Apple doesn't always arrive late to the party.
It's no secret that Apple tends to copy Android features years after Google debuts them. After all, the great iPhone maker tends to play it safe by not shocking its users. Consequently, it typically introduces new changes gradually, and it often takes its sweet time before deploying new technology. Despite that, there have been some instances where Apple beat Google at offering innovative additions. There were three specific ones where the company announced them in a big way: at WWDC, the company's big annual developer's conference.
1 Lifting subjects
The ability to remove a photo's background with a single touch still blows my mind to this day. First previewed at WWDC22 as part of iOS 16 and macOS Ventura, this feature allows users to effortlessly lift subjects without needing an internet connection or prior indexing. This means you could take a photo and isolate the subject(s) on the spot, without needing to depend on third-party services that either charge a premium or store a suspiciously large amount of your data.
And it's easy to use too. You just touch, copy the subject, then paste it in the desired location. The edges are detected automatically, and it usually does the job accurately. And considering that the feature is processed by your Apple device offline, no personal data is shared with Apple or third-party servers. I often find myself using this feature to create fun stickers with photos of my friends, but it's also a handy utility for YouTubers working on video thumbnails.
The Shortcuts app is one of the most powerful iPhone tools introduced with iOS 12, and it was revealed during WWDC18. The concept behind it can be compared to very basic coding, where you can create if/then statements, automate actions, and tie elements together. The app also supports input from exterior sources, allowing you to import media, collect data from webpages, convert different elements, utilize the iPhone's sensors and chips, and much, much more.
What's really great about Shortcuts is that it caters to newbies and experts alike. You could create very basic chains of commands or build longer ones that almost operate as a native iOS app. Shortcuts also includes dozens of built-in actions and even supports third-party ones. That's not to mention that you can also import and export Shortcuts with other users, allowing you to utilize other people's creations. There's even a dedicated Subreddit where users around the globe share their Shortcuts and discuss them with other members. Shortcuts is available on macOS, as well, and can sync your creations between all of your compatible Apple devices using iCloud.
Shortcuts doesn't stop there, though. iOS also surfaces commands that you tend to run in certain places at specific times, requiring you to launch the dedicated app less frequently. It even ties into HomeKit Automations, allowing you to execute commands based on your Smart Home appliances. The possibilities are truly endless, and Shortcuts remains one of the notable power-user additions that many did not anticipate Apple bringing to iOS.
3 Privacy features
iOS 14 brought with it a lot of welcome privacy features. For one, Privacy Nutrition Labels were announced during WWDC20 and added another layer of transparency. It forces developers to disclose the types of data their apps collect and displays them on the App Store. This gives users an idea of a certain developer's privacy-related practices, which could sway one's decision before installing and using an app.
Another relevant iOS 14 feature is the privacy dots that appear on your iPhone's screen when an app or service accesses your microphone or camera. After its debut, users started discovering how plenty of third-party apps had been stealthily accessing these sensitive sensors. Furthermore, users can even go to the Settings app to view a full report of device sensors and websites a certain app is accessing. This makes it harder for bad actors to frequently spy on users, as Apple continues to expose these applications' access history.
Lastly, iOS users could also now deny apps from tracking them across other apps and websites. This makes it harder for ad providers to profile you and target you with more relevant ads. While the method doesn't completely smudge your online fingerprint, it still makes it harder for these services to build a digital identity based on your interest and usage habits.
Will WWDC23 contribute to the list?
As our list reveals, sometimes Apple leads the way in the software department, and Google continues to copy iOS features. We're keeping our hopes and expectations low for WWDC23 though, as Apple is reportedly focusing its efforts on the rumored mixed-reality headset. Consequently, the upcoming iOS update may not pack plenty of mind-blowing additions this time around. We only hope that WWDC23 includes more of these innovative introductions as part of iOS 17.