At WWDC 2021, Apple gave us the lowdown on all the big software updates coming to Apple devices — that includes the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, AirPods and Apple TV — in the coming months. The nearly-two-hour keynote was jam-packed (maybe overly packed) with information about the new updtes. If you missed it (or just couldn't keep up with it all), we've rounded up all the most important announcements below.
First things first: No new hardware was announced
At past WWDCs, Apple has introduced new hardware alongside its multitude of software announcements, and there was speculation that it could do the same this year. There were rumblings that maybe Apple could announce new AirPods that look similar to AirPods Pro but with less features to keep the price down, or even the upcoming 14-inch and 16-inch M1 MacBook Pros that are still expected to be announced this summer.
But alas, there were no new hardware announcements at today's WWDC.
FaceTime is going to look and sound better
With iOS 15, the next big iPhone software update coming, Apple is bringing some meaningful updates to FaceTime. Specifically, your iPhone's video calls are getting support for spatial audio and Portrait Mode, so that the people in your calls will sound and look significantly better.
There's a new feature called SharePlay that allows people on the same FaceTime call to easily share their screens, so you can watch the same movies and listen to the same music — all on the same video call. Also, Apple is introducing FaceTime Links, which will allow Android and Windows users to join FaceTime calls.
A better way to receive iPhone notifications
Apple is introducing a feature called "Notification Summary" with iOS 15, which basically changes the way you can receive notifications on your iPhone. It will bundle a bunch of your "less pressing" notifications, such as news updates from apps like Yelp, ESPN and other third-party apps, and then deliver them all at the same time in a group. You can then quickly check out all your notifications at once. More important notifications, such as iMessages, will be kept separate and won't be lumped into this bundle.
iPhone will allow you to copy/paste text from photos
iOS 15 will introduce a new feature called "Live Text" to your iPhone. Leveraging AI, it will allow you to copy text from what you see in photos and then paste it into apps like Notes or iMessage. It looks to be similar to what Google Lens has been able to do for some time (grab copy straight from your camera or photos), and will definitely be a time-saver for people who commonly try to transcribe text from photos.
AirPods Pro are getting some key improvements
Apple is bringing some key improvements to AirPods Pro with iOS 15. It's introducing a feature called "Conversation Boost" to help people with "mild" hearing problems so that they can hear people better when wearing their AirPods Pro (not AirPods); it allows the isolate the voice of the person they are talking to and then, via a slider, you'll be able to adjust the amount of ambient noise you hear.
AirPods Pro will also gain the ability to read out loud your notifications; it's called "Announce notifications" and work with all your notifications, and will even read out things from your Notes.
And finally, AirPods Pro are gaining support for spatial audio while you're watching Apple TV. Your AirPods Pro will be able to use dynamic head tracking so that the audio adjusts automatically depending on where your head (while wearing AirPods Pro) is positioned. It will launch with tvOS next fall.
The iPad is getting more productivity features
Apple is giving the iPad a bunch of new features centered at productivity and multitasking with the new iPadOS. Maybe the most significant new feature is called "Quick Note" and it will allow you to quickly open the Notes app from any screen — all you have to do is swipe up from the bottom right of the screen using your Apple Pencil.
There's a new widget gallery for iPad that's larger than the widget gallery currently available on your iPhone, and it will introduce new widgets, for things like the Files app and Find My app. For people who use the iPad's split view to share two apps in one screen, you're going to be able to more quickly do this by simply dragging and dropping one app on top of another to create a split view.
There are a few new reasons to actually pay for iCloud
Apple announced iCloud+, which is essentially a new privacy-focused tier of iCloud, Apple's cloud-based storage service. Specifically, it adds three new features.
There's "Private Relay," which is a feature that acts like a VPN so that your internet browsing (when using Safari) can't be tracked. There's a "Hide My Email" feature that creates a random email for you when you sign up for services, so those services can't share your information with others. And there's "HomeKit Secure Video," a feature that now lets you have an unlimited amount of HomeKit cameras without them counting against your iCloud storage.
iCloud+ will be available as a free upgrade to all iCloud subscribers.
Apple Watch gets respiratory tracking
WatchOS 8 will bring some new features to your Apple Watch, including a new Mindfulness app, the ability to share photos directly from your watch, some new watch faces and the ability to adjust the size of your watch face with the digital crown. If you're a subscriber to Fitness Plus, new music from artists Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Keith Urban will be available to get you through your workouts. And new Tai Chi and Pilates workouts are coming to Apple Fitness+.
Maybe the most meaningful new Apple Watch feature is respiratory rate tracking. It's a feature that is specifically designed to improve the Apple's sleep-tracking app, Sleep, as it will measure your breathing to give you an even better idea about your sleep quality.
Monterey is the name of the next macOS
Apple finally gave us the name of the next Mac operating system — macOS Monterey — and it's bringing some cool new features with it.
First, there's "Universal control." The feature will allow you to combine your iMac, MacBook and iPad and turn it into a seamless multi-screen system; you'll be able to move your cursor from one screen to another. It effectively will allow you to use the same mouse-and-keyboard combo with all your iPad and Mac devices, and quickly drag and drop files between each of your devices.
The other neat feature is "AirPlay to Mac," which will allow you to cast your iPad's screen to your Mac. It will allow you to quickly cast music from your iPad to your Mac, as well, which will no doubt be convenient for people who have the newest iMac or MacBook Pro (or just a nice pair of desktop speakers hooked up to their Mac.
Safari is getting better organized
Safari is getting a pretty neat upgrade with macOS Monterey. Specifically, there's a new "Tab Groups" feature that will allow you to combine multiple related tabs together so that you can stay better organized. (Nobody likes having a zillion tabs option.) Chrome has a similar feature called, yes, Tab Groups.
If you're using Safari on an iPhone, you'll be able to take advantage of Tab Groups, too, but they'll appear at the bottom of your screen. This will give Safari a little bit of a new look and feel, but it will also allow you to better take advantage of these Tab Groups (they'll be closer to your thumb).
The HomePod mini can be set as your TV's default speakers
A few weeks ago, Apple rolled out an update to the HomePod that allowed you to set them as your TV's default speakers, meaning you could use them whether you were watching content on Apple TV or on another source, like an Xbox, PlayStation or even a cable box. It was a huge deal because it made HomePod way more versatile and gave people more reasons to actually buy an Apple TV. Well, now that same feature is coming to Apple's smaller smart speaker, the HomePod mini, this fall.
When are these updates coming?
Although Apple announces all these updates for its developer conference, they won't actually arrive on your devices for a bit. There's no official date yet, but you can expect the latest versions of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS to show up in earnest this fall, around the same time we get new iPhones.