By Emily Bary
Company rolls out new software updates and confirms move away from Intel for chips, but avoids discussion of App Store policies
Apple Inc. rolled out a series of new software updates at its WWDC developer keynote Monday, but largely stayed away from the most buzzworthy subjects.
The smartphone giant is in an increasingly awkward spot with developers, given renewed scrutiny over its App Store policies. Just days before WWDC kicked off, Apple (AAPL) rejected a bug fix by the developers of Hey, an email productivity app that charges $99 a year but declined to offer an option for in-app purchases, instead making customers sign up to pay on web browsers. That's a popular choice by some developers looking to avoid the so-called App Store tax, or the cut of in-app purchases that Apple keeps for itself.
Apple and Hey reached a détente (/) before the event officially began after Hey, at the suggestion of Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, moved to offer iOS users a 14-day free trial of the app with a randomized email address before users have to pay up in a web browser for the premium service. Apple could have used its time in front of the world to standardize that approach for all developers, but executives did not bring it up.
European regulators are looking into Apple's practices around the App Store and Apple Pay, and Apple may have quietly made a move to address that without actually talking about it. In a screengrab from a new version of iPadOS, there was a tile that offered the opportunity to change the default email or browser app, suggesting that Apple will stop forcing users of its operating system to rely on its own apps.
The bundling of operating systems and software is a thorny area in technology, being the core of U.S. antitrust charges against Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)at the beginning of the millennium (), and resulting in a large European fine against Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) (GOOGL) for its app-bundling practices with Android ( ). An Apple spokeswoman confirmed that the function is included in Apple's published list of new iOS 14 features ( /).
Apple shares ticked slightly higher as the event went on, and closed up 2.6%.
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Apple's keynote was also fairly light on the topic of augmented reality, or AR, especially compared with past events. Some analysts expected Apple to drop more hints about the future of AR technology () ahead of a possible AR device launch in the coming years.
The most important news to actually be announced was expected: Chief Executive Tim Cook said Apple would begin transitioning the Mac line of personal computers to custom silicon processors, which he called a "huge leap forward for the Mac" as "integrating hardware and software is fundamental to everything we do." He expects the transition to take two years, as the company plans to launch its first silicon device by the end of the year even as it also has some new Intel Corp.-based Macs in the pipeline.
Apple has been using Intel (INTC) chips in its Macs for years, though the transition to custom design had been widely anticipated heading into the keynote event. Intel shares gained 0.8% in Monday's session.
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Otherwise, Apple focused mainly on productivity with its new features, namely for iOS 14 as it rolled out new ways to customize the iPhone's home screen, locate apps and organize messages. The company introduced widgets for the home screen that will allow users to see more information from their most-used apps without clicking in. People will be able to choose between widgets that give them expanded views of the weather forecast or the time in various time zones, fitness progress linked to the Apple Watch, recent podcasts or music, and more.
Apple had a standalone screen for widgets prior to this update, but it didn't allow users much room to customize them. The new feature offers more options for personalization and also brings the widget feature to the home screen.
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The company is also aiming to help users with app discovery, offering a new page at the end of the home screen that groups apps automatically so they might be easier to find even if they're ordinarily hidden in one of a user's many folders. People will be able to engage with multiple apps at once through a picture-in-picture function, and they'll have the ability to engage with only the major parts of apps they haven't yet downloaded through a new App Clips feature.
Apple announced that Siri will be able to handle dictation requests on the device, contributing to a greater sense of privacy, and the company is rolling out a translation app that will initially offer support for 11 different languages.
The company is redesigning its Messages app to offer users the ability to pin common contacts to the top of messaging home screen. Those in group chats will be able to respond to specific messages in a threaded view and tag individual users if they don't wish to send notifications to an entire group of people.
Apple also added new features to its Maps app, introducing cycling directions with notes about whether users will have to carry their bikes up stairs, as well as electric-vehicle directions that map out routes with planned stops at charging stations that the system deems to be compatible with a user's specific type of vehicle.
Elsewhere in transportation, the company is looking to replace the physical car key over time. The company offered a preview of a virtual key that will activate when users place their smartphones on a charging pad. The feature, which is first coming to a new BMW, will also let car owners send virtual key copies to others and set optional restrictions on these new drivers.
The company is overhauling its iPad operating system as well. Apple wants users to be able to write with the Apple Pencil stylus in more situations and improved its handwriting recognition features so that people will be able to handwrite search queries instead of typing them in. When users handwrite notes, they'll be able to select certain elements of the text and be given the option to add space above the text or convert the words to typed letters that can be copied and pasted across apps.
The Apple Watch's new operating system offers sleep-tracking features, workout tracking for dancers, sharing capabilities for watch faces and a timer that will automatically detect when users are washing their hands.
On sleep tracking, the company will let users set sleep goals and display a calmer home screen ahead of bedtime. The new Apple Watch software will display a wake-up screen in the morning so that people will be able to get a quick glimpse of the weather and be alerted to whether they'll need to charge up their devices before starting the day.
Apple's new MacOS Big Sur operating system brings new Safari customizations and an overall interface that better resembles other iOS devices. Users will have a broader set of messaging features on their computers, including the ability to customize Memoji avatars and view group messages with the same new look that's coming to the iPhone.
The company said that the new notification center on the Mac will become more interactive and informative. In Safari, Mac users will be able to customize their home screens with photos and extensions.
Apple shares have gained 56% over the past three months as the Dow Jones Industrial Average , of which Apple is a component, has risen 36%.
-Emily Bary; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 22, 2020 16:37 ET (20:37 GMT)
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