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Apple’s WWDC 2021: Focus and Control

There were a couple of great innovations at Apple’s WWDC 2021, and Microsoft and Google need to take note. But Apple’s M1 transition and its long-term impact were not addressed.

In Technology

Written by : Rushabh Doshi

Posted on 08/06/2021

Apple was challenged to live up to the excitement of last year’s announcements. The vendor announced a few major updates to its in-house applications, FaceTime, Safari and Maps, and revamped its notification experience. Apple has also improved the iPad multitasking experience. But the most important innovations, in my opinion, are the “Universal Control” and “Focus Mode” – timely innovations for our new post-pandemic way of living and working.

Universal Control puts easy device efficiency into the hands of Mac users

Universal Control lets Mac users control their iPads using the keyboards and trackpads of their Macs. Apple continues to blur the line between notebooks and tablets, and is addressing a major pain point for users who work on both devices simultaneously. When an iPad is put next to a MacBook, macOS Monterey detects it and allows users to control the additional device and screen space. It also allows users to transfer files with an intuitive drag and drop between devices. Granted, this could be easily achieved with virtualization/remote monitoring software, but the ease of use will definitely appeal to users who are not adept at tinkering with software.

Apple is squarely targeting the intersection of people who own both a Mac and an iPad, which Canalys estimates is nearly half of the 100 million Mac users. Universal Control will have a cannibalizing effect on sales of iPad keyboards and even mice, but it will be negligible compared with the additional sales of iPads and Macs that Apple will generate. With such features, Apple continues to encourage users to get locked into its ecosystem and increase their lifetime spending. A student using an iPad today stands to benefit from buying a MacBook tomorrow, and this post-pandemic vision will serve Apple well.

Apple borrows Focus Mode from Google, but owns it

Google announced Focus Mode for its Android devices two years ago. Despite its efforts, roll-out of Android features remains at the mercy of Google’s multiple hardware partners, many of whom skin Android to produce their own platforms. These vendors also produce low-cost handsets at very low margins, benefiting instead from ads that can be pushed to the growing user base. Hence, Focus Mode and Do Not Disturb features remain at the bottom of the priority list.

So why do I think Apple did a better job at Focus Mode? The mere fact that you can have more than one type of Focus Mode is a step ahead. Apple has also ensured that Focus Mode works across iPads and Macs, and that activating it on one device will enable it on all devices at once. On the iPhone and iPad, Apple also replies automatically to messages, stating that the owner has disabled notifications.

While notifications are not necessarily an issue on the MacBook or iPad, a natural way forward is for Focus Mode to be able to set status messages across all our unified communications software, including Teams and Slack, and hopefully save all our mail notifications for later – a welcome feature at a time when people are finding it hard to separate their work and personal lives.

Apple’s M1 transition and its long-term impact yet to be addressed

A glaring absence at this year’s WWDC was Apple’s recognition of the M1 and Intel portfolio fragmentation with its MacBooks and iMacs. Last year, apart from announcing iterative updates to all its platforms, Apple also announced custom silicon for its Macs – the M1 processor. Since the announcement in June 2020, Apple has launched an M1-based MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and, more recently, an iMac.

Canalys data suggests that in Q1 2021, Apple shipped more ARM-based than Intel-based Macs. More than 60% of all Macs shipped in the January-to-March quarter ran on Apple’s own M1-based chipsets, with the number poised to increase as iMacs join the fray.

While most Apple software vendors have already made the transition to ARM, including long-term partners Adobe and Microsoft, enterprises are trying to figure out how to deal with the Intel/ARM fragmentation within their fleets. The tendency for most enterprises will be to continue using Intel to avoid any runtime concerns for the many applications that they run internally, until they can test out every single application on an ARM-based Mac. Apple should help by offering IT managers support to certify all their internal applications.


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