Apple WWDC 2024 recap: iOS 18, Apple Intelligence, Siri and more

For nearly 50 years, Apple has led a world made smaller by the rise of the PC, the smartphone revolution and social media. But is it ready to enter the age of AI?

Apple today unveiled its long-term AI strategy in a keynote address at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Starting this fall, it’s adding a little AI to many of its apps and devices. It also announced upcoming changes to iOS and its other major software, including AirPods and Vision Pro.

In the past, Apple has used the event to launch ambitious products like its $3,499 Vision Pro headset. This year, the spotlight is firmly on its software — iPhones, iPads and Mac computers — and new AI tools tied into it. In addition to its own AI updates, Apple announced a deal with OpenAI to add some features to ChatGPT Maker.

“Apple Intelligence is a personal intelligence system that puts powerful productivity models at the heart of your iPhone, iPad and Mac,” Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi said in a pre-recorded video of the event. “It draws on your personal environment to give you the most useful and relevant insights.”

Here’s what Apple announced.

Amid the lingering AI hype, Apple is taking a measured approach to integrating AI features into its software. The company said the focus is on building “generative models” at the core of its products to simplify tasks.

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That means the company’s AI — which it’s trying to brand as “Apple Intelligence” — will let you handle table-stakes tasks like rewriting and summarizing text and creating images on demand. But it taps into the personal information you have stored on your device and shows you what you see on your screen when it’s helpful.

In one example Federighi described, iOS uses data from the user’s calendar and the device’s GPS to see if a person can get to a particular event, with an understanding of traffic at a particular time. If there’s one unique AI feature on display, it’s an updated version of the Siri virtual assistant first introduced on its iPhones in 2011.

At WWDC 2024, Apple showed how Siri will be new and improved with the help of artificial intelligence on June 10. (Video: The Washington Post)

All of the demos are detailed or reserved, and the features won’t be available to the public until this fall, so it’s unclear how accurate they are.

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In addition to being a natural conversational partner, Siri can interact with files and activate specific features within apps when prompted. It will also serve as a launching point for some of the AI ​​features baked into other corners of Apple’s software. For example, users can ask Siri to automatically retrieve photos or add those photos to a new file in the Notes app.

Sometimes, Siri can even call in a little help to deal with your requests. It can tap into ChatGPT’s GPT-4o model – although it will ask your permission before sending anything to the chatbot. After that, Siri will send you ChatGPT’s response verbatim. Some of these features are only available on high-end devices like the iPhone 15 Pro series.

Some AI features require data to be sent to remote servers for processing, rather than being handled only on devices. To reduce privacy risks, Apple says it has developed servers that run on its own Apple silicon chips.

Apple says its AI tools are free, though it’s unclear whether it will eventually charge for access. Samsung, which has already introduced AI features in its new Galaxy phones, only guarantees that they will be free until the end of 2025.

Monday’s announcements didn’t come soon enough for the company. Since the start of the year, Apple – once the world’s most valuable company – has trailed Microsoft and has fallen behind Nvidia, two companies that saw their fortunes flourish through the AI ​​revolution they brewed. In the same period, Apple began winding down decades of work on an autonomous electric car, with many employees on that project being shifted to work on the company’s growing AI efforts.

iOS 18 will allow you to hide your secret apps

Apple’s new phone software iOS 18, expected to roll out in September, doesn’t bring any mind-blowing changes, but there might be some changes you like. The iPhone’s display is also more customizable: iOS 18 users can place apps anywhere on their home screens, switch all apps to “dark mode” with a black background, or choose color schemes for groups of apps (green for travel or pink for shopping).

App makers can create their own icons for the control screen where your flashlight tool resides, so you can add controls for your car, garage door, or home security system. New privacy features help you control who can see what on your phone. You can lock apps behind Face ID or hide them entirely in a secret folder. Apple Maps also adds a Tracks option, which can pair nicely with its satellite SOS option for people who get lost in the wild.

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Texting and messaging are getting some big changes. In iOS 18, you can delete text messages even when you’re far away from the grid. As soon as its latest update landed, Apple confirmed that users will be able to send iMessages — and even static, green-bubble text messages — over a satellite connection. Previously, some iPhones had built-in satellite communications features that only allowed text messages to be sent to emergency services when cell service was out of reach.

New in the fold: new text effects to add emphasis, gravitas, or whimsy to your messages, and the ability to “tap” incoming messages with any emoji — not just a select few. Meanwhile, support for RCS — the modern messaging standard that Apple reluctantly adopted late last year — should keep texting between iPhones and Android devices more up-to-date.

Apple is adding AI-generated emojis — called “genmojis” — that pop up based on the content of your message. We’ve yet to see if AI can handle odd situations, abstractions, and (most importantly) snark.

iPadOS is finally getting a calculator app

Some of the changes ported over from iOS, such as tools to customize your tablet’s home screen or its Control Center, come to iPads through its software update. Others seem smaller, like the new floating tab bar that keeps the app’s menu and options out of the way when you don’t need them.

To be honest though, there are some interesting features coming to Apple’s tablets that help people who like to reference things. The long-awaited calculator app has the ability to write mathematical equations and expressions with the Apple Pencil so that the app can solve them automatically. Note-takers, meanwhile, will soon find their chicken scratch made more legible with SmartScript, a tool that analyzes and improves your handwriting.

VisionPro gets a minor upgrade

The software that drives Apple’s most ambitious — and perhaps most divisive — product is being updated after four months on the market.

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When VisionOS 2 becomes available this fall, owners of the company’s Vision Pro headset will be able to view any of their photos — not just those taken in a special, “spatial” format — in a slightly 3D way. The headset’s Virtual Desktop feature lets users see a digital version of their Mac computer’s screen, updated to provide a wider view that’s better suited for multitasking in virtual reality. By changing the headset’s travel mode, owners can use their expensive headsets on trains without their virtual windows sliding in front of them. The company also said it is working on bringing more content to the headset, including original movies.

An upcoming software update will let you nod and respond to Siri when you’re wearing Apple’s popular wireless earbuds — which is a bit more helpful than it sounds. If Siri announces you have an incoming call, for example, a quick nod or shake will signal to Apple’s virtual assistant that you want to chat. Apple’s AirPods Pro are also set to get a voice isolation feature that makes your side of the conversation clearer when you’re moving around in noisy environments.

Apple Watch gets healthy

Apple Watch changes in the upcoming watchOS 11 will give us even more ways to monitor our health at a granular level, from entering our effort levels during workouts to tracking our gestational age. You can use the new Vitals app to compare your current temperature, heart rate and sleep quality with previous weeks. But escaping the tyranny of the Health of Step counter is a very welcome change. Now you can avoid closing your hoops when you need to rest or recover without breaking your streak.

Apple makes its own password app

Apple is introducing a Passwords app that looks like a combination of an authentication app and a password manager. The app syncs across Apple devices, so you can keep your passwords on hand without paying for each device like some password apps.

Prefer to look at your small screen while browsing on your big screen? Now you can with MacOS’s new iPhone Mirroring. This feature is available on your Mac. Click on it to see your iPhone screen hovering over your computer screen. You can swipe, check your notifications, or drag files back and forth from phone to computer.

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