Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference offers new privacy and connectivity opportunities, but no new hardware

Kiwis will have an opportunity to buy a HomePod mini for the first time later this month.
Besides software updates, Kiwis will have access to the HomePod mini soon. Photo credit: Supplied

Apple unveiled new software features for its suite of products at its developers conference today, but the rumoured hardware devices were nowhere to be seen.

MacOS Monterey, the latest version of Apple's desktop and laptop software, was officially announced, alongside major updates to iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch operating systems.

But rumours of a redesigned MacBook Pro laptop, featuring a version of the M1 chip that is now powering its iPad Pro and MacBook Air range of devices, remained unaddressed.

However, the annual WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) did see the announcement that the tech giant's HomePod mini smartspeaker device will be available in Aotearoa this month after launching in other countries late last year.

Privacy has been a major focus for Apple with iOS 14.5, launched in April, giving users more control over their online privacy, and that continues with the new software versions that will roll out to users later this year, including iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

Mail Privacy Protection will stop senders using invisible pixels contained within emails to collect information like IP address, location and whether the receiver opened the message or not.

Users will also have access to an App Privacy Report that will allow them to see how often each app has used its permissions to access location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts information during the past week.

Privacy indictators in iOS 15.
Photo credit: Supplied

And with on-device speech recognition, the audio of Siri requests will no longer leave the device and will be processed on the iPhone or iPad, allowing for faster response times.

Apple also announced updates to iCloud with the ability to specify legacy contacts to pass your information to when you die and the creation of a new version called iCloud+.

That introduces Private Relay, VPN-like functionality that will route your traffic through two separate relays to mask your data with, the company claims, no compromise on performance.

Hide My Email, also part of iCloud+, will let users create single-use email addresses to forward email to their main account, an extension of the similar Sign In With Apple feature currently available.

iOS 15 screenshots
Photo credit: Supplied

When it comes to connectivity, FaceTime will see updates that transform it into a Zoom-like conferencing service with the ability to create a meeting link and share it, with Android and Windows users being able to access it from their browser.

Meeting audio will also be upgraded to take advantage of Apple's Spatial Audio feature as well as providing microphone modes like voice isolation to ensure background noise is filtered and wide spectrum, ensuring every sound is captured.

A portrait mode, which blurs the background and focuses on the user's face, will also be included.

The WWDC announcement also saw a new Live Text feature announced, which intelligently recognises text in a photo and allows users to take action, for example copying the text of a handwritten family recipe into typed text.

And for those with multiple Apple devices, Universal Control will let users work across them all with a single mouse and keyboard. By placing an iPad next to, for example, a MacBook Air, the laptop's cursor can be moved across to the iPad's screen and the keyboard used to type on that device.

Screenshots of iOS and iPadOS
Photo credit: Supplied

Other features to roll out in the updates, available to developers today and beta users next month, include SharePlay, so users can listen to music and watch movies together. 

Focus features to allow the filtering of notifications and apps to suit what users are doing.

The HomePod mini, which will cost $159 in Aotearoa when launched, will also gain the ability to let you control Apple TV via voice and to use it as the speaker for the Apple TV.