Apple on Monday unveiled software upgrades that would let older iPhones run faster, help parents limit their children’s screen time and make its Siri voice assistant work more like a rival feature from Amazon.com.
The new features were announced at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose amounted to focusing on keeping its base of 1.3 billion users satisfied with their devices and catching up with some competitors.
Last year, Apple faced backlash when it emerged that the company slowed down some older iPhones with flagging batteries.
The latest version of Apple’s operating system for the iPhone and iPad, iOS 12, will make older devices, such as the iPhone 6, work better.
Software chief Craig Federighi said iOS 12 could carry out simple tasks, such as opening apps, up to twice as fast as its predecessor, iOS 11. The new system will work on a range of products that date back to 2013.
The company also will allow broader use of in-app voice controls, which it had limited to a handful of apps, such as PayPal and Uber. Amazon, by contrast, was much more open to controlling apps with its Alexa assistant.
Here’s a look at some of the standouts from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference:
Protect users’ anonymity online
New features will help protect users’ anonymity online.
The company said its Safari web browser for both Macs and iPhones will keep users from being tracked without their permission by websites that use ‘like’ or ‘share’ buttons from social media companies.
Apple unveiled new steps to make it hard for advertisers to distinguish among users, building on its effort, begun last year, to prevent such tracking.
Screentime and Do Not Disturb
Apple’s software upgrades also include features that would help users understand how much time they are spending on their devices, amid concerns of growing smartphone ‘addiction’.
Other features inlude “limit distraction” which would turn-off lock screen notifications at bedtimes to avoid “getting spun up” by prompts when perhaps one just wants to check the time.
“I think we are all going to be using Do-Not-Disturb a whole lot more,” Craig Federighi Apple’s senior vice president said.
Along with ways to limit distracting notifications from iPhones, a new Screen Time feature which will allow people to more tightly control and monitor time spent in applications will also be introduced.
“We know there are people who would like extra help,” Federighi said of curbing app time.
Parents will be able to set limits for time their children set in apps and get detailed reports regarding which apps are used.
The array of features being added to the software powering Apple devices included being able to make group FaceTime video calls; letting third-party applications work on Apple Watch, expanding the abilities of Siri digital assistant and delivering a platform for augmented reality applications.
New Animoji and Memoji
Apple is adding a handful of animated ‘animoji’ with iOS 12, including a koala, T-rex and more.
It’s also letting iPhone users create their own personal animoji avatars called ‘Memoji’, similar to Snap’s Bitmoji or Nintendo’s Mii.
Animoji can be designed to look similar to users’ real-world appearance, or with a variety of digital accouterments like hats and costumes.
Siri gets shortcuts
Siri is going to be filled with shortcuts, so much so that Apple is creating a shortcuts app for iOS 12. It’ll suggest coffee orders from the place you always order from and message contacts to tell them you’re running late, and there’s also Kayak-based flight information you can call up via voice. By pressing the add to Siri button, you can then say “travel plans” and Siri will read back information such as your hotel address.
Apple’s aptly-named Measure app takes advantage of the company’s developments in augmented reality to let users measure real-world objects, like furniture, picture frames and more.
Google Maps and Waze in CarPlay
Third-party mapping and navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze are coming to CarPlay, Apple’s in-car interface for using apps while driving.
Photos get smarter
Photos is the next big iOS 12 feature Apple is showing off, expanding search in an effort to compete with Google.
Photos will be able to index over four million events and even search for multiple search terms.
A new tab ‘For you’ is coming to the iOS 12 Photos app, filled with personalised suggestions on how to improve and share your pictures.
Sharing has gotten smarter, letting you share at full resolution and suggesting who to share these photos with.
New grouped notifications will let you group notifications by app.
There’s also a new Instant Tuning feature in notifications on the lock screen that will let you stop specific apps from displaying notifications on the lock screen.