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Apple’s Most Important WWDC 2018 Announcements

“Today is all about software,” proclaimed Apple CEO Tim Cook during the opening keynote for Apple’s 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, setting the stage for a long list of announcements of new features coming to iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch, and Mac OS later this year. Here are the biggest news bits of the show all in one place:

Siri Shortcuts: One of the most notable updates to iOS 12, which is expected to be available once the company launches the new iPhone in September, are Siri Shortcuts. These allow iPhone and iPad users to set up custom voice commands and routines. Shortcuts directly integrate into supporting third-party apps, which makes it possible to tell an app to make certain information available via Siri. For instance, users can decide to assign their custom coffee order to a Siri command of their choice, and then directly order the drink from within Siri without opening any third-party app.

What’s more, users can also combine multiple steps to their own custom routines via a new Shortcuts app. That app offers a number of such routines to get started with, and then drag and drop their own customizations into the routine. On stage, a member of the Apple team demonstrated her very own homebound commute routine, which included setting her thermostat, sending a text message, accessing Apple Maps for navigation, and loading up her favorite radio station — all triggered with a single voice command.

ARKit 2.0: A year after first announcing its mobile augmented reality platform ARKit, Apple unveiled ARKit 2.0 at WWDC. The new version promises a number of improvements on things like face tracking and 3D object detection. It also makes it possible for developers to build persistent experiences, which means that they can add virtual AR worlds to a real-world object, ready to be accessed any time.

Arkit Lego

Lego demonstrated this on stage Monday with a new AR game that adds virtual buildings, characters, and challenges to a real Lego play set. What’s more, ARKit now also supports shared experiences, allowing multi-player gaming in augmented reality. And to make it easier for developers to integrate AR into their apps, Apple also announced a new file format dubbed USDZ for AR assets Monday.

Digital wellness: Like Google, Apple is also putting a bigger emphasis on digital wellness. “Some apps demand more of our attention than we even realize,” said Apple senior VP Craig Federighi on Monday. “We might not even realize just how distracted we have become.” One of the biggest updates in this space is a new screen time feature that generates a weekly report on your device usage, including how much total time you’ve spent on your phone or iPad, how many notifications apps have sent, and how much time you’ve spent in any individual app.

Instagram WWDC app limits

The company is also adding the ability to more tightly control children’s screen usage, something that includes “allowances” and dedicated time limits. Adult can also set their own time limits, which work more like gentle reminders, telling them for example that it may be time to step away from Instagram after an hour of mindless browsing.

Privacy. Apple is making it harder for Facebook and others to track users on third-party websites. For instance, users who want to share content with one of Facebook’s ubiquitous sharing buttons have to specifically allow a website to interact with Facebook’s servers first. Apple is also limiting the amount of configuration data devices share with websites, which should make it harder to individually identify devices. “As a result, your Mac will look more like everyone else’s Mac,” Federighi said. These privacy features will come both to iOS and Mac OS, he said.

Apple TV: Apple’s streaming box is getting a major sound update with the addition of Dolby Atmos. The company will upgrade all previously purchased iTunes movies for free with Atmos sound when available. Apple also announced a partnership with Charter Spectrum, which will allow customers of the cable service to use Apple TV as the set-top box of their choice later this year.

FaceTime: Apple’s video calling app is getting group video chat, with support for up to 32 participants, four of which are being displayed at any given time. Group FaceTime is also being integrated into Apple Messages to make it easier to transition from a group chat to a group video call.

Memoji

Memoji: Animoji, the 3D animated emoji that Apple first introduced with the iPhone X last year, are getting a significant update with the introduction of Memoji, which are basically personalized animated emoji.

watchOS: The operating system powering the Apple Watch is getting a bunch of new features with watchOS 5. This includes a new walkie talkie app that brings voice chats to the wrist, the ability to browse the web in some limited fashion, and a podcast app to listen to podcasts directly on the Apple Watch.

iOS apps on OS X: Federighi said Monday that he was often asked whether Apple planned to merge its mobile and desktop operating systems. “Of course not,” he replied emphatically, only to then reveal that the company is at least taking steps to more closely align both. Starting next year, developers will be able to port their iOS apps to Mac OS. Apple already took advantage of these changes this year by porting its own Apple News app to the desktop, which required only “very few code changes,” according to Federighi.

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