Apple gives Siri new powers over apps

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Tim Cook said 20 million developers are now working on software for Apple products

Apple has overhauled its virtual assistant Siri to control third-party apps without users having to open them.

A new Shortcuts function allows device owners to assign their own phrases to different commands.

In addition, a single command, such as “I’m heading home” can be set to trigger multiple actions.

Although Apple was one of the first tech firms to offer a smart assistant, Siri is widely seen to have fallen behind its rivals in recent years.

Its new abilities appear to be an attempt to expand its capabilities without requiring the kind of personal data-sharing that Android requires to get the best out of Google Assistant.

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Users can set their own voice commands to control third-party apps various functions

“Voice assistants like Siri are critical because they are becoming a vehicle to a service,” commented Ben Stanton, an analyst at the consultancy Canalys.

“If you think about booking taxis, ordering food or using social media, voice ultimately has the potential to overthrow today’s app stores.

“That’s a huge opportunity and why there’s so much money being invested into voice assistants.”

Siri’s new functionality appears to build on Workflow, an automation tool that Apple acquired last year.

Apple made the announcement at its WWDC developers conference, which is being held at San Jose, California.

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Parents can get a breakdown of how long their children are using different apps for

Another major addition announced for iOS 12 was Time Limit, which will allow users to pre-determine how much time they should spend using individual apps, and bring up a full-screen alert when an allowance is used up.

Although adults will be able to extend the period, they can also prevent their children from being able to do so.

Parents will also be able to get a breakdown of how long children are spending using different apps, block access at certain times of the day, and restrict the types of content youngsters have access to.

“Just as people know they eat too much junk food but keep on doing it, they also know they shouldn’t spend hours buried in their phone but still do it,” commented Neil Mawston from tech advisory firm Strategy Analytics.

“So, device-makers and app providers do have a responsibility to make sure their products don’t become an addiction for consumers.”

Google unveiled similar tools at its own IO developers conference last month.

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Users can now share augmented reality experiences on different devices, as demoed using a Lego model

Other announcements about iOS 12 included:

  • Memojis, animated emojis that can be set to look like device owners, much like the AR emojis introduced on Samsung’s Galaxy S9
  • Group Facetime, in which up to 32 people can take part in the same audio or video call
  • Shared experiences in augmented reality, whereby several devices can be used simultaneously to show graphics mixed with the real world from different points of view
  • Measure, a new app that allows users to get the dimensions of real-world objects by holding an iPhone in front of them

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Dozens of people can now take part in the same Facetime video chat, some of whom can appear as animated emojis

The next version of WatchOS – which powers the firm’s smartwatch – will also gain new facilities.

They include the ability to automatically detect when a workout has begun, so that if the user presses start several minutes later they can still be credited with all their activity.

The device will also gain the ability to show web content, such as items from a restaurant’s menu, although usage will be constrained by the size of the Apple Watch display.

And the firm also announced a new Walkie-Talkie push-to-talk capability, that will let two users chat together via 4G or wi-fi.

This app was first announced in September 2014, but had appeared to have been forgotten until now.

The Apple TV has also been promised a feature previously teased: Dolby Atmos, which will allow compatible audio equipment to deliver improved surround sound by bouncing audio off the ceiling.

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Apple said the new dark mode helped make images “pop”

And the next version of the Mac operating system – called Mojave – introduces a new dark mode for people who like the colour black.

“Some of us are going to want to run dark mode just because it is so cool, I mean your emoji look great,” said the firm’s software chief Craig Federighi.

Perhaps more useful, Mac owners will gain the ability to stack items on top of each other on the desktop to help prevent it becoming a mess.

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