Apple said on Monday it will offer the ability to store state-issued identification cards digitally on iPhones and added user privacy protections on its iCloud storage service and email apps, among several updates to the software on its devices.
It also showed updates to its FaceTime video chat app, adding the ability to schedule calls with multiple attendees and making the software compatible with Android and Windows devices.
The move, which puts Apple in more direct competition with companies like Zoom that gained prominence during the pandemic, was the first major announcement from Apple's annual meeting for software developers.
Apple said users will be able to scan state-issued ID cards in participating U.S. states and the cards will be encrypted in a user's digital wallet, where the company currently offers the ability to store credit cards and transit cards in some U.S. cities. It is working with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to accept the digital IDs at airports.
Apple changed the name of its paid iCloud storage service to iCloud+ and added privacy features. One, called private relay, obscures a user’s identity and browsing behavior from both Apple and advertisers. Another lets users hide their email address when filling out online forms. Apple said iCloud pricing will not change despite the new features.
Also on the privacy front, Apple said it was updating its email apps to block senders using trackers that detect when an email is opened. The company also introduced a new way to track where third-party services apps send data, and said its Siri voice assistant will no longer need to connect to Apple’s servers to respond to some requests.
Several of the features Apple introduced, such as the ability to snap a photo of a sign and use artificial intelligence to pluck out the written text, have been present on the rival Android operating system for several years.
Apple said it will let users control other Apple devices such as iPads from Mac computers and laptops. It announced other software improvements to make working across its devices easier. These features, like many other flagship Apple features, will not work with third-party devices.
Audience of developers
Apple introduced what it calls in-app events, a way for developers to host live events within apps and have those events featured in real time in the App Store. The move could intensify competition with Facebook, which on Monday said it was planning to launch an online events business that would be free until 2023 and thereafter will charge commissions lower than Apple's 30 percent fees for the App Store.
The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, held online for the second year because of the pandemic, typically attracts thousands of app developers, many of whom hope the company will be listening to their concerns.
Apple's control over what apps make it onto its app platform, and its 15 percent to 30 percent commissions on digital sales, have come under regulatory scrutiny and were at the heart of an antitrust lawsuit brought by "Fortnite" creator Epic Games, where a federal judge is considering how to rule.
Apple has said its App Store practices grow the market for mobile software by creating an environment for paid apps that consumers trust.
Not all developers have negative sentiments, said Ben Bajarin, chief executive at Creative Strategies who has been surveying Apple developers and found more than 90 percent have no plans to stop making apps for Apple devices.
However, some complaints are widespread, with more than half of developers saying fees should be capped at 10 percent, and many wanting more clarity around reasons for rejecting apps from the App Store and how to resolve such issues, Bajarin said.