February might be the cold doldrums of winter, where important tech news is sparser than sun and green grass, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of note going on. With just over three months to go before the fireworks of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference, the dribs and drabs of the company’s plans for this year’s big announcements are shaping up inside of Cupertino, and inevitably, word of one or two of those make their way out into the public—albeit, filtered through the tea leaves of speculation.
Most recently, there have been some indications of things that Apple might be working on for this year’s release of iOS which—assuming the long-running pattern continues on course—will be iOS 14. While there’s sure to be plenty to talk about when the software is officially announced, let’s take a look at the latest hints about what might be in store for the next version of Apple’s mobile platform.
Default is in the stars?
This week, in a development that came as a surprise to many Apple watchers, a report in Bloomberg suggested that iOS 14 may, for the first time ever, bring users the ability to choose default mail and web browsers on the mobile platform.
My feelings about the ability to change default apps are already on record: I think it’s good for users, good for developers, and good for Apple. What’s not to like? The real surprise, as far as I’m concerned, is that the company hasn’t already rolled out this feature. After all, you’ve been able to choose default apps on the Mac for years and years.
Yes, iOS is more of a controlled environment, and arguments have been made that the consistency of experience was important, especially in the early days of mobile adoption. But 13 years into the smartphone era, most users have developed comfort—if not full fluency—with their mobile devices, which they probably use more than any other tech device they own. It’s high time to allow some of the same freedoms that we have on our desktops and laptops, even if it might end up moving some users away from Apple’s built-in offerings.
For the record, I sincerely doubt that most people will move, but making the change will still help appease many of those power users who have longed for it—not to mention potentially helping get antitrust regulators and angry competitors off the company’s back.
Siri is believing
This week, Apple also revamped the Siri section of the Human Interface Guidelines, its official document that lays out how developers should think about designing their apps when integrating Siri. It’s interesting timing, and it could very well presage a bigger push into Siri support for third-party apps in this year’s update.
In iOS 13, Apple bestowed Siri support for two new major categories of apps: messaging and music. Along with the Siri Shortcuts feature first rolled out in iOS 12, third-party apps have more options of working with the virtual assistant than ever before, but it’s still a long way from truly seamless integration throughout the platform.
Apple’s talked a big game about Siri many times in the past, but it’s been a while since it was featured as more than a bullet point in a presentation. So, thin as the evidence might be, here’s to holding out hope that the revamped HIG points to a big upgrade for the virtual assistant this year.
Key to your heart (and your car)
In addition to prepping its next major release, Apple is currently working on iOS 13.4, which brings a handful of new features to the current version of its mobile OS. But one major feature found in the betas of this update points to potentially a bigger story…down the road, if you will.
The CarKey API allows an iPhone or Apple Watch to be used—you guessed it!—as a key for a car that uses an NFC-based key fob. It uses authentication via Face ID, much like Apple Pay, and is likely even stored in the Wallet app. More interestingly, because this car key is virtual, it’s possible to share it with, say, other members of your family. (Which is also sure to cut down on the cost of those pricey key fobs.) It will only work with supported vehicles, but rumor has it that some car manufacturers are working with Apple to adopt the standard.
This CarKey system has yet to be publicly discussed by Apple, but as the groundwork is being laid in iOS 13.4, it’s also possible that it will tie into a larger car-based update in iOS 14. After all, the same 13.4 update includes some enhancements for CarPlay as well. As more and more cars on the road support systems like CarPlay and Android Auto, it seems likely that our phones will become a bigger and bigger part of our driving experience.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.