tim cook standing in front of apps apple conference iphone

WWDC 2021: Apple doubles down on privacy and opens FaceTime to other platforms

Image credit: reuters

Apple has revealed the next version of its mobile and desktop operating systems, a revamp of its FaceTime video calling platform and new privacy controls for its Apple Mail app at its Worldwide Developers Conference 2021.

With the popularity of video calling rising rapidly since the start of the pandemic, FaceTime is being expanded to users on other platforms such as Android and Windows. However, those users will not have access to an app, and will need to use the service via their browser, with access to conversations being provided through links in a similar way to rival services like Zoom and Google Meet.

The firm is introducing new privacy controls for its Mail app that will hide data such as a user’s IP address and location as well as details about if and when someone opened a marketing email.

The new Mail Privacy Protection feature, being launched later this year, will block data brokers and advertisers from gathering personal information which can be collected when users interact with emails sent to them.

This comes soon after the rollout of iOS 14.5 in April which was also a privacy-focused update that offered users the option to prevent apps from tracking them online.

WWDC 2021 also offered a glimpse of iOS 15, which, alongside the aforementioned updates to FaceTime, will include a new feature called Focus as well as improvements for notifications and Apple Maps.

Focus allows granular customisation of the Do Not Disturb feature with new themes that block out notifications from friends and family when switched to work mode, or shut out notes from colleagues when a user wants to spend quality time with loved ones.

Notifications have also been undated with a new Summary tool, which will group certain, less-pressing alerts together as a collection and can be scheduled to come through when you’ve got more time to go through them.

The Wallet app will now have the option to support house and hotel room keys, as well as office passes for the first time, so users can tap with their iPhone to enter.

Apple Maps has been given a new, more detailed 3D look too, while the iPhone camera is now able to spot and lift text from images.

MacOS Monterey, which will come to Apple’s desktop devices, will include a new tool called Universal Control that will allow a single mouse and keyboard to control and navigate the screens of up to three different devices.

Safari, Apple’s web browser, has been given a more compact redesign with a tidier address bar and tabs section and the ability to group tabs into collections for the first time, a feature that came to Chrome last year.

Apple boss Tim Cook said all the new software would be released to the public in the autumn, likely to coincide with the launch of the next iPhone and other Apple hardware.

Industry expert Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, welcomed Apple’s latest privacy controls but warned it could further upset advertising and other firms reliant on the gathering of data.

“Apple’s tightening of privacy options for users is the defining theme for this year’s WWDC and will cause further consternation among those companies dependent on user data for tracking, advertising and monetisation,” he said.

“Hiding information such as IP addresses, location and whether users have opened or read emails could severely limit the way many companies track and monetise users but will be welcomed by consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of how much data is being captured."

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