Here are the biggest new features coming to iPhone, Apple Watch

Technology

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is a yearly event where app makers can learn more about new tools and features available to them.

For the rest of us, it means getting a sneak peek at the coolest new features coming soon to the iPhone, Apple Watch and more.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked things off by delivering a quick hello to a virtual audience of Animoji at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino.

Credit: Apple

“We are committed to being a force for change as we seek to make the world a better place full of opportunity for all of us,” said Cook, who then handed things off to various Apple employees to explain the new features.

iOS 15 is launching this fall and there’s a big emphasis on helping users focus and better connect with friends.

Facetime is getting features to better compete with Zoom, including the ability to send links to users on Android and web browsers so they can join in on the video chat. There’s also a new grid view.

Spatial audio recently came to Apple Music and now it’s coming to FaceTime as well. This makes people sound like they’re coming from the direction where they are on screen. There are also new microphone helper modes to help block out background noise.

FaceTime is also getting a portrait mode to create those blurry backgrounds that will help hide the potential mess behind your remote workspace.

Credit: Apple

There are two new notable features in iOS 15 to help you focus. First, you can create multiple versions of your home screen. For example, one for getting work tasks done, another for leisure and perhaps a third for weekends when you don’t want any distracting social media apps on your front page.

Apple is also adding a feature that will let your friends know that you have Do Not Disturb mode turned on. They’ll see a polite warning when they try to text you that says you’re not available right now, kind of like a new version of the old status message from the AOL days. People can still send the text, but at least they won’t expect a quick response.

Credit: Apple

Another new feature in iOS 15 is SharePlay, which lets you watch the same content with your friends at the same time. Many of the major streaming services have added similar features throughout the pandemic.

Apple Wallet is getting support for digital driver’s licenses, car keys and hotel room keys. Right now, there isn’t broad support. Apple says BMW will support the car keys and Hyatt Hotels will support the digital hotel room keys. They didn’t say which states will allow you to scan your driver’s license but they did mention there will be at least some on board by the end of the year.

Apple says they are working with the TSA so the first place you’ll be able to use your digital ID is the airport, which is pretty cool.

Credit: Apple

Apple showed off a demo of a new feature called Live Text, which is basically Google Lens but built into iOS. You’ll be able to scan photos and documents for things like text, phone numbers and even images so you can copy and paste or search them on the web.

As for privacy, Apple is making Siri work without the internet by default. This means your audio commands are processed on device and recordings of your voice never leave your phone. Apple says this will also result in faster responses.

A new feature called Legacy Contact will let you set a friend or family member to “inherit” the contents of your iCloud storage when you die. This is a much more convenient way of passing on your photos and files without making a family member jump through legal hoops to recover your data. Google has a similar feature you can set up right now called Inactive Account Manager and Facebook also calls the feature Legacy Contact.

Credit: Apple

If you have a set of AirPods Pro, they are getting a software update that will basically give them AirTag features. You’ll be better able to locate them if they’re lost.

Apple also explained some new health features, like the ability to share your health data with a trusted friend or family member. Also, the app will highlight any major changes to their health data so if you’re taking care of a loved one you can see if there are any big changes you should be aware of.

Another interesting health related feature is a new “Walking Steadiness” score. Apple can now use the sensors in your iPhone to continually monitor how you walk and assign a score that reveals your fall risk factor. It will send you a notification if it thinks you might be at greater risk of falling than you were before.

Credit: Apple

iOS 15 will be compatible with various devices all the way back to the original iPhone SE. If your current device runs iOS 14, it will work with iOS 15.

As for Apple Watch, the new operating system is called watchOS 8 and it will be compatible with Apple Watch 3 and up, although not every new feature will be. I know, confusing.

New features on the Apple Watch include a portrait mode watch face. Did you know the “Photos” watch face is the most popular face on the Apple Watch? I would have thought the fitness related ones were.

Credit: Apple

Gone is the Breathe app, in its place is a new Mindfulness app that will handle both daily reflections and breathing exercises. The Fitness app adds support for Tai Chi and Pilates.

There is now support for respiration tracking while you sleep. The Apple Watch will use its accelerometer to monitor micromovements while you sleep and let you see if there are any changes to the way you breathe at night.

The timer app on Apple Watch will now be able to handle multiple, labeled timers and there will be a new Contacts app for your wrist.

Finally, you’ll be able to respond to messages on Apple Watch using GIFs.

Credit: Apple

Public betas of both iOS 15 and the new watchOS 8 will launch in July, but I don’t recommend you install them on your devices unless you are prepared to deal with major bugs that could impact the functionality of your iPhone or Apple Watch.

Apple says they’ll launch the final version of the software in the fall.

Listen to the Rich on Tech podcast for answers to your tech questions.

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