WWDC 2021 Keynote Memoji Crowd

My Favorite New Features from Apple’s WWDC Keynote

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WWDC 2021 Keynote Memoji Crowd

It’s been a looooong day. My day job never seems to cooperate with the scheduling of WWDC and this year was no different. I was hoping I would have plenty of time to dedicate to watching and Live Tweeting the Keynote during an extended lunch break, but it didn’t last. I was able to watch everything up to the watchOS portion uninterrupted, but that was about it.

I won’t bore you with all of the details of my day, but I just recently arrived in a hotel room in Nashville for some work out of town. However, the four hour drive here from the Memphis area did give me some time to listen to a few podcasts, review parts of the Keynote, and collect my thoughts on what we got from Apple at WWDC.

Here are some key additions and changes that stand out to me.

Revamped Multitasking for iPadOS

I’ll start with what I know best: the iPad. One of the few rumors that was out there leading up to WWDC was that multitasking on the iPad was getting a major revamp. Well, this one was definitely on the money, as Apple changed everything about the way we launch apps in Split View or Slide Over and work with them.

IPadOS Multitasking Controls

The controls for multitasking are now buttons that located at the top of the screen. They can easily be accessed with a tap to transition apps from one mode to another. This process is FAR more clear and concise than all of the gestures that were required to accomplish the same tasks over the last few years.

IPadOS Multitasking Selection

I also like how, when you put an app in Split View, it is automatically moved to the side so you can have full access to the iPad’s Home Screen to select another app that you want to pair up with it. That is SO much easier than the finger gymnastics we had to perform with the Dock, assuming the other app you wanted to open was even in the Dock. This workflow is far more refined than what it replaces.

IPadOS Multitasking Shelf

Apple’s new Shelf feature now keeps up with all open instances of a single app for recall whenever you need them. You can minimize an instance of an app by swiping down and recall them or close them whenever you choose. Yet again, this is much better than the tap, hold and guess mechanism we had for this in iPadOD 14 and before.

IPadOS Multitasking App Switcher

We can even pair apps up right in the App Switcher now. All of this is such a huge usability improvement.

Last, but definitely not least, Apple has also added keyboard shortcuts that will allow us to manipulate the iPad’s new Multitasking controls whether we are using touch or a keyboard and trackpad to operate the iPad. One thing I have really enjoyed about the trackpad support that Apple added to iPadOS last year is that it elevated keyboard use on the iPad to the same level as touch. You could do pretty much anything across the OS from either interface. I love that Apple kept that interface equality here with the addition of these shortcuts.

I think Apple gets an A+ here. These enhancements look so much more intuitive and refined than the previous gestures required for multitasking. I think we’re going to see more users start to take advantage of multitasking on Apple tablets because of how much easier it will be going forward.

Quick Note

Multitasking for iPadOS was definitely my favorite set of features on the day. However, there were still plenty of other things that caught my eye. Quick Note for iPadOS was one of them.

Quick Note with App

Being able to quickly open Notes and write with the Pencil has actually been around in iPadOS for a couple of years. However, this is a much cleaner and less obtrusive implementation. Now you can just swipe up from the corner of the screen, jot something down without going full screen into the Notes app, and swipe the note away when you’re done.

My favorite part of this is the fact that a Quick Note is aware of the app that you may be using when it’s triggered, automatically generating things like links from a browser page you may be on. This is potentially a really handy note-taking tool for research.

I do a fair amount of note-taking in the stock Notes app and I can see this feature getting a fair amount of use on my iPad Pro, both at work and at home.

FaceTime

Video calling and chat have been important for a long time now, but they have become absolutely critical in the wake of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. While FaceTime has always been handy and easy to use as a personal video chat app, it certainly didn’t have the features to be a go-to tool for work video conferencing. Apple may have changed that at WWDC.

There are several new features, but I will call out a few that are particularly interesting to me. First off, the ability to schedule a FaceTime call is a small thing, but still a hugely important one for this service to be considered as a serious tool for work.

Second, the addition of Portrait Mode is really smart.

