Gears & Gadgets

tvOS, surround-sound AirPods, and more: The other big WWDC announcements

Apple CEO Tim Cook starts the WWDC 2020 keynote.
Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook starts the WWDC 2020 keynote.

Today, Apple made one of its biggest announcements in years: that Macs will begin to transition away from Intel processors. The company also outlined plans for new versions of iOS, macOS, and watchOS. But while those were the headlining changes, there are a bunch of smaller announcements that are worth looking into.

We’re not listing every little feature in iOS right now—that’s for the review later this year, after all—but we will flag a few of the bigger standalone announcements that we didn’t get to during our event coverage. We’ll start with tvOS, which is getting its biggest software update in a good long while.

tvOS gets expanded multi-user support and picture-in-picture

tvOS, the software that drives Apple TV set-top-boxes, is getting what might be its most substantial new version since 2017. The headlining feature is arguably expanded multi-user support, though Apple has not been crystal clear on exactly what that support will entail yet. Still, expanding that has been one of the most requested features for the Apple TV, so we’re looking forward to seeing more.

The Apple TV’s ability to manage smart home devices will be greatly expanded. A new control-center view will let users control smart devices in their homes that support HomeKit, Apple’s API for the smart home. For example, you’ll be able to look at whatever your security cameras see from directly within the Apple TV interface.

Apple is also introducing picture-in-picture support across the OS, including for content shared via AirPlay. Other new features include support for Microsoft’s Xbox One Elite Series 2and Adaptive Xbox One controllers (Apple added support for the standard Xbox One controller and Sony’s DualShock 4 last year), 4K video streaming in the Photos app, and audio sharing with AirPods.

It’s not a revolution, but these are generally welcome changes to a platform that has grown relatively slowly over the past couple of years.

AirPods Pro will do directional audio

AirPods Pro will receive a firmware update that allow them to support directional audio, including Dolby Atmos. Apple has developed technology that allows the AirPods to use built-in sensors to tell which way your head is turned at any moment. They’ll also customize the sound field based on that information as well as where your viewing device (like an iPad) is located.

And in a development that’s sure to be exciting for more than just owners of AirPods Pro, Apple is finally delivering on a promise it made back when the first AirPods were announced: AirPods will automatically switch between devices without any user input required. So for example, you could be listening to Apple Music on your Mac when a phone call comes in. Answering the call on your phone will automatically switch the AirPods to that audio source.

HomeKit gets more competitive

Apple doesn’t appear to have invested as heavily in HomeKit as some of its competitors, like Google, have in the same space. But Apple executives did take a few brief moments out of today’s WWDC keynote to describe some new features that are coming alongside iOS 14 and tvOS 14 this fall.

First off, there’s facial recognition for security cameras. If a familiar face is recognized, a user’s HomePod can announce who is at the door when the doorbell is rung.

Apple is also looking to address one of the most frustrating things about security cameras: false positives on intruders or objects of interest. The solution, in this case, is to allow users to define a specific part of the camera’s field of view that is monitored for objects of interest. So for example, the user can exclude the road so the neighborhood kids’ bike trips don’t trigger an alert, but someone walking up onto the user’s lawn does.

Apple also briefly discussed support for adaptive lighting for certain smart light bulbs. This feature will change the tone of lighting in a space as the day progresses: more cool lighting during the day, more warm lighting for winding down at night.

Finally, Apple announced that it is working with Google, Amazon, and other players to develop a smart home networking standard to let different platforms talk to one another to some degree.

There are even more privacy features

Apple has made privacy a big focus of its marketing campaigns. That might partly be because its main competitors don’t have the best track record on that front. But whatever the motivations, Apple has started baking privacy features and principles directly into both its software and hardware.

First off, Apple will now make apps ask for permission to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies. It will also offer up summaries of how specific apps plan to use your data right in the App Store, so you can consider those angles before you buy or download an app. iOS 14 also shows how an app is using your data even if it’s already been installed.

Users will be able to choose to show an application only their general location, rather than getting hyper-specific. This could be useful for say, getting movie times for your town without revealing exactly where your home is.

Apple is also expanding Sign In With Apple, the single sign-on tool it introduced last year. One of the key complaints about Sign In With Apple has been that it only works if you’re creating a new account with a service; you can’t associate your Apple sign-in information with an account you already have. That’s changing in iOS 14; you’ll be able to use Sign In With Apple even if you created the account in question elsewhere previously.

A lot is going on with Apple’s platforms in terms of privacy, but those are a few of the noteworthy new features or changes. We’ll continue monitoring the event and publish any major new changes in this area as the week proceeds.

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Tech – Ars Technica

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