Betas of iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS are out today with some interesting features. Last week on World Privacy Day, Apple announced that App Tracking Transparency is coming in the spring, so it’s no surprise that iOS and iPadOS 14.5 include the feature. However, there are several other features coming in the next round of OS releases, as summarized by Rene Ritchie in this tweet:
Today, Apple released iOS and iPadOS 14.4, HomePod 14.4, watchOS 7.3, which introduce a limited collection of new features along with the usual bug fixes.
On the iPhone and iPad, the Camera app can now scan smaller QR codes, which is handy for those tiny codes that are often used on product labels. The Bluetooth section of Settings has been updated with an option to identify the type of device connected to your iPhone, so it knows when headphones are connected for the purpose of sending audio notifications.
HomePod 14.4 adds a few new features that work in concert with the iPhone’s U1 chip. There is new visual, audible, and haptic feedback when music is handed off from an iPhone to a HomePod mini. The update also provides personalized listening suggestions when an iPhone is placed near a HomePod mini that isn’t currently playing audio. Media playback controls also appear automatically when an iPhone is nearby without having to unlock it first.
I have done some very preliminary testing of the new HomePod mini features and like them a lot. The haptic feedback is a quick slightly sustained vibration that lets you know that the music is being transferred. The animation that slides into view from the top of the screen includes a terrific little animation too. Bring your iPhone close to your HomePod mini again, and a button appears offering to transfer playback back to the iPhone. It’s a good example of how small changes together can make a big difference in the quality of the user experience.
As we reported earlier today, watchOS 7.3 includes the new Unity watch face. The colors of the face are inspired by the Pan-African flag and its shapes change throughout the day as you move. The ECG app has been added in Japan, Mayotte, the Philippines, and Thailand for Apple Watch Series 4 and later. Irregular heart rhythm notifications are now available in those same countries, plus Taiwan too. Apple’s release notes also mention the new Time to Walk feature in the Workout app, but that actually shipped yesterday with a server-side update.
It’s WWDC week, and while we’ve been deprived the pleasure of meeting up in person this year, Apple’s OS updates are rolling forward like always. In this morning’s keynote address, Apple VP of Technology Kevin Lynch announced the latest version of the Apple Watch operating system. watchOS 7 isn’t as dramatic as some past releases have been, but it does introduce some excellent new features including sleep tracking, multiple distinct complications from the same app, a Shortcuts app, and new workout types. We’ll dive into all the features in depth below.
Stephen Hackett, writing at 512 Pixels:
When Apple added the Breathe feature to watchOS 3, I — like many of you, I suspect — turned it off pretty quickly. However, over the last six months, it has come to be one of my favorite things about wearing my Apple Watch.
Hackett goes on to explain some of the specific circumstances that led him to revisit Breathe, and why it’s become such a valuable tool for him.
It’s fairly common for me to forget that a feature exists because I made a decision once, a long time ago, to turn it off. Revisiting the Breathe app could be a useful thing for a lot of us right now.
David Smith, developer of Watchsmith and a host of other Apple Watch apps, shared his watchOS 7 wishlist today. With his pedigree, there’s no one I trust more to make a thoughtful, realistic, well-informed list of requests for watchOS than Smith. For example, here’s an excerpt of his introduction:
I am fully aware of the constraints of the Apple Watch. I’ve spent the last 6 months pushing the limits of what is possible for it and have seen all the corners of its use, where it completely falls apart.
Nearly every one of these ideas or features involves a tradeoff. Either between battery life and capability or between complexity and intuitiveness. I suspect Apple’s own internal list of ideas and possibilities far outstrips my own. The reason they haven’t built a feature yet isn’t because they haven’t thought about it.
Instead it is quite the opposite. They have chosen explicitly to not do it yet. This is the tricky calculus involved in evolving a platform. If they push too fast, too soon on the capability side then they may end up destroying the battery life of the device. Or if they add too many features then they might end up with a jumbled mess that users can’t understand.
