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Highlights from Apple's developers conference

Another year, another Apple (AAPLWorldwide Developers Conference rife with news for Apple aficionados and Wall Street analysts to froth over. 

At this year’s WWDC, which kicked off on Monday in San Jose, California, the Cupertino-based tech giant unveiled a number of announcements during the opening keynote — all focused on software. (Those hoping Apple would unveil a long-awaited MacBook Air update will likely have to wait a few months more.) 

Here are the highlights from Monday’s keynote:

iOS 12 will be faster for new and old iPhones

IOS 12 may not knock your socks off, but that’s not the point with this year’s mobile operating system upgrade, which includes some major performance improvements.

Apple Senior Vice President of Engineering Craig Federighi emphasized that with iOS 12, improving speed on devices was paramount — a declaration likely in response to previous criticism that older iPhones get slower with software updates. Even owners of the iPhone 6S, which launched in 2015, should benefit. To that end, Federighi said iPhone users can generally expect apps to get 40% faster, with the Camera launching up to 70% faster.

FaceTime gets its ‘group’ on

Meet Group FaceTime, which lets up to 30 people participate in one video chat.

Group FaceTime, which works on iPhone, iPad, Mac, with audio available for the Apple Watch, takes the idea of group video chat to another level for iOS users by letting up to 30 people all participate in the same FaceTime. Federighi demonstrated how group FaceTime works, with a row of tiles at the bottom displaying all the FaceTime participants. As someone speaks, a video window above that row of that speaker enlarges.

“I can’t wait to use group FaceTime every Sunday with the leadership team,” Apple CEO Tim Cook quipped during the onstage demonstration.

Siri gets smarter

In an effort to catch up somewhat with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, Apple announced a new Siri app called Shortcuts that lets users create verbal commands that will have Siri perform a number of functions they can pre-program.

Augmented reality goes multiplayer

Source: Apple

Other iOS 12 updates, as my colleague Dan Howley predictedinclude updates to Apple’s augmented reality software tools. Dubbed ARKit 2.0, the upgrades add the ability for multiplayer AR games on separate devices. In other words, both players will see the same scenario through their phones’ displays.

Google, in comparison, already takes it one step further with software that can bring both Android and iPhone players in the same AR space using so-called “Cloud Anchors,” which syncs up users’ positions across different devices.

Super-powered Photos and search

Photos and search for iOS 12 also received updates. Now, the Photos app recognizes faces in photos you’ve taken and suggests you potentially share those with that contact. Want to quickly find the photos you took at a concert or sports event? Now you can search for the name of the band or sports team to pull those up. Also, Photos will now recommend key moments or places it thinks are important to you.

Memoji for Messages

Source: Apple

Depending on how you feel about Animoji, or animated emoji, which Apple debuted last year, you’ll either love or hate Memoji, which lets users create their personalized Animoji that resembles their real-life visage, down to that shoulder-length wavy hairdo’.

And for Animoji aficionados who were craving a little more variety: Apple company also trotted out several new Animoji, including a ghost, a koala, and a T-Rex.

WatchOS 5 gets more predictive

The updates for watchOS 5 are mostly aimed at making the Apple Watch smarter at predicting what you might need. For instance, now the Apple Watch will start tracking a run automatically if it senses you started running, even when you forgot to hit “start workout” or started it late. Likewise, the watch will also stop tracking a run when it senses you’ve finished a run.

The Apple Watch as a walkie-talkie

A new feature for watchOS5, called Walkie Talkie, lets Apple Watch users talk to one another over cellular or WiFi.

Surprisingly, the Apple Watch feature that impressed the crowd the most was the ability to use your Apple Watch as a sort of walkie-talkie over WiFi or cellular: press a button on the side of the watch, speak, and the other person will hear what you have to say. They can then respond with an audio clip of their own.

Apps for your digital health

Another significant improvement with iOS 12? A new set of features focused on digital health that helps users track how much time they spend using specific apps on their devices, as well as how much time they spend using their devices overall. In theory, being able to see that kind of data at a glance can help users better manage their time.

Screentime, for instance, offers users a weekly activity summary of how they’ve much used their iPhone or iPad. 

“Equipped with this insight, you can make decisions about how you want to spend your time with your device each day,” explained Federighi.

macOS Mojave goes dark

A new ‘dark mode” in macOS Mojave makes everything… darker.

Apple finally added a “dark mode” to its upcoming Mac operating system update, dubbed macOS Mojave. Dark mode does what it implies: turning the dock, taskbar and the chrome around apps a dark, muted gray. Does it make macOS any more useful? Not really. But developers in the audience loved the new feature, anyway.

An all-new Mac App Store (finally)

As functional as the Mac App Store is, it’s been years since it received any kind of major upgrade, so the news of an overhauled App Store was a welcome one. In addition to a fresh coat of virtual paint, there’s a greater emphasis on “curation,” some original content and highlighted content written and developed by a staff of Apple employees behind the scenes.

Stacks, Markup for Finder and Continuity Camera

Apple is adding a new way to clean up our messy desktops: a feature called “stacks.” These virtual piles of icons automatically organize files to keep that desktop neater and less cluttered. and Markup for Finder: take a screengrab, then tap on that thumbnail to edit it. Another feature, Continuity Camera, lets users snap photos with your iPhone, which instantly show up instantly in your Mac document. 

A more secure Safari

One area where Apple has made significant efforts to distance itself from other big tech companies like Facebook (FB)? Privacy and security. During Monday’s keynote, Federighi also made a point to discuss increased security measures that protect user data. In addition to protecting areas of user data like location and contacts, the Apple exec said macOS Mojave would now also secure user data related to the camera and microphone. Apple also bolstered security and privacy with its Safari browser. For instance, Safari now makes it harder for trackers to track you by automatically “shutting down” the tracking on share buttons and comment fields. 

See below for Tweets from our live coverage of WWDC!