During Apple’s WWDC 2021 event on Monday, I couldn’t help but notice the new ways in which the company is competing with rival services. Here are the features and companies that came to mind:

Competing With Companies

Google: Launched a couple years ago, Google Lens uses a smartphone’s camera to interact with the physical world beyond photography. Examples include scan and translate text, searching the web with a photo, analyzing a menu, recognizing popular landmarks, identifying plants and animals, and more.

iOS 15 improvements to machine learning matches many of these features. Live Text uses on-device intelligence to recognize text in a photo with actionable results, like “users can search for and locate the picture of a handwritten family recipe.” Visual Look Up helps people learn more about popular art and landmarks around the world, plants and flowers found in nature, breeds of pets, and even find books. Spotlight, Apple’s on-device search engine, can take advantage of these features.

Facebook, Disney: These two companies, and probably others that I don’t know about, have a social feature that lets you watch video content with others. Facebook Watch offers personalized recommendations for videos to watch, as well as categorized content bundles depending on factors such as popularity and social media engagement. Disney+ GroupWatch lets you watch any title on Disney+ with your personal friends and family virtually through the app.

Apple is bringing social experiences like these to its operating systems powered by FaceTime. “Users can now share experiences with SharePlay while connecting with friends on FaceTime, including listening to songs together with Apple Music, watching a TV show or movie in sync, or sharing their screen to view apps together.”

Calm, Headspace: Calm is a mindfulness app centered around sleep, meditation, and relaxation. Headspace provides similar features and offers guided meditation.

watchOS 8 is enhancing the Breathe app and turning it into the Mindfulness app. A new session called Reflect “offers a mindful intention to focus on for as little as one minute that can be done anywhere and at any time.” Sounds like guided meditation to me.

Tor Project: Tor stands for The Onion Router. Tor Browser isolates each website you visit so third-party trackers and ads can’t follow you. Any cookies and browsing history automatically clears when you’re done browsing.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Tor Project is not a company, and as a privacy project it’s likely they welcome Apple’s initiative.

Safari has a new privacy feature coming called Private Relay. Built into iCloud, this feature encrypts all Safari tracking and routes it through two separate internet relays. “The first assigns the user an anonymous IP address that maps to their region but not their actual location. The second decrypts the web address they want to visit and forwards them to their destination.”

I’m sure there are many more features that Apple is competing with, like Hide My Email potentially replacing specialty services that create email aliases for you. You could say Apple is playing “catch-up” or maybe you won’t, but I think default features like these that are built into the system and great for people.

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geoduck

All VPN companies are likely freaking out about Private Relay. Sadly the FBI et.al. are probably as well.

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

@geoduck:
 
You can still get features on a package VPN that were not discussed today, however not all potential VPN customers will know that. 
 
Still, there will be a race to the courts of law and public opinion between affected companies and law enforcement/intelligence services, although the latter might execute more drastic actions. It will be interesting to see who squawks loudest and more frequently (looking towards Mountain View). 
 
Apart from users/consumers and likely developers, Apple made few friends today in industry and government. 

geoduck

One of the biggest features I like about the VPN service I use is that I can specifically NOT have it go through the US. I’m in Canada and I want my data routed through Canada.

Zero

Same here as I’m in Europe, I was thinking….
But now as it is clear that a lot of EU countries fraternizes with NSA, especially the Danish state services and also who knows which other countries services, seems that Apple would be a better solution. I’m not doing nothing illegal, but I refuse to be tracked on the web by crappers like Zuck, Pichai, you name it…

John Kheit

Great write up Andrew.