Thursday, June 13, 2024

Apple finally adds RCS support after years of mixed messages

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Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday teased assorted imminent improvements to the iGiant’s operating systems – including enhanced app security, support for RCS in Messages, and a dedicated password management app.

The most salient announcement had to do with the debut of “Apple Intelligence” – Cook & Co’s plan for integrating machine learning into its various apps and devices in a privacy-conscious way.

But across Apple’s operating systems – visionOS, watchOS, macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS – there were a few noteworthy enhancements, as well as a variety of cosmetic novelties.

In iOS 18, Apple is taking steps to make mobile apps less accessible when an iPhone is being used by someone other than its owner.

“Sometimes we hand our device to someone so they can look at a photo or play a game,” noted Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering at Apple, during the keynote presentation, “but we want peace of mind that they can’t get into sensitive areas of our phone. So this year, we’re giving you a new way to protect sensitive apps and the information inside them by letting you lock an app.”

When you lock an app, subsequent access requires authentication via Face ID, Touch ID, or passcode. Information within a locked app should not be accessible elsewhere – by using search or notifications, for example.

Apple is also adding a locked, hidden folder in which the presence of apps can be concealed, as well as a way to limit which contacts are shared with apps. Expect this to be the first stop for any forensic investigator given an iPhone.

Apple’s Messages app in iOS 18 will support RCS (Rich Communications Services) – a successor to the MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) standard that Apple until recently resisted.

Better still, Apple has extended its emergency satellite service, which provides a way to place calls when unable to connect to a cell tower or Wi-Fi, to support emergency text messaging – end-to-end encrypted, no less.

There’s also Emergency SOS Live Video, through which participating emergency service dispatchers can request that a caller share live video or media from the user’s camera roll.

macOS Sequoia will add “iPhone Mirroring”, which presents a virtual iPhone on the user’s desktop through which files can be exchanged.

Those using macOS 15 (as well as iOS 18, iPadOS 18, Vision Pro, and PCs with iCloud for Windows) will also gain access to a password management app called Passwords. Yes, 1Password and other third-party password management apps have been “Sherlocked.” In other words, Apple has decided to ship an app or add features likely to erode the market for third-party software.

Similarly, the arrival of Tap to Cash in iOS 18 – which will let iPhone users send and receive Apple Cash by holding two iPhones next to one another – will seriously worry apps like Venmo and PayPal Zettle as they offer similar functions. And third-party developers offering AI writing assistance, like Grammarly and Goodnotes, now have to contend with Apple Intelligence capabilities in Apple Notes and other first-party applications. Also, Window Tiling has been improved in macOS Sequoia, which may overlap with features in third-party window tiling apps like Magnet.

Apple’s visionOS – the software for Cupertino’s pricey Vision Pro “spatial computing” goggles – has been revised to version 2. The update improves the resolution of the Mac Virtual Display, a visual desktop simulation, adds support for a Guest User, and upgrades Travel Mode with support for trains. It also adds various APIs like TabletopKit, for creating 3D representations of tabletop games.

Meanwhile, watchOS 11 offers a new Vitals app that aggregates important health data: heart rate, respiratory rate, wrist temperature, sleep duration, and blood oxygen. The Health app has also been updated for improved pregnancy support. And there are a variety of other training, customization, and personalization updates.

With tvOS 18, there’s a new feature called InSight that can show information about actors, the characters they play, and music in Apple TV+ entertainment. A feature called Enhance Dialogue has also been added that uses machine learning to make dialog easier to hear in poorly mixed scenes (Christopher Nolan will hate this). And Apple’s Home app in iOS has added support for guest access and hands-free unlocking of doors and security systems.

The additions to iPadOS overlap substantially with those in iOS. Perhaps the most interesting iPad-focused addition is Math Notes – an interactive mode in Calculator and Notes by which iPad users can hand write math operations, with an Apple Pencil of course, and have the operating system calculate and write the answer when an “equals” sign is drawn. There’s also a feature called Smart Script that smooths handwriting and converts copy-and-pasted text into the user’s handwriting style.

Of course this is a developer conference …

Developers have not been forgotten in the rush to sprinkle Apple’s things with AI pixie dust. Xcode 16, Apple’s Integrated Development Environment, has been bestowed with Swift Assist – a cloud-based AI help framework that, according to Apple, uses developer code only to process requests and doesn’t store developer code or use it for training.

This is augmented by an on-device code completion engine in macOS Sequoia that lets developers get code completion suggestions in Xcode even when offline.

Finally, Apple’s Swift programming language, introduced a decade ago, is moving to GitHub. Version 6 includes features to better support concurrent programming on multicore architectures. These include compile-time data-race safety, which helps make it easier to diagnose issues related to concurrent access to memory at compile time.

Developer betas for Apple’s latest operating systems are now available to registered developers. ®

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