Apple Inc will make the most drastic changes to the iPhone home screen since the product’s release in 2007 as part of a software update expected later this year.
The new home screen allows users to place widgets that sit between the typical grid of apps, Apple said on Monday at a virtual conference for developers. The widgets present information from an app, such as the weather or a calendar, that updates throughout the day and can be set to varying sizes. The new software will also allow users to hide apps and access a new screen for organising and searching for software. A similar feature will also come to the iPad.
The new software, called iOS 14, will let users set a default email or web browser not made by Apple for the first time. Bloomberg reported in February that the company was planning such a setting after facing complaints from developers alleging anti-competitive behaviour.
Apple added several travel-focused tools, though an executive acknowledged they may not get much use until the pandemic passes. A new Translate app for the iPhone will work offline. Updates to Apple Maps include travel guides and improved bicycle routes in some cities. Apple worked with BMW AG on a wireless car key that can unlock new vehicles using an iPhone, as well as on integration with electric cars from BMW and Ford Motor Co.
There will be several more features iPhone users can appreciate while stuck at home. The iPhone will support picture-in-picture mode for watching videos while browsing other apps, similar to one on the iPad. Siri, the company’s voice-activated digital assistant, will no longer cover up the screen when opened and will allow users to record audio messages and dictate text messages without transmitting their voice to Apple’s servers. A new version of the Messages app adds improvements to group threads and animated emojis. Apple didn’t say when the new software would be made available.
Another new tool called App Clips offers miniature software that works without a lengthy download. Apple said this will be useful for renting electric scooters in cities or paying at a parking meter. They can be accessed via websites, the Maps app, text messages or wireless tags.
The iPad will also see new designs for apps that make better use of larger screens. Several apps, including Calendar, Files, Music, Notes and Photos, will receive a Mac-like sidebar and tool bar. Apple also redesigned its search interface for the iPad.
The iPhone widgets were one of the most-requested features and one that Google has offered on Android phones for years. Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software engineering, said the widgets were designed based on the information screens on the Apple Watch. Some Apple-made widgets let users quickly play podcasts, watch TV shows, read news and view daily fitness activity.