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Quiet innovations and a push for mindfulness: Takeaways from Apple’s WWDC 2021 Keynote

Kayce Lomas
Senior Product Designer

From iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey getting announced to a clear push for privacy, community, and inclusion, there’s a lot that’s come out of Apple’s second online-only WWDC Keynote.

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From Apple’s WWDC 2021 Keynote Intro

Regardless of your opinion of Memojis, we can all agree Apple events, in-person or online, aim to delight. While many of this year’s announcements won’t lead to huge paradigm shifts in terms of the software experience customers use every day, there were several refinements made to existing apps and features that are far from lackluster. In fact, a lot of these quiet innovations will open up a whole new world of opportunities for third-party iOS apps to engage with their users.

Let’s dive into some of the biggest announcements to come out of this year’s WWDC Keynote and what they could mean for businesses and consumers alike.

iOS 15

iOS 15 is coming this fall, and has tools and updates focused on more meaningful ways to stay in touch and set priorities.

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From Apple’s iOS 15 Preview

FaceTime

FaceTime is getting some huge improvements to stay competitive with Zoom and other video calling apps.These include spatial audio, voice isolation, grid view and portrait mode, FaceTime links, and most substantially, SharePlay. It even opens up the door to FaceTime calls with users on Android and Windows.

SharePlay lets people share activities — such as watching shows, listening to music, or sharing a screen — while in a FaceTime call with others (including non-Apple devices). This feature will be available for third-party apps to natively add a Watch Party feature capability, which has exciting potential for entertainment and hospitality third-party apps.

Mindful Notifications

Another standout announcement from this year’s keynote focused on tools to keep users present in the moment and free from distractions. One such tool is aptly named Focus. Focus builds onto the existing Do Not Disturb and Sleep modes, allowing users to change their notification settings and home screen layout using on-device intelligence, context, and will be completely customizable and will be consistent across devices. To anyone wanting to engage with their devices in a more mindful way — Focus is a welcome addition. As a company that truly values sustainable flow, we know how anything that helps reduce distractions is a big deal.

Notifications have also been redesigned for iOS 15, making lock screen notifications easier to digest. A newly introduced Notification Summary is another welcome push against distractions, giving users the option to review notifications in a consolidated view instead of notifying them each time they receive an alert. Notification Summary will let users have more control over how and when they see notifications by collecting and delivering them on a set schedule. The announcement of the notifications revamp is a great excuse to access how and when your app implements notifications, and how to do so successfully. And, of course, new guidance on notification best practices will come as we learn more throughout the year.

Privacy

Apple continues its push for privacy with the announcement of Mail Privacy Protection, Safari Privacy Protection, Siri local processing updates, and App Privacy Reports. All of these privacy updates will be available across Apple’s ecosystem.

Mail Privacy Protection will allow users to hide IP and location information, as well as prevent senders from knowing if users have opened their email. App Privacy Report provides details on how apps use data that is accessible to them. With these announcements, third-party apps should assess the how’s and why’s of their data collection and be intentional on what data is collected to maintain user trust ahead of the launch this fall.

iPadOS 15

Apple previewed iPadOS with many new features, including SharePlay, App Library, Quick Note, Swift Playgrounds, Keyboard Shortcuts, and a much more intuitive multi-tasking experience. While many of the announced features were already available on iOS 14, they are a welcome addition to the iPad.

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From WWDC 2021 Keynote

Widgets Come to iPad

The most anticipated announcement for iPadOS 15, hoever, is the addition of widgets to the new Home Screen design. Craig Federighi said that widgets on the iPad are ‘a huge deal.’ They are! Businesses with iPad apps can also take advantage of a user’s ability to place widgets among apps on Home Page screens in the fall. A new larger widget size will also be available for third-party apps to take advantage of, which means it is a great time to review what makes a useful iOS widget.

macOS Monterey

This year’s keynote also introduced the new macOS dubbed Monterey, which included an awe-inducing demo of Universal Control — a feature that makes working with devices as easy as using one device with many displays.

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From WWDC 2021 Keynote

Apple also chose this event to unveil their latest overhaul to Safari. The new design includes a streamlined tab bar that is more compact and takes on the color of whatever page users are on, introduces floating tabs on iOS, and brings extensions to iPadOS and iOS. We will want to factor in these changes when designing for the web when the redesign goes live in the fall.

App Enhancements

This year’s keynote also nodded to several app enhancements, including reworking product pages in the App Store to boost discovery, giving in-app events getting more visibility, enabling Siri support to third-party devices, and bringing TestFlight to the Mac—along with several additions and refinements to existing developer tools.

Starting this fall, app developers will be able to create custom product pages on the App Store, which implies some level of A/B testing to see what is most effective when showcasing an app’s features—including different app icons, screenshots, and videos.

Apple’s new additions to developer tools were only hinted at during the keynote itself, but, as always, will make for better app creation moving into the new operating systems. Our team at Willowtree are already digging into all of these new tools and features.

What’s Next

These takeaways just scratch the surface on all the app development enhancements coming this fall. With even more being revealed this week at WWDC, all of us are excited to continue learning how Apple is expanding the capabilities of its powerful toolset and looking for opportunities to use what we discover to create better apps.

Kayce Lomas
Senior Product Designer

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