Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference keynote is always one of the most interesting dates in my tech year. I love to see what awaits us in the next iteration of iOS, iPadOS, or macOS, respectively. This Monday, it was that time again.
This is not a comprehensive overview of everything new in Apple’s operating systems, but a focused approach for features that might be useful tor studying and research. If you’d like to know about all the new features, incl. those for the iPhone, head on over to MacStories, for example. Federico and his team do an excellent job in covering WWDC. For this article, however, I skimmed through all the new features, scanning them for their potential usefulness in an academic context. I am sure that I missed something, but this shouldn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things as there are some really exceptional additions, refinements, and new features. One last note: If not mentioned otherwise, features will work on Mac and iPad alike. So, let’s dive in!
Improved Focus Mode
Last year, Apple introduced Focus Mode, a way to tell your device what apps and persons can and cannot notify you under certain circumstances. I, for one, have a work-related focus mode that blocks out everyone except my spouse and also suppresses all notifications. I automated my work focus mode to run every workday from 8 am to 3 pm. This year, Apple adds an easier way to define what apps and people can notify you when a specific focus mode is activated and also includes lock screens for the first time in addition to Home Screens from last year. What this means is that you can define several lock screens (another new feature, yet one that is not included in this article due to the aforementioned boundaries), and then cycle through them when changing the lock screen.
This might be useful to reduce visual clutter and distractions. The biggest deal, however, are so-called Focus filters. With Focus filters, one will be able to filter content like Safari tab groups, mail accounts or calendar events which is potentially a big deal as it might enable users to get content blockers in Safari and the like for reducing distractions and procrastination which would be a big win for productivity. I really hope that there will be an API for third-party apps in order to integrate them into content filtering.
Stage Manager is particularly interesting for the iPad, but will work on the Mac, as well. It kind of is a new, additional way of multitasking, more like on the Mac with more and overlapping windows. While it will still be possible to use one app at a time, Splitview, or Slide-Over, it finally is a way to do more than that, which is essential when you’re doing research and have to deal with a bunch of documents, Safari windows etc.
The idea behind Stage Manager is that you tap a button in Control Center in order to activate it and work with up to four apps simultaneously. If you pair your iPad with an external display, this number gets doubled to eight. Best of all, you can even mix and match multitasking approaches and use the well-known Splitview mode on your iPad and Stage Manager on the external display. Even better, it will be possible to save work spaces by bundling several apps together. This way, you’ll be able to open a subset of apps depending on the work context you’re in right now.
The only downside is that it needs an M1-powered iPad, which excludes the iPad 9, the current iPad Mini, and also older iPad Pro models without the M1.
Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to Stage Manager as it has the potential to make my iPad Air so much more useful. At the moment, I mainly use it for reading/marking-up PDFs. I love it for this purpose, yet would love to extend my usage a little, and Stage Manager, coupled with the better support for external displays, might make it a viable alternative for lighter tasks or focused writing sessions.
Live Text for video and Collaboration
First: collaboration. The Covid-19 pandemic made it more than obvious that we require robust and capable digital tools for collaboration. Apple thought so, too and will add a Collaborate Button across several apps like Pages, Safari, Keynote etc. Users will be able to share their screens and talk over FaceTime or Messages at the same time. Obviously, this requires that everyone uses Apple devices. The best part is that Apple will provide an API which means that third-party apps can integrate the functionality. To round things out, Apple also gave a first look at their yet to be released infinite canvas app Freeform, which will enable users to sketch out ideas on, well, an infinite canvas.
Secondly, Live Text comes to video! This will be huge for online classes and YouTube tutorials. Just as a quick reminder: Live Text lets you extract text from images by simply selecting it with your finger, the Apple Pencil, or a mouse. With the next round of Apple’s OSes, this comes to video, which makes it possible to stop a video tutorial to copy code snippets, the content of slides and really any kind of text.
A grab bag of additional features
Then, Quick Note comes to the iPhone. If you don’t remember: Quick Note came to the iPad last year, and lets you pull up a little notes sheet in the lower right-hand corner of the screen to jot down some quick thoughts or paste a URL. Now, this will be also available on the iPhone via the Control Center, which might come in handy when doing research in the field, and you need quick access.
The next bullet point on my virtual note card is dictation. Sometimes, it is just easier to create a text by speaking rather than typing it. Especially in cases of writer’s block, it might be a good idea to start talking to your phone. iOS 16 will bring a nice addition, as it allows for mixing dictation with typing. You’ll be able to dictate text, then type a little, and continue to dictate, all in one go.
Last, but not least: Mail. This isn’t so much for doing better research or studying, but for convenience and peace of mind. The next update for Mail will bring some nice, modern features like Send Later, Snoozing, and reminders if you write about an attachment in your mail without attaching anything. Potentially the biggest new feature might be the ability to retract sent mails. This is only possible for a couple of seconds as Mail actually just waits a short period until it actually sends the mail, but whatever. It will prevent a lot of embarrassing mails that just got sent out because of fat finger syndrome.
That’s basically it. Of course, there is a ton more but, as I mentioned in the beginning, it was my goal to focus on research and studying. In my opinion, Apple did a good job this year. Personally, I am most looking forward to Stage Manager, and improvements in Mail. WWDC is just an awesome time of the year.