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Apple's iOS14 Enhances Multi-Tasking, Edge Compute and User Privacy

Apple released several major software updates for their products on 16th September 2020, including the long-anticipated iOS14 for iPhone. iOS14 is made available for all devices from iPhone 6s onward, covering products up to five years old. Arguably this arrived earlier than many developers expected, ahead of any announcements surrounding the new iPhone 12 line up, which is now scheduled to happen in October.

The new operating system brings forth several new features, from home screen widgets through to improved security and enhanced privacy. Users will no doubt value the substantial changes made to the experience in iOS14, as the physical manifestation comes in the form of a refreshed user interface; indeed, this is the most visible aspect of the new update. But many of the underlying technical updates to iOS14 are the most important, since these meaningfully extend functionality for app developers.

The update now exposes greater opportunity to utilise the multi-tasking capabilities of iOS. Apps no longer need to use the entire screen, enabling users to switch more seamlessly between different apps and services. This may seem inconsequential but, importantly, this bestows greater freedom to app developers, who now have increased latitude to alter the way they present the interface and user experience, designing apps that appear more tightly integrated with the operating system.

Extending upon the UI changes, Apple introduced the concept of “App Clips”. These offer elements of an app that are discoverable and made available to users for specific tasks. The crucial distinction here is that it enables transient usage of services without necessitating a full app download. This enables “single use” purposes, such as booking a restaurant or purchasing a parking ticket, after which the App Clip is deleted from the device.

iOS14 extends access to the on-chip neural engines that Apple first introduced in their A11 processor back in 2017. Developers can now take full advantage of edge-compute for offline AI (artificial intelligence) tasks, which is especially useful for processing images directly from the camera or for accelerating voice-based interaction. Notably Siri now demonstrates better conversational ability, with full translation now a part of iOS, plus improvements in speech-to-text accuracy and responsiveness through on-device dictation. Moreover, Apple has enhanced augmented reality (AR) capabilities with an ability to place video textures on any part of a scene. Virtual objects can also be graphically blended into the real-world environment through advancements in virtual object occlusion, where digitally created elements can better interact with their physical surroundings.

But the most dramatic change is that the new iOS considerably enhances privacy options. Users can now choose to share an approximate location with apps and, more crucially, can disable tracking between different applications entirely. This latter change is substantial, limiting the ability for targeting advertising, even prompting Facebook to warn of the potential damage to advertising business revenues. The transition to a more assertive opt-in model is certainly troublesome to targeting and attribution, lessening the ability for advertising platforms to identify both impressions and conversions. From the user standpoint, the privacy changes in iOS14 initially appear entirely positive, although there are ramifications on the use of aggregated behavioural data for marketing, and on the future of “free” software which ordinarily is funded via advertising. Although now a part of iOS, Apple is apparently delaying this feature until early 2021, affording time for advertisers to adjust. Nevertheless, it’s clear that privacy is a key element of Apple’s business strategy and a feature that customers value in their products and services.

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Simon Forrest

About the author

Simon Forrest

As Principal Technology Analyst for Futuresource Consulting, Simon is responsible for identifying and reporting on transformational technologies that have propensity to influence and disrupt market dynamics. A graduate in Computer Science from the University of York, his expertise extends across broadcast television and audio, digital radio, smart home, broadband, Wi-Fi and cellular communication technologies.

He has represented companies across standards groups, including the Audio Engineering Society, DLNA, WorldDAB digital radio, the Digital TV Group (DTG) and Home Gateway Initiative.

Prior to joining Futuresource, Simon held the position of Director of Segment Marketing at Imagination Technologies, promoting development in wireless home audio semiconductors, and Chief Technologist within Pace plc (now Commscope) responsible for technological advancement within the Pay TV industry.

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