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Thursday, July 7, 2022

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Apple unveils new MacBooks, iOS 16 features, and more

Apple has highlighted new developments to some of its software. Photo: apple.com

Apple has highlighted new developments to some of its software. Photo: apple.com

Published Jun 7, 2022

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A pair of new MacBooks; the ability to unsend a poorly-thought-out message; a busier lock screen; and the option to buy now and pay later, are just some of the updates Apple have made, and announced at its annual developers event this week.

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There was, however, no major new vision for the future among the mix of helpful and overdue features the company shared.

Apple mainly uses its Worldwide Developers Conference keynote address to highlight new developments to the software that runs its iPhones, iPads, computers, and Smart Watches. But there were rumours leading up to the announcement that Apple might do something surprising, even revolutionary, this year by unveiling mixed-reality glasses.

Instead, the event first focused on updates to its iOS 16 software, which runs on iPhones, and likely would not be available to the public until fall. The biggest news was two updated MacBooks with new chips, and Mac and Apple Watch software changes - but not a word about the company's virtual reality ambitions.

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The event was a pre-recorded video that was simultaneously shown online and on a giant screen to developers and press who had been summoned to Apple headquarters in California. Across products, the software updates all include a number of nice little upgrades and a few awaited features, but some of the most anticipated releases never materialized. Here is what did.

  • MacBooks powered by new chip

Apple unveiled two new Mac computers featuring a brand new chip. The first devices to get it will be the most popular Apple laptops, starting with the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. Inside is the new M2 chip which Apple claims will be 18% faster than the previous-generation M1 chip.

Leaning into the thin design ethos, the new MacBook Air drops the classic wedge design for a more consistently flat profile that weighs 1.2kg and is 1.27cm thick. The screen now stretches more closely to the edge of the body and measures 34.5cm. The battery, meanwhile, should last up to 18 hours on video playback.

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Apple also fixed two of the biggest complaints about previous MacBook Airs; the camera resolution doubles to 1080p and the charger uses MagSafe technology so it can pop in and out easily. Apple says the price starts at about R18 500 and ships next month.

The popular 33cm MacBook Pro will also get the M2 chip, plus a few extra benefits. Its built-in battery is said to last two hours longer than the one found in the new MacBook Air, and supports up to 24 gigabytes of RAM, not that most people will ever really need that much. This model will not be as svelte as the Air but that extra juice could make the R20 000 price tag worth the splurge for some, even if it lacks all the ports of the 35.5cm MacBook Pro introduced last year.

  • Macs get into camera swapping

The upcoming MacOS Ventura software includes a feature called Stage Manager, which lets you quickly arrange all your open windows to the side of the screen. That is, except for the one you are working with, which goes front and centre without any distractions.

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But another new feature called "continuity camera" might be even more useful, at least for people who spend too much time on video calls. In time, you will be able to start a FaceTime call on an iPhone and hand it off to a Mac just by bringing them close to each other.

It also lets you use an iPhone as the camera for a FaceTime call on a Mac, taking advantage of the camera capabilities in the iPhone, including studio portrait lighting and an ultra-wide view that can reveal what is on the desk in front of you. The feature is also an acknowledgment that the iPhone camera is significantly better than those in Macs and might continue to be so into the future.

  • Updates to messages and payments

The most visible change coming to the iPhone software is what Apple executive Craig Federighi called the "biggest update ever to the lock screen." Instead of just showing a photo and the time, the new iOS 16 software will let you add widgets, or at-a-glance information, from apps including calendar, weather, and even real-time events like sports games. Notifications from apps will also now roll in from the bottom of the screen, so they will not cover up the photo and font you picked out for your new custom lock screen.

The messages feature is also getting an overhaul. Now, you can edit messages you already sent or unsend certain messages entirely. It could help us all say goodbye to those embarrassing "sorry wrong person" moments. This news prompted a chorus of "oohs" from the audience at Apple.

Another useful update is that, when you use voice dictation, the keyboard will now stay on the screen, so you flow back and forth between voice and typing. You can also now dictate emoji. The example Apple used was "mind-blown emoji."

iOS 16 will also come with more key and wallet options, which might speed your switch from an analog wallet to a digital one. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company that has already ventured into financial services, Apple is getting in on the ‘buy now and pay later’ craze.

When iOS 16 arrives, a feature called Apple Pay Later will let shoppers pay for purchases across multiple interest-free installments. Considering the popularity of services such as Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna, it is possible the approach from Apple could pick up traction fast. However, it may face scrutiny from regulators and critics who say it can lead people into debt.

  • Safety feature for people in danger

After fielding criticism for the ways its AirTags and ‘Find My’ location network could put victims of stalking or domestic abuse in danger, Apple unveiled a new ‘Safety Check’ settings section. Here, you can see what access you have granted various apps and devices, all in one spot, as well as revoke access and reset privacy permissions without having to tap around.

You can also sign out of iCloud on any of your devices to limit who has access to your messages or other data. It is worth noting that revoking access to location and messages could in itself present a safety risk if a person was being held against their will.

  • CarPlay across multiple screens

Starting later this year, the CarPlay feature will reach across the multiple screens inside some vehicles. And in certain cases, that means Apple software could also replace what you would normally see on the instrument clusters in a car, in other words, the dials behind the steering wheel. In addition, the screen will let you fiddle with car features like climate control, as well as display helpful info like speed and maps.

  • More sleep and heart monitoring

Apple has long pitched its watch as a health tool, so it is no surprise that some of the biggest additions to its wearable software try to help users understand their bodies a little better. Once WatchOS 9 arrives, wearers will be able to take a closer look at their sleep quality - at least, that is the idea. Apple says its watch will be able to determine how much sleep people spend in different stages, though researchers have told The Washington Post that these kinds of insights often are not much more than guesses.

Meanwhile, Apple watch owners concerned about cardiac health will be able to see how much time their hearts spend beating abnormally, known as atrial fibrillation, or AFib. Apple watches have been able to detect these off-beat heartbeats for years, but models running this new software should be better able to track the AFib history of a wearer, which is crucial information for doctors trying to help.

But perhaps the most curious twist to the Apple watch experience is that you might not need to own one to get a taste. Apple said it would make its Fitness app available to all iPhone owners, and that the software would be able to track your number of steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, and workouts tackled, with no wearable required.

  • Thinner line between iPads and Macs

In 2015, chief executive Tim Cook said the iPad was the "clearest expression" of Apple's vision for the future of computing. Now, years later, the line between Apple's tablets and computers still exists but is thinner than ever.

With help from the new Stage Manager feature also coming to Macs, iPads will be able to run multiple apps in resizable windows, which can even overlap with each other. That flexibility also applies to additional monitors you might want to connect to your iPad. In the past, those screens have only been able to mirror what is happening on the tablet.

This is tremendously basic stuff for your PC or Mac but has so far been all but impossible on an Apple tablet. That has been a sore point for people who have thought about replacing their traditional computer with something a bit more portable. Throw in some fiddly power user settings that PC and Mac users tend to take for granted, like the ability to see how big a folder is in the Files app, and it may soon be a little easier to go all in on a tablet.

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