WWDC 2021: 20+ improvements for enterprise pros
Apple's WWDC 2021 announcements lacked the edge of last year's Apple Silicon announcement, and the sad lack of MacBook Pro news is a tough pill to swallow for those hoping for new hardware. But there was plenty of interesting news for enterprise professionals using Macs, iPads, and/or iPhones.
Here's a short tour of what CEO Tim Cook and other execs talked up at Monday's event:
Apple's staff has been working primarily remotely for over a year and the company faces justifiable pushback from workers who want to continue to do so, rather than returning to a culture of presenteeism.
Along with the transformation of work practices, the COVID-19 pandemic also means Apple's people have direct experience with some of the pain points of working remotely; WWDC '21 saw the arrival of numerous useful improvements to take the edge off some of these.
Take FaceTime, for example. It may not yet be truly cross-platform, but Apple will now let you use FaceTime to videochat with people on the Windows and Android platforms (using a web app).
That's not a perfect solution, of course, but it means remote workers will be able to use FaceTime to speak with colleagues on other platforms. (Let's face it, that bird has flown and right now we all use Zoom.) Apple also knows that; why else would it already allow third-party video-calling apps to exploit new FaceTime enhancements, including Voice Isolation, Wide Spectrum Audio, and Portrait mode?
Of course, yet another signifier of the remote working world in which most of us have lived, Slack users can now share user status in conversations.
iPad for Mac
We had anticipated Apple might do some work on the iPad user interface following its decision to pop an M1 processor inside the iPad Pro. It didn't let us down.
Multitasking has been made a lot more intuitive, making Split View and Slide Over easier to use and far more flexible with your own workflow, including a multitasking menu that appears at the top of apps.
You also get widgets across the entire Home Screen, and subsequent pages. One little tweak involves the introduction of a larger-size widget, which should make the Files app more useful, though this may become more useful if OneDrive or Dropbox become supported archives.
Perhaps the most profound improvement in terms of productivity is in the new support for keyboard and mouse via Universal Control. This lets you use one keyboard and one mouse to control multiple iPads and a Macs. It requires zero set-up, and means you can simply flick between the screens. It makes the iPad and the Mac both extensions of the same screen, and support extends to drag-&-drop between these devices.
This feature makes the experience of using multiple Macs and iPads together feel far more unified.
Xcode Cloud: Remote testing
This wasn't the only platform improvement Apple made that boosts enterprise workflows, remote or otherwise. Xcode Cloud, a new tool coming next year, will let you commit your Xcode projects to iCloud where they can be collaborated upon, tested, and distributed to beta testers once made. Parallel testing in the cloud means developers can test on a simulated version of every current Apple device.
Another useful update: it's now possible to use your iPad to create Swift UI code, and you can share beta apps with Macs using TestFlight. These useful features for any developer also make it easier for enterprise app development teams to work on projects remotely and engage in ad hoc internal testing with your own trusted teams.
The capacity to test apps will be warmly welcomed by many, while B2C app developers and enterprises will want to make use of the new tools to A/B test different App Store page descriptions the company has introduced.
Blink and you may have missed the introduction of a new AR view in Maps that shows you visual directional cues to help you get where you are going.
What you won't miss is Apple's sassy statement that it is now the world's largest augmented reality platform with more than a billion AR-capable devices and its own tools to create experiences for that platform.
The new macOS Monterey Object Capture API means Apple has made it possible to create photo-realistic 3D models of real-world objects in minutes using images captured on iPhone, iPad, or DSLR and transform them into 3D models optimised for AR.
Focus and Mindfulness
Apple also introduced new apps that work across its platforms and could be designed for remote working. Focus, for example, is a contextually sensitive notifications and interruptions manager that helps you filter out external interruptions when you're attempting to get work done. Focus users can automatically filter notifications unrelated to their current activity. When Focus is set on one device, it automatically sets across all your other devices.
Focus suggestions are based on context, so you'll get a different set of filters during work hours than when winding down for bed. Focus also lets you create customized pages of applications, which should help you keep your eyes off the Twitter stream.
Spotlight gets a boost
Any image you have that contains text, such as handwritten notes, becomes searchable. You'll also be able to use the Camera app on your iPhone/iPad to recognize and copy text in the moment, such as the Wi-Fi password displayed at a local coffee shop.
Spotlight now uses intelligence to search photos by location, people, scenes, or objects, and - using Live Text - Spotlight can find text and handwriting in photos.
Another little feature that may pay dividends for CRM: Contacts search now surfaces recent emails, messages, images, and shared locations, which might come in handy when you want to personalize that next business call.
Shortcuts for Mac
Of course, as work becomes remote we'll all be seeking ways to automate repetitive tasks. The mighty AppleScript and Automator always helped with this on the Mac, and now Shortcuts helps automate tasks across Apple's ecosystem, including on the Mac.
Monterey will bring Shortcuts to the Mac, which means most workers (including remote employees) will be able to personalize the robotic process automation promise of getting a computer to do the tedious work for them simply by creating relevant Shortcuts that work on all their devices.
While it may not be immediately obvious given the consumer-focused treatment Apple gave this news, when used with third-party apps such as the wonderful OmniFocus Shortcuts it should help make business process automation a reality on the Mac. If nothing else, it means developers now have an even better reason to support Shortcuts.
AirPlay to Mac
You'll be able to beam presentations and other assets directly from your iPhone or iPad to a Mac using AirPlay to Mac. This may come in useful when visiting clients.
Mail Privacy Protection
Enterprise security gets a boost (and perhaps additional protection against phishing) with Mail Privacy Protection. This prevents senders from using invisible pixels to learn whether an email has been opened, and hides IP addresses so senders can't learn a user's location or use it to build a profile on them for phishing. iCloud+ (the new and improved iCloud, same price) gets additional security tools that should be useful to business pros, not least the capacity to share unique, random email addresses that forward to their personal inbox.
The Mac recording indicator shows which app is accessing the Mac's microphone.
Apple now has Apple Lens, but calls it Live Text. This uses on-device machine learning to detect text in photos, and uses data detectors to make text useful. A telephone number picked up in an image can be called, or a tracking number followed up. You can also grab the text from an image and paste it like text into a document.
When used with Apple's translation tools and indoor mapping at airports, business travellers (if there are any in the future) won't get lost again.
Keys and IDs
Apple is bringing driving licenses to iPhones. Travelers visiting Hyatt hotels will find that their Wallet now carries digital keys to their room. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working to enable airport security checkpoint support for digital Identity cards on iPhones.
New iPhone setup tools
This is a great improvement. When setting up a new iPhone, existing iPhone users will be able to temporarily back up data to iCloud - even without a subscription - to easily transfer their data to a new iPhone. Apple has also improved the Move-to-iPhone software for switchers. Every enterprise adopting or updating their iPhones should benefit.
Intelligent Tracking Prevention will also hide a user's IP address from trackers, preventing them from using this information to track what and where they go.
Another useful privacy feature lets users check how frequently apps are exploiting permissions they have been given to share data about them and with whom that data may be being shared.
Summing up, Apple really seems to have focused on productivity and security at the heart of this year's WWDC.
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