9 things that blew us away at WWDC 2021

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Apple CEO Tim Cook wraps the WWDC21 keynote on June 7, 2021.
Apple CEO Tim Cook wraps the WWDC21 keynote on June 7, 2021.
Photo: Apple

Some new features really stood out when Apple revealed the next versions of all its operating systems during Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote. Users of iPhone, Mac and iPad, and Apple Watch, too, can look forward to welcome improvements this fall.

We picked out the best of these to make sure they don’t get overlooked.

That said, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Co. sometimes use WWDC to deliver sweeping changes to its software (and occasionally  even new hardware). In 2021, we got fewer big surprises, as Cupertino seemed focused on incremental change.

1. iPad multitasking makes more sense

iPadOS 15 split-view multitasking
iPadOS 15 includes new on-screen controls that make Split View multitasking much more intuitive.
Screenshot: Apple

Many people use an iPad as their primary computer and have multiple applications open much of the time. iPadOS 15 brings in a new system for setting up side-by-side multitasking that makes far more sense than its predecessor.

Most notably, it’s now possible to easily put any application next to another. Previously, apps had to be in the Dock to become part of a side-by-side setup. New buttons at the top of each app make this a snap.

Perhaps with these changes, more iPad users will take advantage of this powerful capability. — Ed Hardy

2. Siri gets more secure — and faster!

Craig Federighi reiterated Apple’s commitment to privacy at WWDC 2021
Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief of software, is one of several execs who talked about the company’s commitment to privacy at WWDC 2021.
Screenshot: Apple

A privacy-oriented update that brings on-device speech recognition to Siri should make Apple’s voice assistant faster and handier than ever.

Processing all Siri requests on Apple devices “addresses the biggest privacy concern we hear for voice assistants, which is unwanted audio recording,” said Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s director of user privacy. “And this has some great benefits beyond privacy.”

Security aside, that means two big things. 1) You can use Siri without an internet connection. 2) Many common Siri requests — like opening the Photos app, turning on Airplane Mode or setting a timer — will be fulfilled more quickly than before. — Lewis Wallace

3, Apple Maps adds even more details

Certain launch cities will get highly detailed views in the iOS 15's updated Apple Maps
Certain launch cities will get highly detailed views in the iOS 15’s updated Apple Maps
Photo: Apple

Apple Maps’ long road to surpass Google Maps continues in iOS 15. During Monday’s keynote, Cupertino execs showed off several snazzy new features coming to Apple Maps.

Intricate maps of a handful of U.S. cities will launch later this year, bringing impressive 3D views that look quite useful. Drivers will benefit from detailed info about things like crosswalks and bus lanes. And transit riders can look forward to extras like arrival reminders and the ability to pin favorite transit lines.

An augmented-reality feature that lets you scan a city skyline to figure out exactly where you are after you stumble out of a subway station looks particularly helpful. — Lewis Wallace

4. FaceTime for Windows and Android, at last!

FaceTime for Windows and Android
Finally, Windows and Android users can join in on FaceTime calls.
Photo: Apple

It’s clear that Apple saw the limitations of FaceTime during the pandemic and decided to fix them. Most obviously, it made the application 300% more useful by adding Android and Windows support. This comes via a web app, but it’s there.

And FaceTime will get better in other ways, too. Many people discovered while sheltering in place that sharing a movie with another person as part of a video call is an exercise in frustration. Apple promises to fix this with a new feature called SharePlay.

Read more about the FaceTime improvements in our iOS 15 coverage (though they apply to Mac and iPad, too).

5. Universal Control seamlessly spreads work and play across devices

Universal Control is part of macOS Monterey and iPadOS 15.
Working with multiple Macs and iPads gets a lot easier with Universal Control.
Screenshot: Apple

The new macOS Monterey updates Apple’s Continuity feature with nifty functionality called Universal Control. It allows you to easily transfer your work from one device to another — MacBook, iPad, iMac, in any order, even back and forth — by literally dragging and dropping the item from one screen to the next when machines are side by side.

And you can also easily pass mouse and keyboard control from one device to the next. For example, use your MacBook’s trackpad to control your iMac. This should make moving workflows among your Apple devices simpler than ever before. — David Snow

6. Hide My Email can help you clean up your inbox

One of Apple’s new privacy features coming this fall will make it easier than ever to remove spam emails from your inbox. With the new “Hide My Email” feature, you’ll be able to auto-fill randomly generated, proxy email addresses around the web.

From a privacy perspective, this makes it harder for advertisers to cross-reference your email address against marketing lists. It also makes it painless to get off these email lists. Instead of dealing with unsubscribing from those obnoxious marketing emails, only to be added to another 10 email lists, you can simply disable each proxy address you use around the web.

It’s a little thing, but it has the potential to make email a little less annoying. — Ian Fuchs

7. Health data sharing brings peace of mind

iOS 15 Health Sharing
A new “Sharing” tab in iOS 15’s Health app allows you to keep track of mom’s health from afar. Health data can also be shared with caregivers.
Photo: Apple

If you’re worried about the health of anyone in your life — say your aging parents — you can now keep tabs on their health from afar with Health data sharing in iOS 15.

A new “Sharing” tab in the Health app allows users to securely share health and wellness data with family members or caregivers. You can share heart rate data with your doctor, for example, or mobility data with a physical therapist. It also works for things like fertility windows or Parkinson’s symptoms, and allows you to track health and wellness trends over time and see important trends. I can see this being a really useful tool for keeping an eye on a loved one’s health. — Leander Kahney

8. Live Text is next-level cool

Grab the text out of any image with Live Text in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.
Copying the text out of any image is a snap with Live Text.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Ever looked at a piece of paper covered in writing and wished you could copy and paste it? Your wish has been granted. Live Text turns the text in an image into something you can copy. Quickly and easily.

And it doesn’t have to be printed text. The handwritten words from a whiteboard can be copied and added to your notes, for example. — Ed Hardy

9. Celebrity trainer Jeanette Jenkins joins Apple Fitness+

Jeanette Jenkins joins the Fitness+ crew
Jeanette Jenkins joins the Fitness+ crew
Photo: Apple

Hollywood celebrity trainer Jeanette Jenkins is joining Apple Fitness+. Best known for winning Fear Factor, Jenkins will be joining the existing crew of 21 Fitness+ trainers. Jenkins will concentrate on HIIT and strength workouts. Apple’s also adding a series of “artist spotlight” workouts that feature songs from specific artists, such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Alicia Keys.

Fitness+ is also getting new Pilates and Tai Chi workouts on Apple Watch. The new workouts are supported by custom heart-rate and motion algorithms to provide accurate metrics, according to Apple. — Leander Kahney

Watch WWDC21 keynote

Those are the highlights from this year’s WWDC keynote. But if you’re an Apple fan, and you want to know where the ecosystem is headed in the next year (or so), you owe it to yourself to watch the entire WWDC21 keynote. It only takes an hour and 50 minutes  …

Ian Fuchs, Leander Kahney, David Snow and Lewis Wallace contributed to this report.