I don’t envy the leadership that has to sit down and make the hard calls of what to do, when.
Some of the features he mentions that are at the top of my own list include rest days for activity tracking, true independence, and multiple complications. The full list is well worth exploring, and offers valuable insight into what we might see revealed next month.
The Apple Watch is steadily moving toward full independence from the iPhone. Making cellular an option, adding new apps at a healthy pace, and enabling apps to be downloaded and run independent of an iPhone are all crucial steps toward the device becoming entirely untethered. I have a cellular Apple Watch and go running with it each week without bringing my iPhone along, and it works great. I’ve even gone to a couple of doctor’s appointments with only my Watch, and the list of things I miss my phone for in those cases is now minimal.
One time the device still falls flat, however, is when I need to send a message. Scribble is too slow for more than a word or two, dictation is hit-or-miss, and canned responses aren’t good enough for most situations. FlickType Keyboard sets out to solve this problem, and entirely succeeds.
Matt Birchler has made a tradition of publishing a watchOS wish list every year at BirchTree that is accompanied by concept art, showing how his ideas might be implemented. This year for watchOS 7, Birchler has a long list of excellent ideas that focus on virtually every aspect of the OS, including fitness tracking, communications, and battery life.
Like Birchler, I’d love to see more flexibility built into the Activity app. For example, he expects more ring options in watchOS 7:
I think this year not only will Apple let you customize these rings more than before, but they’ll also add more rings. Want to add sleep or mindfulness: go right ahead.
As he suggests, the ability to set custom metrics for each ring and edit workouts in the Activity app on the iPhone would be fantastic additions as well.
It’s also a little hard to believe that autocomplete hasn’t been added to the scribble keyboard on the Apple Watch. Perhaps that’s a technical limitation, but like Birchler, I think it would go a long way to making text input more tolerable on the Watch.
Those are just a couple of my favorite ideas from Birchler’s story this year. Be sure to check out the full post. There are some terrific ideas here, and the concept art looks wonderful as always.
HomeRun is a simple, elegant utility for triggering HomeKit scenes from your Apple Watch. Through a combination of color and iconography, HomeRun developer Aaron Pearce, who is the creator of other excellent HomeKit apps like HomeCam and HomePass, creates an effective solution for accessing HomeKit scenes from your wrist. It’s a user-friendly approach that’s a fantastic alternative for HomeKit device users frustrated by Apple’s Home app.
Apple’s Home app is hard to use on the Apple Watch. First, when you open Home on the Watch, it’s not clear what you’re seeing. Home presents a series of card-like, monochrome scene and accessory buttons that you scroll through one or two at a time. Although the app doesn’t say so, these are the favorite scenes and accessories from the Home tab of the iOS app. That makes the list customizable, which is nice, but the app should do a better job identifying where the user is in relationship to the iOS app.
Second, although you can rearrange your Home favorites to reorder them on the Watch too, you can only see two scenes or one accessory at a time. Depending on how many favorites you have, that limits the Watch app’s utility because a long list of scenes and accessories requires a lot of swiping or scrolling with the Digital Crown.
HomeRun avoids this by eliminating text and relying on color and iconography to distinguish between scenes. The app is also limited to triggering scenes, reducing potential clutter further. The approach allows HomeRun to display up to 12 scenes on a single screen of a 44mm Apple Watch compared to the two scene buttons that Home can display. If you set up more than 12 scenes, they are accessible by scrolling.
As tweeted by Mike Stern, Apple’s Platform Experience and Design Evangelism Manager, Apple has updated its AppKit design resources with a comprehensive set of UI elements for making Mac apps. The UI elements come in both Aqua and the Dark Aqua variants for designing Dark Mode Mac apps.
The update, also announced on Apple’s developer news website, includes new watchOS UI elements too, including ‘dozens of new UI elements for watchOS apps, watch face templates for designing complications, a color guide, and new text styles.’
The design assets are available to download in both Photoshop and Sketch formats from the Resources section of Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines website. A full list of all the changes is available here.