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My favorite WWDC21 announcements: all new iCloud+

WWDC21 was quite nice. Apple announced updates to their iOS, iPadOS, MacOS and watchOS platforms. Here’s a list of features that I like.

Last night was fun. Apple’s WWDC21 event announced multiple software updates across their iOS, MacOS, iPadOS and watchOS platforms. I enjoyed the full keynote, particularly the part where they announced the new iCloud+ subscription. The Health-related segments were arduously long though.

It was disappointing that the new 16 inch MacBook wasn’t announced as well.

My most favorite announcement is probably the new iCloud+ subscription that includes privacy-focussed services like “Hide My Email”, “Private Relay” and the new pixel blocking functionality on the Apple Mail app. Other favorite announcements include:

  • TestFlight for Mac.
  • SharePlay for watch party with friends and family.
  • FaceTime on Android, Windows and Linux using web browsers. This brings end-to-end encrypted video calling across all platforms.
  • Universal Control. I can finally use my 2015 MacBook Air keyboard on 2019 MacBook Pro.
  • App Privacy Report. It’s like a mini pi-hole report, for your iOS device.

iCloud+ subscription

I am not an iCloud member at the moment, but with the new functionalities announced last night, I might end up choosing the lowest iCloud tier. It costs 75 INR a month in India, which is roughly about 1 USD. That’s a great price for something that includes,

  • Private Relay, a browser-specific VPN that works on Safari.
  • Hide My Email, to generate random email aliases that redirect all incoming email to your primary email inbox.
  • Custom domain support for iCloud.com email.

It’s not clear what Private Relay is just yet, but in reading beta user experiences on Reddit, it seems that it’s a Safari-specific VPN. The idea seems to be that the customer’s IP address isn’t visible to the websites that they are browsing and their internet service provider. That’s pretty much what commercial VPNs like NordVPN and Mullvad do, and they apply throughout your device. Apple’s service is restricted to the Safari usage though.

I am a devoted Firefox user, but considering that I recently cancelled my NordVPN subscription, switching to Safari for Private Relay feels like a good idea. It boils down to how performant Private Relay is though. VPNs are known to throttle your browsing speeds as they encrypt your data/route traffic through the VPN provider’s node. Private Relay routes your traffic through two hops instead, which is even better privacy-wise but I wonder if performance would take a hit.

I am a huge fan of SimpleLogin and Anonaddy, of which I am a paying customer of the former. They are open source, can be self-hosted, offer API access and offer custom domain support. I wouldn’t be cancelling my SimpleLogin subscription, but using Apple’s “Hide My Email” functionality alongside feels like a good idea. Maybe compartmentalize usage for different purposes?

“Hide My Email” had been a feature that’s part of “Sign in with Apple” functionality but that changes today because “Hide My Email” becomes a standalone app/functionality.

Custom domain support on iCloud.com is very cool as well! In fact, I never signed up for iCloud.com mail until today. I am a ProtonMail user today and I am happy with it in most respects. The end-to-end encryption functionality of ProtonMail isn’t all that useful to me though, as 99% of the communication that I make are with non-ProtonMail customers.

Email, in general, is known to be a protocol that isn’t secure. For anyone that’s looking for secure, private communication, Signal must be the goto option. That brings me to the idea that ProtonMail subscription isn’t necessary for my use case. When it ends in 11 months, I plan on canceling the subscription. Also because iCloud Mail allows usage on third-party apps and platforms, it’s not any different from other IMAP-offerings. This enables me to use the new iCloud mailbox on Android and Windows. Pretty cool for the price it comes at.

TestFlight for Mac

I am very happy with this announcement, mostly because I test Tailscale and Signal releases. Until today, beta testing on Mac has been a waiting game because developers have to submit the release on the App Store, which takes multiple days to be available to the customers. TestFlight speeds up the availability tremendously. I am looking forward to seeing whether Tailscale and Signal devs adopt TestFlight in the coming months. There is no reason not to.

FaceTime

FaceTime’s new link generation functionality is quite nice, which allows inviting non-FaceTime users to join the call using their desktop and mobile browsers. I haven’t used FaceTime ever, but considering that it offers end-to-end encrypted communication (this time even on browsers), I could give it a shot. Performance on browsers is a question though, especially in slow networks.

Signal is my choice of communication today, and it became even better recently because it offers screen sharing, which replaces my occasional need for Zoom. It’s in beta at the moment.

I look forward to trying FaceTime but convincing friends and families to use it is a challenge. Most are devoted WhatsApp users because their social circles are on it. Signal saw an increase in usage briefly in January 2021, which is when WhatsApp announced new terms (they have reversed that decision, by the way) but most of gone back to using WhatsApp because of the lack of social circles.

Overall, WWDC21 was quite nice. I hope to test the betas in the coming days.

By Arun

Automattician, Professional Among Us player ðŸĪŠ

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