■ Apple is adding tools to help get your information addiction under control.
■ The company revealed new software for the Apple Watch.
■ A new feature in Apple’s web browser will make it harder for sites to track you.
■ The company previewed iOS 12, the new version of the iPhone and iPad operating system, including improved speed, bug fixes and other improvements.
■ Apple revealed Siri and photo updates that catches up to competitors.
Features to help manage time spent on devices.
The most notable new feature in iOS 12 is called Screen Time, a tool to help iPhone customers manage the time they spend on their devices.
The feature shows you a dashboard of apps you regularly use and the amount of time you tend to spend with them. You can also add limits to how much you use certain apps: For example, you can give yourself an hour a day to spend inside Instagram, Facebook’s photo-sharing app. Parents will also be able to use Screen Time to place limits on how their children use their iPhones.
Apple’s software chief, Craig Federighi, said Apple felt it was time to address smartphones’ oversize impact on everyday life. “For some of us, it’s become such a habit we might not even recognize how distracted we’ve become,” he said.
The announcement was a bizarre one: A company using one of its biggest events of the year to showcase new tools that help customers use its products less.
But the move is most likely shrewd. Apple depends on customers buying its devices, not spending lots of time on them. Apple is pitching the tools as evidence that it is putting its customers’ interests first — and that if people are worried they are addicted to their smartphone, the iPhone is the device that will help them.
The new tools are also a shot across the bow to Silicon Valley’s other big tech companies, like Google, Twitter and particularly Facebook, that depend on users spending more time with their services.
Apple’s move is also not happening in a vacuum. Silicon Valley has faced early signs of a reckoning over tech addiction, including an open letter to Apple from investment firm Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The letter urged Apple to research the health effects of its products, particularly on children.
Will this be enough to help people curb their addiction? Presumably, if you set a limit for yourself you will be able to easily remove the restriction and continue using an app like Instagram when you run out of time.
If anything, the feature will certainly make people more mindful (and perhaps ashamed) of how often they use certain apps and encourage them to put their phones down.
— Brian X. Chen and Jack Nicas
Apple says it is different about your privacy, too.
Apple took another swing at its rivals Google and Facebook with tools that sharply diminish their ability to track users as they surf across the web.
Apple said that by default its Safari browser would disable tracking software, or so-called cookies, that advertising companies like Facebook and Google embed in websites to track users’ activity across the internet. The cookies are often embedded in tools to share, comment or “like” content on third-party sites.
To share an article directly to Facebook from a news site, users of Safari will need to manually allow the cookie to track them. Apple said it would also make it more difficult for companies that track users using a different technology, known as fingerprinting.
As the world wakes up to the sheer amount of user data tech companies have collected over the years, Apple is doubling down on its bid to be the privacy-focused tech firm. Unlike Google and Facebook, which rely on user data to sell ads, Apple’s main business is selling devices to consumers, so its focus on privacy has become a central selling point.
Apple said it would also restrict third-party developers’ access to more data on Mac computers, a nod to the scandal over how a Facebook developer enabled the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to improperly harvest the data of millions of Facebook users.
— Jack Nicas
The Apple Watch gets a throwback feature.
The Apple Watch’s latest operating system has a nifty throwback to an old technology: walkie-talkie. “You press to talk, and your friend can hear your voice — just like a walkie-talkie,” said Kevin Lynch, Apple’s head of Watch software.
The feature works only with users who opt in — I need your approval to send you a walkie-talkie message — but it’s striking for the way it improves the Watch’s best feature, letting users stay in touch without having to use a phone.
There were also a few new features for activity monitoring. The new software will automatically start tracking a workout even if you didn’t let tell it you were working out. And it has a new way to let you compete with friends. For instance, you can set up a weeklong exercise-off between you and a friend.
But all this requires waiting. The new OS will be available for the Watch later this year, through a software update.
— Farhad Manjoo
Changes to address software speed issue.
Apple’s head of software, Craig Federighi, opened the event with the introduction of a new mobile operating system, iOS 12, an update that he said was focused on speed.
“For iOS 12, we are doubling down on performance,” he said. The update increases the speed for many important features of iOS, like the camera app and keyboard. In Apple’s testing, apps launched two times faster in iOS 12 compared with the last system.
By highlighting speed, Apple is addressing a common complaint among owners of iPhones who feel that their devices seem to slow down after every new upgrade. Keep in mind that last year, Apple came under scrutiny amid revelations that it slowed performance of older iPhones with aging batteries.
The new operating system will work with devices as far back as the iPhone 5S from 2013.
Here’s something Apple should fix at the event: its Wi-Fi. None of us are able to get on the internet. I’m barely hanging on to a connection on my iPhone hotspot. Wireless has always been spotty at these events with so many devices in the audience fighting for a connection, but this is exceptionally bad.
— Brian X. Chen
A focus on the little things.
It’s crystal clear that iOS 12 is focused on improving on existing features rather than bombarding users with brand-new features.
In addition to updating the Photos app and expanding Siri, Apple made minor updates to its Apple News, Stocks, Messages and FaceTime apps. The Apple News app now lets you discover articles through topics, and the Stocks app now loads Apple News stories that are related to stocks that you follow.
The Messages app was updated to let you create some custom emojis with the camera. And the FaceTime app lets you do a video call between multiple people, similar to Google Hangouts.
Again, Apple is responding to some negative feedback. Over the last few years, app developers and users have complained that iOS was getting increasingly bloated and confusing to use.
This is a good time for Apple to slow down on adding new features, especially after the introduction of the iPhone X, which fundamentally changes how the iPhone works by removing the home button.
— Brian X. Chen
Apple’s new update strategy is on display.
This software conference illuminates Apple’s revised software strategy. In the past, Apple updated each new version of iOS on an annual basis with a long list of new features.
But recently, the company announced to employees that it would revise its strategy to a two-year cycle. In other words, next year, you can expect iOS 13 to have a barrage of new features. In the following year, iOS 14 will focus on improving those features. Rinse and repeat.
However, Apple doesn’t appear to be slowing down the pace of upgrades for the Apple Watch, a much younger product. Each version of Watch OS has introduced significant changes to the way the watch works. Apple’s allocation of resources to the watch shows that the company is treating the wearable computer as the post-smartphone device.
In a decade, will we all be wearing our phones?
— Brian X. Chen