On Monday, at the opening keynote to Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, the company introduced significant updates to the operating systems that run its core hardware products—iPhones and iPads, Mac computers, Apple TV, and the Apple Watch. The most significant updates promised to combine the hands-free convenience of a much-enhanced Siri, iPhone’s popular voice-activated assistant, with the internet sharing across devices enabled by Apple’s iCloud services.
Among the improvements the company plans to roll out in the next few months: The Siri voice interface now found on iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch, and Apple TV will also work on Macs, and will be open to third-party developers to integrate into their apps. Also, a Universal Clipboard will allow users to copy text, images, and video from one Apple device and paste in another.
Apple's signature apps have also been improved, especially the Message app, which will allow you to embed a mind-numbing number of links, graphics, and other elements into your threads.
All of these enhancements will be available to consumers in the fall, most likely with the anticipated launch of new iPhones in September.
Here are the details.
Most of the announcements today affect the iPhone and iPad. The newest version of the mobile operating system, iOS 10, will give iPhones many features now found on Android smartphones. But some of these features will only work on Apple’s latest iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models.
Enhanced Screens. Apple says you’ll be able to wake up your iPhone’s display by simply picking up the phone. This feature, called Raise to Wake, will allow you see who called you earlier and get other notifications without fumbling for a button. Some Android smartphones from Samsung, LG, and Motorola have had this or similar functions for years.
If you have an iPhone 6s model, you can also act on notifications, even behind a locked screen, with a firm press on the 3D Touch display. The Control Center, which you access with a vertical swipe from the bottom of the display, now adds controls for the phone's Music player. Again, this is something Android customers have had for years. In general, the notifications and widgets will show you more information than in the past.
Smarter Siri. Siri now has deeper access to third-party apps, including Slacker, WhatsApp, Uber, Pinterest, Skype, and CarPlay. Not only can you launch and have the apps do things for you by voice command, but you can also use sloppy language. For instance, you can say something like “Siri, Skype Jerry” and the voice assistant will attempt to set up a Skype call with the person who most likely fits that bill.
Quick Type. Siri is even baked into the iPhone’s keyboard with a feature called Quick Type, a simultaneously creepy and convenient feature that interprets and reacts to things such as the context of what you’re typing, where you are, and what you’re likely to want to do based on your past actions. For instance, if you’re entering a calendar appointment, you’ll find much of the information may already be autofilled based on what the app knows about your previous behavior during that time of day, your location, and other data points it may have picked up.
Messages. Apple says this is the iPhone’s most-used app. And now you can employ more gimmicks than ever to inform, share, and entertain the people at the other end. For instance, you’ll be able to embed video and music clips, maps with sharable itineraries, and points of interest. Adding a photo is quicker and easier, too. Just turn on the camera and what’s in the viewfinder will appear in the message, ready to be saved as a still image or video clip.
There are more emojis than ever, and just as with the upcoming version of Android, you can make them bigger to emphasize your point. As you type, you’ll see emojis that correspond to the words in your text, and there will often be several emoji options for each word.
You can also scribble notes in your own handwriting, even over photos. Other options include animated text treatments called Bubble Effects, including one called Invisible Ink that keeps a message blurry until the person to whom you sent it touches it on their screen.
Photos. iOS’s Photos app seems to have borrowed a few ideas from Google’s Photos app. For example, Apple's Photos will automatically make short movies of what the app determines to be significant “events.” Like Google's product, Apple's app can make such determinations because the phone tracks your whereabouts via GPS and takes notice if you start taking lots of photos and videos once you arrive at your apparent destination. And the Photos app will make full use of facial and object recognition technology to group your photos, identify your companions, and interpret your activities by recognizing the objects in your photos, such as horses, or Chinese food.
Maps. This app will now contain more details of locations, with Google-like suggestions such as when it’s time to leave for work based on driving conditions. You’ll get live traffic data and alternate route suggestions to avoid jams. And Apple says that you’ll be able to book and pay for Uber rides, buy movie tickets, and make restaurant reservations without leaving the app.
