Apple has this week made some major announcements that could herald big changes to how we use technology in the future. Adrian Weckler reports from the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California
Apple slapped Facebook again
Apple once again used a major event to put distance between itself and Facebook as ‘Big Tech’ companies.
With disdain dripping from his voice, vice-president Craig Federighi said that iPhones and Macs were now stepping up efforts to “shut down” Facebook’s attempts to follow you around the web with ‘likes’ and other things.
Mr Federighi said that they want to make it “dramatically more difficult for these companies to track you”.
When an ad tracks a user through those ‘like’ buttons, for example, Apple devices will ask users whether they want to allow the tracking to happen.
During the demo, Mr Federighi specifically used Facebook as an example of the tracking. The contempt isn’t new. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously strongly criticised Facebook (and Google) for trading in people’s personal data.
2. Apple’s new group FaceTime feature could be a big deal for business
Arguably the biggest immediate feature upgrade from the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this year was group messaging on FaceTime. Up to 32 people can join a single FaceTime call with a really nice implementation of the feature on the phone.
This is interesting for anyone who regularly does conference calls on systems such as BlueJeans. It arguably adds a greater hook to iPhones as a default company phone, on the basis that group calls among staff (or clients) can now be done as standard – as long as everyone has an iPhone or iPad.
Indeed, Mr Cook suggested as much, joking that he looked forward to getting on calls with his management team every Sunday night.
FaceTime is actually one of those features that now anchors people to iOS in a way that iTunes used to years ago. Anyone who uses their iPhone to talk to far-away grandparents knows this.
3. Apple is gradually reaching down to include entry-level users
In previous years, it has been common for Apple to limit its new software upgrades to phones that are three or four years old and newer. That meant that hand-me-down phones and handsets that were bought second hand by those who couldn’t afford a brand new device were stuck with last year’s technology.
This time, the company isn’t excluding iPhones or iPads that were on the cusp of obsolescence. It has said that any device which can run iOS 11 (last year’s software) will also be able to run iOS 12.
That means those with iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S models can partake in all the upgrades they’re reading about. Many will say this is as it naturally should be. But it’s a subtle shift from Apple. And it’s not an isolated one.
In the last 18 months, the company has kept older models for sale – at lower prices – as a means of attracting more mid-tier and entry-level phone buyers into the iOS ecosystem. You can still buy an iPhone 6S as new, for example, even though that was launched in 2015 – a long time ago in the smartphone world. It has also substantially lowered the price of entry-level iPhones, with the iPhone SE now at around €400, way below what an entry-level iPhone used to cost.
4. Apple’s iOS and MacOS are getting closer
One of the big recurring questions that Apple has faced in recent years is: ‘Are you merging iOS and MacOS?’
“No, of course not,” said Mr Federighi. But he then went on to show how iOS apps will be easier to run on Macs.
The question is understandable. Apple’s iPhone business is a multiple of its Mac business. Arguably, phones have eaten into the overall computing market, with traditional computers starting to be used less and less for casual communication and entertainment.
So where once it seemed that phones were aping the functions and features of PCs, now it may actually be the other way around.
However, company executives say that there is absolutely a dedicated future for Macs and iMacs as completely distinct machines from iPads or iOS devices.
And Apple did announce a slew of new features for Macs, including some new apps, a ‘dark mode’ and some fairly decent general updates.
Apple is very adaptive as a company, though. It has famously said before that it wouldn’t change to certain formats (such as a touchscreen phone) before doing just that. If we all keep gravitating to touchscreen portable devices for ever-intense computing functions, Apple will likely respond in kind with its computer offerings.
5. Apple acknowledged that our screen time habits are getting out of hand
While the word “addiction” is tossed around very lightly (and sometimes irresponsibly, as medical or psychological addiction can be a serious, life-threatening matter) by pseudo-experts trying to get attention, most of us know that we spend a bit too much time staring at our phones.
But we just can’t help it. So Apple is introducing new modes in iOS 12 that limit our own screen time and that of our kids.
Notifications won’t show at night if we so enable, allowing us to avoid picking our phone up and staying glued to it past midnight.
For kids, there are now controls that include time limits on specific apps or the whole phone. Once the time limit expires, the phone needs parental input to continue working.
The ‘Screen Time’ feature is account-based and works across all of a child’s iOS devices. It gives parents the ability to schedule a block of time to limit when their child’s iOS device can’t be used, such as at bedtime.
It’s a gentle, limited way of prodding us into a more wholesome, balanced approach to using our phones.
6. Apple appears to be building its own social network
What do you get when you mix group FaceTime calls, expanded emoji (‘memoji’ that can make an animated emoji from your own face) and new suggestions for sharing your phone photos with other people in your contact list? It sounds more than a little like a social network.
The new Photos suggestion feature, for example, prompts you with who it thinks is in your photo and then suggests that you share the photo with them over Messages. That same feature will then look for photos your recipient may have taken at the same time and event and suggest to them that they send those photos back to you or to others in the nascent group.
This really isn’t something very different to what Facebook would do. But there’s one big difference: Apple insists that everything is happening only on your own phone, so it doesn’t collect or store any data from the process.
In this way, it says, it’s completely different from companies like Facebook or Google, which are offering such features as a way of profiling each participant for advertising purposes.
7. September is going to be a giant hardware launch date for Apple
Anyone expecting new hardware announcements may have been a little disappointed. While WWDC isn’t traditionally the place for new hardware announcements by Apple, last year’s event saw a lot of new hardware announced, from the HomePod to a new iMac Pro and a new iPad Pro. The company has become so big with so many different product categories that we’d all just assumed there would be some new hardware announced, especially MacBook updates.
The absence of any hardware announcements means there will now likely be an absolute ton of them in September.