By Emily Bary
Apple is making FaceTime available to more than just users of its devices as part of a suite of software enhancements coming this fall
Apple Inc.'s forthcoming software upgrades will aim to make FaceTime a more formidable competitor in the world of videoconferencing and continue the company's privacy crusade against third-party advertisers that track user data.
The company kicked off its annual WWDC developer event Monday with a virtual keynote that previewed software upgrades coming to its various device operating systems, which are expected to roll out this fall. Following a year in which video calls became even more essential, Apple (AAPL) is adding new features and taking steps to make its FaceTime app more universal.
To start, the company is introducing FaceTime links, so that meeting organizers can pass around the link to a scheduled FaceTime call, even to web-based users who don't have Macs or other Apple devices. These upgrades make FaceTime more competitive against platforms like Zoom Video Communications Inc. (ZM) and Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Teams, which saw booming adoption during the pandemic among people looking to catch up with friends, conduct remote business meetings, and engage in other virtual gatherings.
Apple's new software also is enhancing the audio settings on FaceTime, so that users can choose to block out noisy background sounds or alternatively opt for a wider sound profile that better captures everything going on around them.
The company will make it so those in a FaceTime call can watch content together in a synchronized manner. The feature, called SharePlay, will work with Apple-native apps like Apple TV+, but also with third-parties that choose to participate by leveraging an application programming interface (API). Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) Disney+ and AT&T Inc.'s (T) HBO Max are among early partners.
The FaceTime upgrades will work across Apple operating systems, including iOS, which powers the iPhone. Other enhancements focus on sharing and socializing. Within the Photos app, Apple plans to make it easier for people to see shared photos from trips and events inside their libraries. Apple will also situate playlists shared by friends inside the Apple Music app.
Apple already allowed iPad users to take handwritten notes and then convert those writings to text after the fact, and the company is going to apply similar technology to the Photos app. Users will be able to scan new and existing photos for background text, like notes on a whiteboard or restaurant phone numbers on the side of a building. They will then receive the ability to copy and paste that text or follow a link to call the listed phone numbers.
The Wallet app will become home to a broader range of digital cards, including hotel keycards and state licenses. Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H) will start rolling out a new room-key function within Apple's wallet app this fall, and Apple is working with some participating states to let users scan their licenses in the digital wallet to create an encrypted version that the company expects to ultimately be compatible with Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.
Apple also wants people to consider opening their homes with their iPhones and has partnerships with lock manufacturers like Schlage.
The Maps app is getting some augmented-reality upgrades, including one that will allow people to exit subway stops, scan their surroundings with their phones, and see overlays of guided directions telling them which to travel next.
Apple is also taking aim at the overload of notifications that many people experience, by introducing a new section that offers a summary of app notifications that people may have missed. The company is creating a new "focus" mode that lets people control how they receive notifications while in the middle of working or eating dinner.
Apple continued its quest to introduce privacy features that disrupt ad-tracking technology across its various operating system updates.
Users will soon have the option to essentially block pixel tracking, a technique that email marketers use to identify whether people have opened emails. Those who disable pixel tracking in Apple's Mail app, which is available across devices, will also be able to hide their IP addresses from marketers. The ability to block IP tracking will be available in Safari, too.
Additionally, a new privacy report will show how often apps are using access permissions that have been granted by users.
Apple made upgrades to its iPad operating system as well, with new features that the company said are meant to boost user productivity.
The company will start allowing users to attach widgets to their iPad home screens with the new iPad OS 15 software update. Apple is also introducing new keyboard shortcuts and making it so people can more easily take note of important info while browsing through other apps, like the Safari web browser.
IPad users will get to experience an enhanced version of Safari that features grouping functions for tabs and the option to add extensions to services like Grammarly or PayPal Holdings Inc.'s (PYPL) Honey. These will sync with services on Macs and iPhones.
The COVID-19 crisis drove a growing interest in dual-screen setups, and soon Mac users may be able to devise a makeshift solution with devices they have at home.
Apple's new macOS Monterey operating system will allow people to use their Mac mouses or trackpads to control their iPads or other Mac devices. A Universal Control function will let users drag and drop content from one device to another, so that people can take iPad sketches and add them to videos they're producing on their Macs, in one example provided by the company.
Mac users will also get to engage with the redesigned Safari and watch shared content through SharePlay, among other features of the iPhone and iPad operating systems that will be making their way to personal computers as well.
Upgrades to the watchOS operating system are more minor this year and include the introduction of a contacts app and a new Home app that will let those with connected security cameras see who is at the door from their wrists.
Apple's stock fell 0.2% in afternoon trading, as did the SPDR Technology Select Sector exchange-traded fund (XLK). The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.4%.
-Emily Bary; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 07, 2021 16:17 ET (20:17 GMT)
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