In the keynote at its annual WWDC event, Apple has revealed iOS 10 and WearOS 3, the latest versions of its mobile and wearable software.
The headline features for iOS 10 revealed during the event were the new Home app and SiriKit platform, plus major updates to Messages and Maps.
Messages & Maps
In an effort to compete with the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, Apple's own messaging app is adding a host of new features. Users will be able to send full-screen animations, handwritten notes, and 'invisible ink' messages that are only revealed when swiped by the recipient. There's also a 'Tapback' feature for quickly replying with a preset message and the ability to switch out words for matching emoji – something Google seemingly tried to preempt last month with the launch of its emoji-predicting Gboard app for iOS.
The biggest change, though, is the introduction of the iMessage App Store, enabling users to add third-party functionality to the messaging app, ranging from stickers and GIFs to calendar scheduling and mobile payments, all in-app.
Maps, meanwhile, has undergone a redesign that promises to make navigation more intuitive, while also adding the ability to search for stop-offs like petrol stations and restaurants on route and – establishing something of a theme for the day's announcements – extensions from third-party developers, including taxi booking from the likes of Uber and Lyft
Home, SiriKit & the rest
Home offers a centralised way to control smart home devices which use HomeKit – a list which has been growing since the platform was first introduced in 2014, and now includes around 100 products. Until now, these products have only been accessible through third-party apps, but Home promises 'deep integration' into iOS, perhaps most notably making smart home devices accessible directly from the Control Centre quick-access menu. Home also brings support for voice commands via Siri and integration with Apple TV.
SiriKit opens up Apple's virtual assistant to developers, enabling them to build voice controls into their own apps, as well as CarPlay connected vehicle services like radio or climate controls.
Apple also unveiled the ability to use Apple Pay within its Safari web browser; a UI redesign for Apple Music, as reported in May; and 'Memories', a feature in Photos that picks out long-forgotten images and videos, grouped into albums based on facial, object and scene recognition.
iOS 10 will launch a public beta next month, before a full release in autumn.
The latest update for the Apple Watch introduces the 'Dock', a new navigation method for apps. Accessed by clicking the side button, the Dock presents apps in a vertical line so users can swipe between them, as well as access to the Control Centre and Notification Centre by swiping up or down respectively.
The biggest cluster of updates is focused around fitness and health. There's a new Breathe app which encourages Watch wearers to do daily deep-breathing exercises, with a heart rate summary; and the ability to share Activity rings – the Watch's way of illustrating user's daily exercise – with contacts. Most importantly, support for wheelchair users has been improved with specific workouts, the ability to recognise wheelchair pushes and count them in activity progress, and a tweak to the 'time to stand' messaging to better suit the wearer's circumstances.
WatchOS 3 also gets in-app payment through Apple Pay; the same Messages upgrades as iOS; and more custom watchfaces, including a Disney tie-up featuring Minnie Mouse. Finally, there's an SOS feature that calls emergency services when the side button is held down – the wisdom of which, speaking as a lifelong clumsy person, remains to be seen.
The WatchOS 3 update will roll out this autumn and will require, at minimum, an iPhone 5 running iOS 8.2 to work.
Perhaps the most surprising announcement of the keynote was an iPad app intended to teach coding in Apple's Swift programming language.
Swift Playgrounds offers a series of puzzles and challenges that double up as newbie-friendly lessons on key coding concepts such as issuing commands and creating functions. Apple promises to regularly release more challenges, and developers can create their own using Xcode.
Once users graduate from the game-style lessons, they can use Playgrounds' built-in templates to create working programs that leverage everything from touch and accelerometer controls to Bluetooth connectivity, which can then be shared with friends via Messages, email or the web, or exported into Xcode to become full-blown apps.
“I wish Swift Playgrounds was around when I was first learning to code,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering. “Swift Playgrounds is the only app of its kind that is both easy enough for students and beginners, yet powerful enough to write real code. It’s an innovative way to bring real coding concepts to life and empower the next generation with the skills they need to express their creativity.”
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