Apple becomes more social and attacks Facebook & Zoom

Cupertino Apple is a company that pays a lot of attention to details: When Apple’s software boss Craig Federighi shows the start screen of an iPhone or iPad during his keynote at the in-house developer conference WWDC, there is never a Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram App – after all, four of the most popular apps in Apple’s iOS operating system.

All of them come from Facebook, for several years the favorite rival of the two-trillion-dollar group from Cupertino. So far, the two Silicon Valley neighbors have been squabbling about privacy rules on Apple’s devices that restrict Facebook’s advertising business. With the update to iOS 15, which should come in the fall, Apple is bringing its communication apps iMessage and Facetime into position for a direct attack on Facebook.

Through video conferences with friends or the better organization of photos or articles shared by friends, some central Facebook functions should be possible in Apple’s preinstalled apps. At least now it is clear why Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg referred to Apple as a “direct competitor” in January.

In terms of many functions, Apple is just starting to match Zoom or Facebook’s “Messenger Rooms” introduced last year: Facetime should be able to hide background noise or the background of the image. iOS 15 also has the ability to schedule calls and send links that others can use to join a call. Apparently, Apple is now at eye level: For the first time, FaceTime should also be available on Android devices and Windows computers via the web.

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Apple is strengthening its data protection

But Apple also wants to score points with functions that allow different apps to easily interlock to make shared experiences possible. A new SharePlay function on FaceTime is intended to help users watch series together, listen to music or access apps together – for example, so that a user looking for an apartment can scroll through lists of apartments in a real estate app with their friends and get advice. Photos, songs or podcasts that friends have shared with a user in iMessage appear in iOS 15 in a “Shared with you” tab in the corresponding apps.

Apple-Manager Craig Federighi

The group is expanding data protection.

(Photo: AFP)

These are by far not all functions that the Facebook app now offers. But Apple positions itself as a simple alternative where user data is safe. Apple is even strengthening its data protection in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 with a new menu that shows users in detail what data third-party apps are collecting.

Commands to the AI ​​assistant Siri for important tasks such as starting apps, setting alarms and changing settings will in future be processed on the device instead of in the cloud. This means that Siri doesn’t just work without an internet connection. It also reduces the need to upload personal data to the web. Apple is targeting the growing trend in many Western countries of distrusting data collection from online services. In other words: Apple not only sells high-priced hardware and software, it also sells peace of mind.

This does not only apply to the whereabouts of your own data: After a year of pandemic and app notification barrage in the home office, Apple expects that many users want to gain more control over the distractions: The iOS 15 update also adds a revised notification system called Focus , with which users can set their current status – whether it is work, personal time or sleep – and only allow certain notifications during these times.

In keeping with the data protection issue, Apple is also expanding its subscription services – which have been the beacon of hope for further sales growth for several years. ICloud + subscribers can book data transfer with additional encryption in addition to storage space.

The “Private Relay” function is supposed to shield the transmitted data better than conventional VPN services. In contrast to a classic VPN service (“Virtual Private Network”), however, customers cannot select a virtual location, for example to watch streaming content from Germany that is actually reserved for viewers in the USA. iCloud + also contains storage space for the smart Homekit camera and disposable e-mail addresses that users can enter once when registering for a service from which they do not want to be permanently spammed.

When it comes to AI, Apple has so far been behind

Apple’s focus on data protection has so far had the price that many AI-supported services on Apple devices do not work as well as comparable ones on Google’s Android: the Siri voice assistant, for example, understands commands noticeably less than the Google Assistant. In recent years, Apple has poached several of its competitor’s high-ranking AI experts, including its current AI board member John Giannandrea and, a few weeks ago, the French scientist Samy Bengio.

Apple is also visibly struggling to catch up with Google when it comes to the intelligence of its products: The photo app can now recognize where the restaurant is from a lettering in a picture, for example the sign of a restaurant, and show the location on maps or a Call the phone number in the shop window directly. However, Google already offers similar functions in Lens.

The smart speaker Homepod Mini is to become the control center for the smart home. In addition, the device will be introduced in other countries, including Austria, this month and should have better sound quality.

Siri should also be able to be integrated into smart home appliances from third-party providers such as the thermostat manufacturer Ecobee. Digital keys for the apartment door can be saved in the iPhone or Apple Watch, as has been possible with the car keys for many BMW models since last year.

Although Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have so far penetrated the market, many users still shy away from smart cameras or front door keys in principle – for fear of what their sensitive data could one day be used for. Apple’s reputation as a data protection company could still be helpful in the competition for the smart home.

More: iOS update: developers fight back against Apple’s anti-tracking rules.