Apple Music. The tweaks here are minor, and that’s a good thing because it was widely feared that Apple, in its desire to get more subscribers to its new Apple Music streaming service, was going to make it harder for people to access the music they already own. But it appears that the personal music libraries of iTunes customers will remain just as accessible as before. One neat enhancement: The text of lyrics will accompany songs, if they are available.
Apple News. Apple says it has more than 2,000 media titles in its fold. To make this info more digestible, the News app will funnel its disparate content into sections like Top Stories, Trending, and Sports, and as well as custom sections based on your interests.
Spam-free calls. Apple even promises to protect your ears from spam callers with a feature that it says will ferret them out before you answer.
HomeKit. Apple renewed its push of HomeKit, the company's home automation platform. Now Siri will be able to turn on and adjust your lights and appliances—just like Alexa on Amazon’s Echo speakers. A number of companies already already have HomeKit-compatible products, and Apple's new Home app will make it easier to control them when it launches with iOS 10.
The new app's Control center will take a more coordinated approach between your home and Apple devices to do some pretty nifty things. For example, if someone rings your doorbell, the Control Center could activate a door camera and the person it captures will automatically show up on your iPhone or Apple TV. Or, you can program the system to turn on the living room lights and adjust the thermostat to a more comfortable level by the time your car pulls into the driveway. The system will know it’s you because it will be tracking the iPhone in your pocket.
Apple is obviously interested in becoming a bigger player in the home automation space. We'll be curious to see if the company eventually introduces hardware to compete with Amazon's Echo and Google's upcoming Home device.
OS X is dead. Long live macOS
Apple has dumped the “X” in OS X, and, following the naming protocols it uses for its other platforms, inserted the name of the device for which it was designed. Welcome, macOS Sierra. But this compelling computing OS could have been called macOS Siri because Apple's voice assistant will be your go-to agent for getting things done on your Mac, just like it is on the iPhone. Siri's new natural-language processing capability will allow you to give a command such as “Show the files I worked on last week,” but then get more specific by asking her to fetch the files a particular person sent you. You can also ask Siri to play your favorite song in iTunes, search for photos, and more.
Other enhancements involve Continuity, the phrase Apple coined two years ago to describe how devices within its ecosystem can seamlessly share tasks and other activities. Here are a few examples.
Auto Unlock. Use your Apple Watch, via NFC authentication, to unlock your computer screen instead of typing a password.
Universal Clipboard. Apple says this feature will allow you copy text and other items into temporary memory that can be shared with other devices. Of course, those other devices will have to be Apple products.
Optimized Storage. File hoarders beware. Apple says macOS Sierra will automatically delete files it figures you’ll never use again, like movies you’ve rented. We predict lots of horror stories with this feature.
Apple Pay. Now you can use the iPhone's point-of-sale mobile payment like a credit card to make web purchases from your Mac, iPad, and even your Apple Watch.
Watch OS 3
Apple Watch fans seemed a bit concerned back in March when the low-budget iPhone SE was the big news on what was the first anniversary of the Apple Watch. At that event, the Watch received a few new band and face updates. But the updates outlined for Watch OS 3 at WWDC are significantly more exciting. Here are some of them.
Faster performance. Apple promised significantly better app performance by keeping apps running in memory so they can be launched “7 times faster” than before. Additionally, many apps can now be launched and perform an essential function with just one tap.
Fitness. In the spirit of friendly competition, the activity app now allows you to share your performance readings and stats with contacts in your fitness group. Besides comparing performances, you can egg each other on by sending messages via Smart Replay, or even send short voice messages via Smack Talk.
Fitness algorithms have also been optimized for wheelchair users, who now have their own settings such as Time to Roll. A new app called Breathe aims to help you relax your mind and body with deep-breathing exercises, enhanced by soothing visuals.
SOS feature. If you find yourself in a situation that calls for emergency assistance, you can place a 911 call by holding the Side Button on your Apple Watch. The call can be made either through your iPhone or a WiFi network. You can also set the app up to notify emergency contacts, and to present your medical ID info for emergency responders to see. If you have an emergency while you’re in another country, Apple says the app will automatically dial the appropriate emergency number for that region.
Handwriting. Finally, with the update you will be able to scribble notes on the Apple Watch’s touchscreen using the new a handwriting-recognition feature—aptly called Scribble.
Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.