Apple WWDC21 Kicks Off with a Slew of Product Updates

Posted on June 7, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Apple Watch, iOS, iPadOS, Mac and macOS with 55 Comments

Today, Apple introduced new features for coming versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, but didn’t reveal any new hardware devices as hoped.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi said. “Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with. This year’s updates include innovative features that give users deeper insights and more granular control than ever before.”

Here’s what the firm announced.

Responding to the needs of the pandemic, iOS 15 is picking up some new Facetime features that will make video calls feel more natural and introduce new shared experiences using SharePlay. There are also new tools for staying focused and reducing distraction. But the biggest change, to me, is a revamping of the iOS notification system which appears to make it more or less as good as the system Android uses, finally, with a priority-based presentation. Other new features include Live Text, which is like Microsoft Lens, a major new Safari update that supports extensions and has a new user interface, a major Apple Maps update, and new Keys and State IDs features for Apple Pay.

Apple’s iPadOS continues to be kind of a mess, with Apple not willing to encroach too far into macOS territory when it comes to multitasking. But with iPad OS 15, Apple will finally introduce a multitasking menu that takes the guesswork out of using multiple apps, new keyboard shortcuts, a vastly improved widgets interface that supports larger widgets, App Library (which debuted on iPhones last year in iOS 14), a new Quick Note app, plus some of the improvements from iOS 15, including the new Safari, improved Facetime calls, SharePlay, and more. Apple is also bringing the Translate app to iPad, and is releasing Swift Playgrounds 4, which will let users build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them directly to the App Store (!).

As for the Mac, Apple didn’t announce any new Mac hardware during the WWDC21 keynote as many had hoped, but it did announce macOS Monterey, which will feature the new Safari and Quick Notes apps, the Focus updates, the Facetime improvements, and SharePlay, plus Shortcuts, a feature from iOS and iPadOS. But the biggest new features, perhaps, include Universal Control, which lets Apple fans use their Mac’s keyboard and touchpad with a nearby iPad and drag and drop content between the two devices, and AirPlay to Mac, which lets Macs appear as speakers for other Apple devices to use. A new iCloud+ offering adds new premium features, including Hide My Email, expanded HomeKit Secure Video support, and a new internet privacy service called iCloud Private Relay, at no additional cost. And M1-based Macs will support special audio when used with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

Apple is taking the Teams approach to watchOS, by which I mean it’s overloading the UI while it piles on new features. On that note, watchOS 8 will expand its support for digital car keys to include home, office, and hotel keys, and will let users store their driver’s licenses and state IDs. The Home app has been redesigned and enhanced, there are new workout types in the Fitness+ app, and the Breathe app is being renamed to Mindfulness and picking up a new Reflect session type. And now, in addition to monitoring time asleep, heart rate, and blood oxygen, watchOS 8 will track sleeping respiratory rate, which is the number of breaths per minute. The Portraits Watch Face and Photos app are getting big updates, as are Message and Contacts.

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Comments (55)

55 responses to “Apple WWDC21 Kicks Off with a Slew of Product Updates”

  1. jwpear

    So, how much longer must we wait to get sleep stage tracking as a first class feature of Apple Watch?

  2. curtisspendlove

    I was pretty surprised to see FaceTime for the web. I wonder if they are going to drop a couple of doozies soon and poke some holes in some of the criticism.


    I’m wondering if they’d ever do iMessage for the web. I can’t imagine you’d have a full native app experience. But I could see it sending a link (like FaceTime does) to non-Apple contacts and allowing access to individual/ group chats.


    Basically you can participate but not initiate. :: shrug ::

    • shark47

      I am guessing it’ll be a basic service that’s probably aimed more at regulators than at consumers.

    • jimchamplin

      Personally, I think that Messages should be part of the iCloud web tools. You’d have to have an Apple device for it to work, and it would be pretty basic - think Messages on Macintosh in the pre-Big Sur version - just so existing customers can access their conversations on a PC or Chromebook when not on their main device.

      • shark47

        Personally, I'd love for Messages to work well with Android devices. Apple won't do that. Apple also has zero incentive to make messages work on PCs or Chromebooks. If you have an iPhone, Apple wants you to get a Mac.

        • dell5050

          Well duh. I agree with Apple. I also hope Apple never ever ports iMessage to Android. You want iMessage and the blue bubble, buy an iPhone or get a Mac!

  3. bkkcanuck

    I found the presentation interesting, but there were points that seemed a little drawn out. I am guessing that they were originally planning to announce the MacBooks during WWDC, but a second guess is they are going to have the miniLED screens and those are in short supply for the 12.9" iPad Pro (delivery is 4 to 6 weeks still). If I had to guess that once that drops, they will be released (maybe an Aug [Macbooks], Sept [iPhones], and Oct[iMacs] event cycle??).


