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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.