away from OSX they are adding things to iOS (now iPadOS). The upshot, I think, is that every bit of complexity that they add to the OS/UI requires a justification, resulting in a simpler OS than if they went the other way around.

    I can definitely appreciate that perspective, but there’s a downside, which is that it has taken way too long to add features to the iPad that are kind of no-brainers, like being able to work with more than one Word document at a time, for example.

  33. Apple has continued to allow macOS to kind of stagnate. Anything “new” it receives this year is coming from iOS. I have a feeling that if it wasn’t for Catalyst, iTunes would still be hanging around. My money is on Music, Podcasts, and TV being the iOS apps ported to Mac.

  34. The branding is so muddled. When I read that iTunes was being phased out I had to check my iPhone to realize the iPhone music app hasn’t been iTunes for years.

  35. The most interesting thing to me is that that rather than making OSX more iOS-like, they are making a flavor of iOS more OSX-link in the form of iPadOS.

Ben Funk

Sega nerd and guitar lover