This year the whole virtual WWDC 21 was really action packed with lots of new APIs for developers and features for users. Below is the view of our engineers on what Apple’s WWDC 2021 announcements.
Yet Again, Accessibility Takes the Front Seat
Once again Apple has pushed the envelope for accessibility further than ever before. Apple has always paid immense focus on the inclusion of accessibility and we saw the same commitment in the WWDC 2021 where Apple announced a slew of new software enhancements. From strengthening the existing accessibility tools to creating new ways to interact with your devices – WWDC served as a prime showcase of Apple’s attention to accessibility. Some of the key new announcements include Live text in photos – which will allow users to digitise any text from their photos. AirPods saw an introduction of a very practical feature in the form of Conversation boost. This new update will allow AirPods to use beam-forming microphones to focus on the person in front of you. AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch is one of those revolutionary new features that comes arounds once in a while and opens new ways of interaction. It allows users with upper body limb differences to use their Apple watch without ever having to touch the display or controls. Along with these headliners, there are many other enhancements to existing suite of features – Digital keys in Wallet, biometrics login on TVOS, voice isolation in FaceTime, eye tracking support for iPad, VoiceOver Image explorer and Sound action controls to name a few.
–Chirag Choudhary, Senior iOS Engineer, Melbourne
This iteration of SwiftUI finally delivers on many things that developers have been wanting for years: the ability to switch between input fields in forms, the ability to search, the ability to draw custom graphics on the screen, updating the screen at regular intervals using the timeline view, various list improvements such as pull to refresh and swipe actions, and the simplification of asynchronous tasks such as loading images and fetching data.
–Chris Nevin, Specialist Software Engineer, Brisbane
WatchOS and HealthKit Updates
It’s an incredibly exciting time for health apps on the Watch with watchOS 8. We now have much greater background capabilities, like the ability to receive HealthKit data, including immediate delivery of serious events like a fall or low heart rate, as well as receive data from bluetooth devices. This unlocks some serious capability, as you can now update complications or do other work at regular intervals throughout the day and night, even based on data from connected devices such as a blood sugar monitor. Combined with other new additions such as geofenced location notifications and respiratory rate tracking during sleep, there are so many new possibilities for apps on watchOS 8.
On the HealthKit side, some incredible work has been done on motion tracking and secure verifiable health records. We can now use new walking endurance and steadiness metrics to track recovery after an injury, or potentially detect other health issues early. The new SMART health card for verifiable clinical health records has APIs for secure storage and usage of records, unlocking a particularly pertinent use case of storing and presenting COVID vaccination records. These additions to HealthKit are a serious boon for health researchers and care providers alike.
–Max Clarke, Technical Lead, Brisbane
Notifications and focus
With so many apps being installed on devices it is becoming more and more challenging to find what is important in the pile of notifications pushed to the users on a daily basis. Notifications are one of the key components of the app that allow app creators to communicate with a user outside of the app and this year Apple have decided to enhance the experience by performing a series of updates.
Notifications presentation and actions were updated to match the new system style and the new look focuses on the content as well as associated media and actions, which now support iconography.
Users can now control which apps can send interruptive notifications and when. They can set the device to a Focus mode based on the time of the day or activity they are performing and by doing so, they can reduce the amount of interruptions. Further reduction of interruptions will be achieved by the new Notification Summary, which will group the notifications, sort them using relevance scores and highlight notifications containing media and important information.
–Piotr Kowalczyk, Software Engineer, Sydney
Over the last few years SwiftUI has been getting most of the attention, and this year it still got a lot, but finally it is the time that UIKit felt some love. There are a lot of changes that are really awesome this year, some we even get without having to change any existing code, if you’ve got 26 minutes the “What’s new in UIKit” video does a great overview of all the changes. Some of the most exciting things for me however are new UIButton styles, additional modal sheet behaviors with detents, finally a super powerful UIKeyboardLayoutGuide, platform unified colors, brand new SF Symbols 3.0 functionality, important Diffable Data Source performance improvements and philosophy changes, and amazingly new inter-app Drag & Drop functionality on iOS which requires no code changes at all.
It feels like forever since we’ve seen changes to Foundation and this year’s WWDC has really delivered some amazing improvements. The new Swift API for attributed strings is amazingly powerful, with limited support for parsing Markdown including custom named attributes via JSON 5 support, but allows us to express rich text much more fluently than with NSAttributedString. Localization and internationalization just became easier too with the new grammar agreement engine which will utilize the autocorrect dictionaries to fix up localized strings with correct grammatical gender and pluralization! Finally, formatters got an overhaul to clean up the interface and reduce developer error; with support for auto-completion and type-safety through the introduction of a new fluent API to describe the format it will be easier than ever to format data for the user.
A framework that I personally did not see coming was the Documentation Compiler, or DocC for short. With this framework Apple has made it easier than ever to write and distribute documentation for our libraries to other developers. The documentation compiler can create an archive for distribution and use within Xcode, generate a website (written in Vue.js) that looks exactly like Apple’s own documentation which can be hosted online, and the website can even have tutorials which look and behave a lot like Apple’s own SwiftUI tutorials. The new compiler also has added support for a new markup to link to another type or type’s member from within documentation, to do so you simply surround the type’s/member’s name with two backticks “MyType.”
–Joshua Asbury, Senior Software Engineer (iOS), Melbourne
WWDC digital lounges
Due to online WWDC, This year Apple has used Slack for connecting developers and designers to Apple’s developers and designers. I really found this very interesting way to communicate with Apple developers. There were few really good questions and Apple developers kept it very interactive.
Only complaint I have is that I wish Apple kept that Slack workspace alive after WWDC to go back to some of the questions and answers. There is an unofficial archive of that Q & A available on the internet to refer to the questions.
Big thank you to Apple developers for delivering all this amazing feature especially during the pandemic and also to all the presenters to put together session videos.
Our iOS Engineering team is very excited to use all this new API to enhance and enrich our client’s applications user experience and performance.