    The two things that grabbed my eye was the:


    'Universal Control' which looks to be bringing what I have thought was important -- and that is making the iPad and Macs work great as individual devices, but also they should work seemlessly together as well... including drag and drop between your iPad and you Mac (much more of an Apple solution than the original iTunes upload).

    'Object Capture' to create 3D assets through photogrammetry (that is a very compute - probably most compute intensive process - something Alex Lindsay had iJustine test when the 'new' Mac Pro came out.

    'Maps' was interesting, but it will be a very long time until the most interesting stuff makes it out here to Thailand -- and then it will be in a few cities mostly.


    • SvenJ

      Saw that 3D object capture done on a Windows Phone maybe 10 years ago, about when Paint 3D came out. Too bad MS couldn't follow through with that, or Windows Phone.

      • bkkcanuck

        Before it can really be done well -- the phone would have to have the built in LiDAR sensors that record and integrate into the graphics file details - the depth (3D). This depth information intertwined with the photo details then can be fed into software that does photogrammetry and can piece both the photo but the 3D information into a 3D object. I believe LiDAR only was added to the camera side of the iPhone starting with iPhone 12. Each piece of the foundation has to be laid in a given sequence before a company can release something that really works and is not a hackish attempt at it.

      • nbplopes

        MS and their demos … we also did it :)

  4. bob_shutts

    Integrating some more stuff for Windows users. Nice.

  5. retcable

    I found the most interesting subject yesterday to be the integration of lock & key functions into the Wallet app. Unlocking your car or house or whatever with your phone in your pocket or watch on your arm is an actual real-world benefit that sounds very exciting. Of course, this will probably necessitate me buying and installing all new locking hardware on my house, but if I can just walk up to my house and open the door without having to fumble for keys, that is something I am all in on........as long as the battery is alive in the locks, that is. The one BIG limiting factor.

  6. Truffles

    The driving license thing got a big nope from me. The potential consequences of some irritable cop holding my phone is just too awful to contemplate.

    • SvenJ

      I've had that concern myself. Always hoped digital wallets/ IDs had some feature, that when initiated, you couldn't get out of it without a passcode, authentication, or something.

  7. j5

    I found it pretty boring and felt like they were squeezing blood from a turnip.

    We’ve reached peak smartphone and computer features. It’s all just improving what we use and gimmicks.

    I will say on the privacy side tech companies are no were near peak and have a long way to go.

    If Apple would just let you move app icons where you want them on you iPhone and iPad they’d make more of their consumers happy, probably sell more devices and they’ve giving us what we want versus squeezing blood from a turnip and coming up with their silly App Library that doesn’t even categorize the apps right. Oh well, maybe next WWDC?

  8. yoshi

    I wish they'd revamp the iCloud.com interface and make it less clunky. I'd like to use iCloud email as a secondary email, but every time I log into the site, I'm reminded by how awful it is compared to other web mail services such as Gmail and Outlook. iCloud could be such a great hub for their services, but they give it no thought. If they really want their services to dominate, they need to make their stuff more accessible.


  9. Saarek

    iCloud Private Relay, very nice and very overdue. It's as close as we will get to a full Apple supplied VPN and it's a great default protection for their users.

  10. dstrauss

    iPadOS 15 was a complete bust - not one single feature to address the new M1 iPad Pro: no external monitor support; no Pro iPad Apps; no MacOS Apps; same old clunky multi-tasking, but at least you can now find it; no real file manager; not even native Final Cut, Logic, or xCode. I think Apple is going to have a boatload of M1 iPad returns for the refurb store in a month or so, and cancellations by the truckload.


    The have literally bolted a Vette 6.2L V8 to a Prius and said "have a nice day."

  11. waethorn

    Universal Control is going to send a signal to developers that they shouldn't ignore iPadOS in favour of macOS anymore. If Apple decides to move all of the M-series SoC's downstream to iPads, there's more motivation to build desktop-class apps for it, and I think this will be a good direction.


    Sidecar is still there for the holdouts though, and there's third-party solutions like Parallels Access. I've used both. Sidecar is slick, simple, and "just works" out of the box, but Parallels Access has more options for sizing and scaling as well as for keyboard input options. It's good that there are options like this to fill in the holes of developers not leveraging the platform.

