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Apple unveils iOS 15, privacy updates and extends FaceTime to non-iPhone users

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 08 June 2021, 9:52 am

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference hosted virtually overnight in the US revealed numerous tweaks to the iPhone maker's software ecosystem and nothing in the way of new hardware.

The new version of the iOS operating system for iPhones, iOS 15, will be officially available by September in time for the arrival of the iPhone 13 and sees Apple respond to the boom in video conferencing apps by opening its own FaceTime video app to Android and Windows users.

Apple isn't creating an app for those non-iOS platforms - yet. Instead, Android and Windows users will be able to click on a link sent from an iOS device user to start a video call with them in a web browser. 

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This is the first time that FaceTime has been available across these platforms and sees Apple attempt to keep users in its own ecosystem, rather than resort to alternatives such as Zoom and Google Meet, which are available across a wider range of devices and software platforms.

Other FaceTime upgrades include the ability to blur backgrounds during video calls in portrait mode, a grid view to speak to a number of people at the same time, conference-style, the ability to send links to participants to schedule calls and the ability for users to share their screens and music through a new feature called ShareTime.

Elsewhere, incremental changes across the board, from the Apple Watch and iPad to Mac OS and Apple TV were the order of the day. However, the new sharing and communications features are only likely to intensify hostilities between Apple and Facebook, which are at war over Apple's recent iOS update which asks users to opt into ad tracking on their devices. Vast numbers of Apple users have chosen instead to turn ad-tracking off, with Facebook, therefore, less able to tailor adverts to its users, based on their web activity on Apple devices.

The privacy push by Apple CEO Tim Cook continues with its new software updates. A new service called iCloud+, which will be included in existing iCloud subscriptions will feature Private Relay, a type of virtual private network to mask an Apple user's identity and web activity while using the internet.

Another iCloud+ feature, Hide My Email, lets users enter a placeholder email address when signing up for new services. 

Apple will also introduce a tracker blocker in its Mail app to mask a user's IP address and location. It will do the same in its Safari web browser. A new section of the App Tracker Report will let users see how often apps used information in the last seven days and what third party domains the apps are connecting to.

In an update to its Siri digital assistant, Apple will support offline speech recognition, meaning fewer commands will have to be sent to the cloud, making the service more private.

The full list of Apple announcements and a replay of the WWDC keynote is available here.


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