Siri Shortcuts, Screen Time, and USDZ, Oh My!

I’m going to come right out and say it: LEGO was my favorite part of this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote.

Yes, the conference that Apple junkies everywhere live for kicked off Monday at the San Jose Convention Center with a keynote that was largely focused on the release of iOS 12. Over 20 million Apple developers from 77 countries showed up to hear all about the new features to be rolled out on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

CEO Tim Cook began by mentioning a couple of company milestones: the App Store will celebrate its 10th birthday on July 10, and profits generated by developers the App Store will top $100 billion this week. After that brief introduction, Cook got down to business.

“Today is all about software,” he said, turning things over to Craig Federighi, senior VP of Software Engineering.

Federighi made note of the successes of iOS 11: it achieved the fastest adoption of any operating system with half of all Apple customers making the switch in the first seven weeks, and it has an overall user satisfaction rating of 95 percent. iOS 12 will be available on all the same devices as its predecessor, but there’s one target Apple is hoping to zero in on with this new release. “Our deepest focus this year is optimizing the system when it’s under load,” said Federighi.

With that came the moment viewers all over the world were waiting for: the fun stuff.

In accordance with the increasing prevalence of augmented and virtual reality, Apple has created a new file form for augmented reality (AR) called USDZ. This can be used across the whole operating system and will even be integrated into Adobe Creative Cloud to allow users to place 3D objects into AR. Along with this comes a new app called Measure, which — you guessed it — provides the ability to measure objects in the real world by tapping along their perimeter on your iPhone camera.

My personal favorite moment of the presentation came when Martin Sanders, Director of Innovation for LEGO, came out to demonstrate how the newly-unveiled ARKit 2 can be used to help make LEGO play even more fun and engaging. With the new software, you can point your iPhone camera at a LEGO set and watch it come to life in a truly spellbinding way. An entire town can be created around a single LEGO building, you can peer into buildings and watch characters going about their lives, and you can invite up to four friends to play games that are a bit reminiscent of The Sims. I’m not going to lie; watching this segment made me really want to go out and buy a LEGO set for the first time in years. Where was this when I was a kid?

The announcement of Siri shortcuts also earned generous applause from the 6,000 people gathered in the hall. These shortcuts enable users to set up specific commands that can then be triggered by a word or phrase spoken to Siri that you specify. For instance, if you listen to the same podcast on your commute home, you could set Siri up to automatically begin playing that podcast when you say, “I’m going home.”

A new suite of features to help limit phone use is something I’m personally very excited for as someone who wants to spend less time on my phone and more time reading the 243 books on my to-read list (that’s not an exaggeration). There is now a Do Not Disturb option specifically for bedtime that can be disabled as soon as you’re awake and ready to face the day. Instant Tuning will finally permit notifications to be grouped and/or sent directly to your notification center.

My pick of the three, though, is Screen Time. You can now receive weekly activity summaries that break down how much time you spend on your iPhone or iPad, which apps are consuming the bulk of your time, and which apps are bombarding you with the most notifications and causing you to pick up your phone in the first place. To help curb your smartphone addiction, you can set time limits on individual apps to be notified when your time is up. (This feature will ultimately come down to your level of self-control, as there is an option to ignore the notification.) Finally, I swear I could hear the exhilarated screams of parents all over town when Federighi mentioned that it’s now possible to set allowances for children on specific apps.

The loudest cheers throughout the presentation erupted when it was announced that FaceTime will now be able to support group video calls. Not only that, but you can have up to a whopping 32 simultaneous participants on one call. That is undeniably impressive, but it begs the question — does anyone ever want to talk to 31 other people at once?

Click here to check out the full two-hour keynote and get the lowdown on other very important Apple news, like the fact that you can create your very own “Memoji” and that Animoji now has tongue detection.

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