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5 key reveals from Apple’s WWDC developer event today

June 7, 2021, 10:50 PM UTC

Apple didn’t unveil new iPhones or Mac computers at its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, but it did reveal new features intended to make its devices easier to use.

Some of the biggest updates from the WWDC 2021 virtual event centered around its most popular apps, like FaceTime video calling and the Photo management and sharing service. The changes will kick in when Apple releases its iOS 15 update for iPhones and WatchOS 8 for the Apple Watch.

Here’s five of the most notable new features:

FaceTime gets a face lift

Apple wants video calling to be more like an in-person experience. 

New audio technology will make the voices of people in video calls sound like they’re coming from the direction in which those people are displayed on screen, said Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi. The result is that the voices don’t all sound like they’re coming from one spot.

Apple also debuted feature that filters out ambient sounds in a FaceTime calls so that the voices of speakers sound clearer.

Additionally, FaceTime users will be able to send links in advance of scheduled calls to friends and family, so they can add them to their digital calendars. The tweak makes FaceTime more like video conferencing services from Zoom and Google.  

Lastly, Apple’s new SharePlay feature for FaceTime will let people watch shows together from services like Disney+, Hulu, and HBO Max. Apple didn’t list Netflix as a partner, implying that SharePlay doesn’t support the popular video-streaming service.

Apple Photos gets smarter

The new Live Text feature for Apple’s Photos app will let people select text from photos, like copying and pasting from a Microsoft Word document. The feature is supposed to help when quickly sending friends a restaurant’s address originally displayed in a photo. 

If a photo contains a phone number, users will be able to automatically call that number, said to be helpful when disputing a charge after leaving a restaurant. 

People will also be able to search for specific text displayed in their photos as if searching for particular words in a note-taking app.

Apple Messages gets a “do not disturb” feature

Similar to workplace messaging services like Slack, Apple users will be able to set their Apple Messages status to “Do Not Disturb”. This feature filters text messages during family dinners, for example, to eliminate interruptions.

For a more fine-tuned approach, users will be able to turn on Focus, a feature for limiting which messages or notifications are flagged. If busy at work, for example, users can choose to only receive messages from colleagues, but not friends.

Apple Maps gets a polish

Apple updated its Maps app so that maps of major cities like San Francisco now include landmarks like Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge. Additionally, maps will show more details like crosswalks, bike lanes, taxi lanes, and bus lanes. Users will also be able to more easily find public transportation routes, plus pin or save them.

Apple Health for the family

People with iPhones and Apple Watches will be able to privately share health information with others like heart rates through an update to the Apple Health app. The feature is intended, for example, for people who want to track the health of their elderly parents, Apple executives said. Users must opt-in to share their data.

People can also choose to share health data collected by Apple Watch with healthcare providers, who can receive charts displaying the data. Information includes the quality of a person’s sleep or their blood oxygen levels over time.

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