    • bkkcanuck

      "developers that they shouldn't ignore iPadOS in favour of macOS anymore"


      Not a problem, Apple sells three times as many iPads per year as Macs.... the only thing that has slowed support from 'professional' level applications -- is who/how the iPads have been marketed and sold to previously.... With the iPad Pros now showing signs of targetting more pro workflows -- that is likely going to change. I know that a lot of financial advisors are using the iPad Platform for interfacing with customers... I expect the iPad Pros to be used much more on movie shoots... (initial colour grading etc.). I know many users are expecting Final Cut Pro to be ported over, but I think they are making the wrong assumption -- apple will develop an application that makes sense for the iPad and use what they can from Final Cut Pro, but I expect it to start smaller... I could see them making 'First Cut Pro' :o

  12. mikegalos

    So basically a set of minor "point releases" on the software side, minor "continuous refinement" tweaks on the services side and nothing at all on the hardware side.


    I can see why Apple wants their employees back at the flying saucer.


    • pecosbob04

      Mikey, I was just wondering do you have any idea of the ratio of your Apple posts vs all other subjects you post on at Thurrott.com? I only ask because it is so obvious that Steve Jobs is still living rent free in your head. My guess 13.67 to 1 Apple.

    • wright_is

      Lack of hardware announcements: This is a developer conference, they are there for the future directions in development tools and OS features.


      And still quite a lot happening on the privacy front, by the look of it. I was actually very interested by some of the features, such as blocking tracking pixels in emails - long time coming, but a welcome addition - or privacy dashboard etc. and more refined control over privacy features.


      Don't forget, we are well over 2 decades into OS X (if you include its incubation time as NeXT OS) and nearly a decade and a half into iOS and its derivatives. So, I would expect incremental refinements at this stage, like I do with Windows and Linux.


      We don't have any new hardware paradigms that are ready for prime time, so we are on refinement of features under the hood and "lipstick on a pig" to keep the end users happy.

  13. vladimir

    A lot of stuff they presented to be honest is a bit boring, in my opinion. The fact that they are so conservative in iPadOS development is very disappointing. Safari development is interesting. If universal control delivers on its promise, is really amazing.

    • MikeCerm

      iOS and iPad OS development has always proceeded at a glacial pace. iOS 3 introduced basic features that should have been present at launch, like copy/paste and MMS. iOS 4 allowed you to set background wallpaper and have app folders on the home screen. All of these things were such obvious omissions that every review of the original iPhone called them out, and it somehow took Apple 3 years to implement these features that even dumbphones had for years before the launch of the iPhone. The iOS 14 finally brought launcher widgets, which are somehow more limited than Android widgets were in 2010. It's pretty crazy. Maybe in another 10 years, iPad OS will have multi-user and proper support for external displays, so it can finally replace a laptop.

      • lvthunder

        I don't think they want iPad to replace a laptop. They want it to be a companion to a laptop.

        • bkkcanuck

          It is not an either or situation.... they should have had this earlier where they work great as individual devices but if you have both they should really extend the functionality of each other. (I have been saying they should work on this for a few years now). Apple has not worried as much about cannibalization, in fact one of my favourite lines from Steve Jobs is that if you worry about it and are unwilling to do it -- someone else will. If you are able to give customers what they want, you will have net growth anyway.

        • Oreo

          The iPad is already replacing traditional computers in many applications, e. g. illustrations (relevant for my wife and some friends) or writing and correcting (relevant for me). With each generation, iPad OS is getting more powerful. The added interoperability is great, dragging and dropping across devices will greatly simplify file sharing. That’d shave off half a minute or so many times a day for me. (Keep in mind that this also works between two Macs, e. g. a desktop and a laptop.)


          Is iPad OS as powerful as I’d like? Surely not. But I can imagine a future where my mobile needs are served by an iPad and I might have a desktop in addition.

      • bettyblue

        And yet they dominate the tablet market and have a big chunk of the smartphone market.

        • MikeCerm

          Yeah, I didn't mean to imply they're not decent products, just that the speed at which Apple moves is pathetically slow. And the tablet market, while Apple does dominate it, is about 1/10th the size it could be if Apple would just do the basic things that everyone said they should do 10 years ago, i.e., make it do real computer things. When it launched, naysayers called it "just a big iPod Touch," and those people were right, but it turns out that's what a lot of people wanted. But a lot more people were like, "but I still need a laptop." And now that phones are the size of small tablets, and iPads are more powerful than most laptops, it's pretty ridiculous that Apple is still hobbling the iPad with such a basic OS. The $300 iPad would be a great PC for 90% of people if it could just do that one thing. For me, it's user profiles, but everyone's got some reason why they don't really need an iPad. And every year, Apple does nothing to remove those barriers.

    • jdawgnoonan

      One would think that they could at least bring a few of their own desktop apps to iPad OS. Like Garage Band, the iPadOS one just annoys me, the Mac version would run fine and be more capable. Or what about XCode? You can connect an iPad to a full size display, we know that the processor is capable, and iPad even supports trackpads and mice. I can only think that the only reason that they do not bring it to iPadOS is because they don't want developers to not need a Mac.

