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Digital car keys, Apple Watch hand washing: Top takeaways from WWDC




Unlock your car with the iPhone. Let the Apple Watch make sure you're washing your hands long enough. And getting enough sleep.


Apple gave people deeply rooted in the company’s ecosystem much to chew on during a nearly two-hour kick off to its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference on Monday, which as a result of social distancing happened this year virtually.


WWDC is typically where developers get their first looks at the operating systems that fuel the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac and more, usually in person.


This year, those looks at iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and macOS, with its new California-themed moniker Big Sur came from far away, which as an aside didn't bother many of my fellow journalists since they didn't have to fret about Wi-Fi or plugging in.


Apple didn't unveil new hardware at the event--though that will happen soon enough, certainly with the latest iPhones that are expected in September.


Arguably the biggest news, at least from a developer/business perspective, was Apple’s announcement that it is ditching Intel chips on the Mac in favor of its own silicon. That transition will take two years, and Apple said that in the interim, new Intel-based Macs are still in the product pipeline.


While average consumers pay little attention to the chips inside a computer, one interesting note for Mac users with iPhones and/or iPads: Developers will be able to make their iOS and iPad apps run on Macs with Apple’s own silicon, sans any further modification.


Here are other takeaways from a busy conference:

*Apple Watch gets sleep tracking: It is one of the features I’ve been awaiting for a long time: native sleep tracking on the Apple Watch. How will it work? Apple says the accelerometer on the Apple Watch can detect micro-movements which signal respiration during sleep, to detect how much sleep you got the night before, when you woke up and so on. You’ll be able to visualize the results on the iPhone.


What I’m not clear on yet is whether the Watch will be able to determine the quality of your sleep, determining, for example, when you are in a deep state of slumber, an REM (rapid eye movement) type stage or whatever?


You will have to monitor battery life on the watch if you plan on wearing it to sleep. The watch will offer a silent haptic alarm or gentle sounds, the while the wake-up screen shows the current battery level. If in fact your watch battery is at a low level within an hour of bedtime, users will be reminded to charge the timepiece before going to bed.


It'll be interesting to see if Apple comes out with a new Apple Watch in the fall with longer battery life than the day-and-a-half or so I'm getting on my Series 5.



*And a hand washing feature: Consider it a sign of the times. The Apple Watch through watchOS 7 will add a 20-second hand washing countdown timer for practicing proper hygiene during the pandemic (and all other times, for that matter).


When you start washing your hands, the watch can actually sense how long you actually wash. Using machine learning models, Apple can determine motion which it thinks is hand washing, and then uses audio to confirm the sound of running water or swishing soap on your hands. If you stop washing early you'll be encouraged to keep going. The Watch can even remind you to wash your hands when you get home.

*Face coverings and more in Messages: Another sign of the times: Among the new Memoji options in the Messages app, you will see some characters wearing face masks.


Meantime, in an effort to keep your important exchanges front and center, you can pin conversations in Messages at the top of a messages list.

*Picture in picture support on iPhone: As part of iOS 14, you will now be able to watch a video or take part in a FaceTime call while at the same time exploring another app. Certainly on the biggest iPhones such as the 11 Pro Max, there should be ample screen real estate.



*Customizable widgets and app library: For the most part, the Home screens on the iPhone have remained static for many years. The Home screen is getting an over due refresh of sorts with the goal of making it simpler to surface information and find apps that might otherwise be buried when you need them.


How so? For one thing, Apple will now let you create and pin customizable widgets of varying sizes to be part of your Home screen, right next to icons for other apps. You might glance at the number of steps you’ve taken or check out the weather through such widgets.

There will also be an App Library that automatically organizes all your apps into folders (social, entertainment, etc.) so that in theory, anyway, you will be better be able to find the apps you want to use at a given moment.


I'm eager to see how well the myriad apps on my phone are organized.



*Siri gets out of the way: Today, when you summon Siri, Apple’s assistant hogs your entire iPhone screen. Siri will still respond to a “Hey Siri” command, but as part of iOS 14, will no longer cover up all your other content. Now for example if you want to have Siri add an item to your grocery list, you can continue to eyeball that list.

Apple also claims that Siri is a lot smarter these days--time will tell on that. One metric: Apple says Siri has more than 20 times the number of “facts” compared to three years ago. Are these the the kind of facts that will help you advance on "Jeopardy" or stuff that will prove useful day to day?

*Apple Translate: It sounds like a catch-up feature to Google Translate but is welcome (assuming it works well) just the same. Apple Translate can translate conversations between any combination across 11 languages on the iPhone. It works offline too. Someone speaking Mandarin can have a converse with someone in Russian. The other languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, ItalianKorean, Arabic, and Portuguese.

*Scribble with Apple Pencil: If you have the Apple Pencil accessory for the iPad, you will be able to write in any text field and have your scribbles converted to text.

*App Clips: We don’t always need to summon the full app on an iPhone. Sometimes, a tiny feature within an app will do. That’s the idea behind App Clips, essentially contextual snippets of an app. You might summon a clip to pay for parking meter, rent a scooter, or order a cup of coffee. Apple says you can find such clips through an Apple designed App Clip code, via NFC tags or QR codes. You can also share clips in Messenger or through Safari. And yes, Apple claims full privacy and security protections, same as if you were engaged with the full app.

*Digital car keys: Who needs to carry car keys when you can unlock and start your vehicle with your iPhone or Apple Watch? This digital car key feature will first be available on the upcoming 2021 BMW 5 series, with other vehicles to follow. Apple says it is working on standards to enable the feature in any car.


These digital keys live in the “secure element” of your iPhone; if the car is stolen, you can render the key useless via iCloud. You can also share digital keys with friends or family, applying certain restrictions to teen drivers, say, or other people. The feature uses NFC and via Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness, which will let a user unlock the vehicle without removing the phone from their pocket or bag.