Apple announced a raft of new features at its annual developer conference virtually for the first time because of the COVID-19 outbreak, with the tech firm revealing products clearly influenced by COVID-19. Among them is an Apple Watch feature that will automatically detect when users start hand-washing and provide a 20-second countdown to ensure thorough cleaning.

The keynote saw Apple unveil the next versions of the software to power the iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad and Mac computers.

Apple boss Tim Cook said the technology giant wants to be a “force for change” as he addressed the coronavirus pandemic and the global anti-racism movement during Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC).

Cook said technology had never been more important, arguing that “the world is counting on us and all the products and experiences that we create, to move forward”.

Tim Cook hosted WWDC20 virtually for the first time © Apple
Tim Cook hosted WWDC20 virtually for the first time © Apple

Opening the event, Cook said he wanted to “address the topic of racism, inequality and injustice and to recognise the pain being felt throughout our nation, especially in our black and brown communities, after the senseless killing of George Floyd”.

“And while the events of this past month are sadly not new, they have caused us to face long-standing institutional inequalities and social injustices,” he added.

“We must all aim far higher to build a future that lives up to our ideals.”

Apple, did not, however, address the current criticism of some of Apple’s App Store policies, which have become the subject of an EU antitrust investigation over claims of anti-competitive practices.

But among the key software announcements during the event was a redesign of the iOS software which powers the iPhone.

New iOS 14 features

iOS 14, which will launch later this year, will introduce a new App Library for users to more easily find and organise the app icons on their phone’s screen.

The Library will use artificial intelligence to organise into categories.

In addition, a sleep mode was confirmed for the Apple Watch for the first time, and elsewhere, the technology giant also announced a range of new privacy measures.

The Apple Watch will be able to prompt users to wash their hands correctly © Apple
The Apple Watch will be able to prompt users to wash their hands correctly © Apple

They include new labels for apps on the App Store, which will show exactly how and where an app gathers data and tracks a user, something Apple says will give more choice to users over the apps they decide to use.

The company said it is also introducing a policy that will mean apps may clearly ask users, via a pop-up notification, for permission to track their activity as they move around the web.

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Industry expert Ben Wood, chief of research at analyst firm CCS Insight, said: “The build-up to WWDC saw Apple on the back foot as it dealt with a barrage of criticism about its charging structure for the App Store.

“In the end it decided to make no further comment, but we believe the problem won’t go away and is highly likely to be revisited as regulatory scrutiny mounts.

Privacy and smart home features have been updated in iOS14 © Apple
Privacy and smart home features have been updated in iOS14 © Apple

“Taken in isolation, some of the updates – particularly those in iOS 14 – are simply catching up with features already available on other platforms. However, taken together they make it clear that this is a very significant WWDC that sees Apple redoubling its efforts in software and hardware integration, and in privacy.”

“The new App Library function will be a huge improvement for people drowning in pages and pages of apps. Many iPhone owners already default to a quick swipe down to search for the app they want. Having the apps you use most regularly displayed on the home screen according to your location, the time of day and frequency of use will make a huge difference.”

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Apple pushing privacy

Wood adds that the company’s approach to user privacy continued to make it an outlier in the tech industry.

“Apple’s stance on privacy is becoming one of the things that sets it apart from other platforms. It’s no surprise that it’s pushing its credentials in the area so hard, and making privacy a feature rather than an afterthought.

“I think some people are going to be shocked to see how much tracking there is in certain apps as a result of the new App Tracking capabilities.”

During the event, Apple also confirmed a much-rumoured move to its own silicon chips to power its Mac range of laptops.

The announcement was made alongside the first look at the next version of macOS software, which will be called macOS Big Sur – continuing the tradition of naming the software after locations in the firm’s native California.


Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.