FaceTime Portrait Mode

One way to set yourself apart when using video conferencing is to use a decent camera and mic and present yourself in the best way possible. It makes an impression, and when the physical world isn’t in play and things like body language can be obscured, your visual impression becomes massively important.

Portrait Mode makes this easier by emphasizing the user in the frame and adding a pleasing soft blur to the background. It makes looking good at lot less work.

FaceTime Cross-Platform

Last, the addition of cross-platform support after all these years is a potential game-changer for FaceTime. Apple adding web-based support for FaceTime calls on Android  and Windows is a really smart move on their part and probably should have been done long before now.

I don’t think this will drive adoption of FaceTime by non-Apple users. but it will make it a better all-in-one video calling and conferencing solution for Apple users that doesn’t leave their non-Apply friends completely out in the cold anymore.

iCloud+

This one is pretty wild to me. With their new Private Relay feature, Apple is basically getting into the VPN game in a way that makes a lot of less-than-secure VPNs look really bad. Apple will now encrypt all web traffic and send it through two relays, meaning that no one, Apple included, can see who you are or what you are doing when you browse the web.

Add in Hide My Email, which basically allows you to create burner vendor-facing accounts that forward back to your actual email address, and unlimited HomeKit Secure Video support, and iCloud+ seems like a really nice addition for Apple power users. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything more than what you’re already paying. That makes Apple’s iCloud pricing feel a little better, to be honest.

Shortcuts for macOS

This one isn’t a huge feature for me personally since I’m not a Mac user. However, I recognize that it is a big deal for Shortcuts as a feature moving forward. Bringing it to the Mac and using it to phase out Automator over the long term is a smart move. Shortcuts is now one more connecting thread that runs through all of Apple’s ecosystem and helps to tie it all together.

As an iPad and iPhone user, I recognize how this addition only helps me. There’s a lot more power and many more possible integrations available to Shortcuts on the Mac. My hope is that Apple will eventually bring what they learn from Shortcuts on the Mac full-circle back to their mobile devices.

Honorable Mentions

The features above were my favorites, but I thought a few others deserved mentions, as well. Again, I’m not a Mac user, but I have to say that the new Universal Control feature for Mac and iPadOS looks really cool.

Universal Control

If it works as well  in the real world as it looks on video, it should be quite popular.

Digital Legacy is another small feature that could turn out to be very helpful in several instances when a friend or loved one passes away. Think of all the times we’ve heard about families struggling to get access to an Apple device or iCloud account after someone they love dies.

Maybe it’s because there’s important information that they need to retrieve. Maybe it’s to help with an investigation into how they died. Maybe it’s just to get some peace of mind and closure by looking at their photos and communication after they are gone. It was really smart for Apple to add a secure way to handle this and give users the option to head off such situations ahead of time.

Last, but not least, I was very happy to see Spatial Audio finally make an appearance on tvOS. It’s about time, considering that it has literally shown up EVERYWHERE else in throughout the Apple ecosystem. I will definitely enjoy using this with my AirPods Max when it’s available in the Fall.

Wrapping up

I can’t say I’m 100% happy with this year’s WWDC and Apple’s OS refreshes, as today’s event was fairly pedestrian. I understood that being the case last year with the pandemic still in full swing around the globe. I’m sure it’s still having an impact on Apple’s development of software and hardware, but I have to be honest: I was expecting a little more, especially for the iPad.

I’ll go a little further into what I think was missing and what I was disappointed in tomorrow (or actually later today, since it is now way too early in the AM), but I will say that I am very happy with the features that Apple DID deliver. As much as I want them to move iPadOS forward faster, cleaning up multitasking is a big deal that will have a major impact on how power users like me use our Apple tablets everyday. If it works as well as it looks when the beta is done, then I will be very happy.

Right now, my main issue is that I just can’t bring myself to load the iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 beta software on my devices. With all I have going on and as much as I use my iPhone and iPad Pro on a daily basis for work right now, I just can’t do it. I really, REALLY want to, but it would be a disaster if I got knocked offline because of a bad install. I just can’t afford that, so I will hold off for now, but very impatiently, until Beta 2 comes out.


James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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