    • Truffles

      I think Universal Control is one of those things that demos well to devs who think about the mechanics behind it, but in reality isn't something that people will actually use.

  14. jdawgnoonan

    Universal Control and the updates to Apple Maps were the only two things I found interesting. Apple Maps has evolved into a very capable system.

  15. Ron Diaz

    Apple’s iPadOS continues to be kind of a mess”

    From a Windows fan this seems a bit ironic to me

    • bob_shutts

      They really need to steal (er, borrow) a better file system from M/S.

      • curtisspendlove

        iOS has an excellent file system, far better than NTFS.


        But the iOS Files app and the way iOS restricts files is generally unsatisfactory for file-heavy operations.


        I don’t think iOS will ever have significant file handling capabilities.


        However, I do hope at some point in time it gets virtualization support and a good terminal app. (I’d be perfectly happy to just use Docker to store my file systems and terminal to interact with them.)

        • michael_babiuk

          Universal Control or, IMO, Sidecar on steroids, sort of make's a traditional file system irrelevant. Consider the drag and drop of files or images or weblinks between devices and their open apps. One can search for what one wishes to use using spotlight (either via voice or text input) and - there you go - one has that item one was seeking to use.


          Plus that "Quick Notes" feature - tag a file in Quick Notes and retrieval of search items of interest should be really quick and much easier than sticking a particular file into a particular folder located in a particular place - Let the modern OS find that item for you.


          Just some quick impressions of what I viewed on the WWDC presentation today.

      • bkkcanuck

        APFS, which replaced HFS+ in 2017 and is a leading edge file system (developed over many years - my guess is it was in development for 3 to 5 years before it made it's first appearance) and IMHO a much better option than NTFS. Software is now starting taking full advantage of this new file system, the ability to snapshot, replication is greatly improving the reliability of backups. Multiple volumes in a container (I have about 10 volumes defined in my container - each volume does not 'reserve' disk space so it is near zero cost) - each for specific storage requirements is also useful to me. When you change a file - it is versioned through copy on write logic to keep the different deltas. NTFS has been mostly stagnant since it introduced in 1993.... though it is not the most recent Microsoft file system that exists. APFS is still evolving.

      • jimchamplin

        APFS is closer to ZFS or BTRFS, and is a much more modern file system than NTFS. NTFS doesn’t suck, but it’s an older generation file system.

  16. ponsaelius

    While individual features are always welcome, I think the almost understated message is the expansion of the ecosystem. Where new features bind together Apple devices. I think that is often the most underestimated part of the Apple keynotes.

  17. colin79666

    Looks like they have finally got round to integrating Dark Sky into the weather app. I wonder if Dark Sky will be retired now.

  18. will

    "...the Teams approach to WatchOS"


    I was feeling something like this, but the Teams comment makes perfect since. I do not want to browse GIF's or photos on my watch, even in a text message. I will see the notification and just goto the phone for the bigger experience.

    What is interesting is they did not talk at all about the Home Screen for watch OS except the one new pictures watch face. Maybe there is a design update coming in the fall that will bring with it a new Home Screen for the new hardware?

    • bkkcanuck

      I will often leave my phone behind, I usually only bring it with me when I expect I will need it... The rest of the time, I will just wear the watch.... it keeps me receiving important messages, but I not so convenient that it tethers me to a screen continuously and impacts the quality of life.

  19. nbplopes

    Apple just dropped the mic IMHO. The presentation was feature packed in and out. So much that will take time to absorb the all thing.


    It is true that some features we have already seen in some shape or form somewhere else, but the level of seamless integration they can go after within and across devices is ground breaking.


    The note taking ability over web pages … made me smile.

    • curtisspendlove

      The note taking ability over web pages … made me smile.


      The really interesting thing here…QuickNote on macOS is in a floating window…


      QuickNote on iPadOS is in … a floating Window. ;)


      It’s also interesting that apparently some developers are finding that if they have done the work to make a Menu Bar in their macOS version of Catalyst apps; they are seeing a floating menu in iPadOS with the contents of the menu.

      • nbplopes

        Yes. I think Apple will allow floating windows in scenarios where it makes sense in a 13” display.


        IMHO the experience of generic floating windows como in todays desktops OSs (macOS, Linux, Windows …) on a 13” … is way from good … even bad. Not saying that full screen windows only is much better, so there must be something in between that makes more sense than either of these options.

  20. shark47

    I think Apple has done a great job pitching the Mac as a companion to an iPhone. If you have an iPhone, it’s kind of a no brained at this time.

  21. nbplopes

    Why Apple fans and not macOS and iOS users only? Kind of look like that someone that uses Apple products must have the clouded mind of a fan of sorts.

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