With the WWDC 2021 keynote, CEO Tim Cook, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, and Apple's merry band of executives delivered an evolutionary roadmap and features that are aimed at multiple competitors.
And although Apple rarely names those competitors, the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zoom, the ad industry, VPNs, and even Peloton might as well have had Animojis in the audience.
Simply put, you can tie almost everything of substance Apple announced into a competitive bucket with a heavy dose of privacy as air cover. Here's a tour of what Apple announced.
Dear Google and Facebook...
Apple will never name Google and Facebook directly, but its "privacy leadership" is often about those two foes. Apple's privacy push, which was layered throughout the company's software updates, is looking to thwart cross-site tracks as well as pixels that can help monetization.
The company first rolled out Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari, and it's now moving it to the Mail app -- and you can bet to other apps too over time. We'll let Apple explain:
Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email and masks their IP address so it can't be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.
Intelligent Tracking Prevention is getting even stronger by also hiding the user's IP address from trackers. This means they can't utilize the user's IP address as a unique identifier to connect their activity across websites and build a profile about them.
In theory, that protection sounds interesting. But remember all those newsletter businesses that have sprung up to give creators some monetization options? That tracking may be harder. Simply put, there's more than mere ad targeting at stake. It's unclear how your website analytics will be impacted.
With these privacy moves, Apple is proclaiming itself to be the golden seal of privacy. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather have an independent non-profit doing the App Privacy Report.
Let's start an Apple VPN
Apple also outlined iCloud+. (Can we just put a moratorium on products with the "+" already?) The "+" in iCloud includes Private Relay, Hide My Email, and Secure Video support.
The company never called Private Relay a VPN, but that's what it is. Apple said:
When browsing with Safari, Private Relay ensures all traffic leaving a user's device is encrypted, so no one between the user and the website they are visiting can access and read it, not even Apple or the user's network provider. All the user's requests are then sent through two separate internet relays. The first assigns the user an anonymous IP address that maps to their region but not their actual location. The second decrypts the web address they want to visit and forwards them to their destination. This separation of information protects the user's privacy because no single entity can identify both who a user is and which sites they visit.
And about those home security videos
For good measure, iCloud+ offers built-in support for HomeKit Secure Video, which could be construed as a service aimed at Amazon's connected home products including Ring.
Apple needs to keep Zoom in its place
The star of the iOS 15 preview was a major update to FaceTime. In short, FaceTime will enable portrait modes, provide links to invite Android and Windows users on the web, and add a series of collaboration features that catch FaceTime up with the likes of Zoom, Google Meet as well as other video conferencing systems.
Now, the spin here is that FaceTime is more consumer-focused, but Zoom is the one that has become a verb. The fact FaceTime is cutting in we lowly Android and Windows users tells you all you need to know about Apple's concerns. Apple has Zoom envy, but also can't allow Facebook Messenger to be a cross-platform video conferencing play either. Add it up, and Apple is being more inclusive with FaceTime because it needs to.
One thing to watch in the iOS 15 update is how many folks will use FaceTime to share streaming services.
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iPad getting a productivity spin
Apple enhanced iPadOS 15 with features such as multitasking, new widget layouts, and Quick Note to collaborate, type, or write via Apple Pencil. You know where this is going: Samsung competition and perhaps that blending of iPad and Mac.
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The big fitness and health push
Apple's watchOS update advances Apple Watch's most compelling use case: Health and wellness. Whether it's workouts, mental wellness, and analytics, Apple is against a broad field that includes companies including Google's Fitbit, Garmin, and Samsung on the device front and Peloton and Headspace on the app side.
Health is one area where Apple continues to innovate. For instance, Walking Steadiness on iPhone will be a good feature for older people since it accesses fall risks. Health data sharing will also be critical for an aging population around the world.