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Apple takes on rivals Zoom, Microsoft with iOS video updates

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Apple is expanding the reach of its video-calling service by allowing those without Apple devices to join a FaceTime call.
Apple is expanding the reach of its video-calling service by allowing those without Apple devices to join a FaceTime call.

Apple has updated its FaceTime video-calling service for iOS 15, to make the app compatible with Android and PC Windows devices.

The move will see the American tech giant intensify its efforts to compete with video-conferencing rivals Zoom, Microsoft and Google Meet.

This is one of several key announcements made at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday. During the virtual event, the tech giant previewed new privacy protections and several updates to iOS 15, its 15th major release of the iOS mobile operating system.

The company also announced new developer tools, new iCloud+ features, updates to Apple Maps, and the newest version of its Apple Watch software, WatchOS 8.

With the FaceTime improvements on iOS 15, Apple is expanding the reach of the video-calling service by allowing those without Apple devices to join a FaceTime call.

Additional features added to make the service operate more like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet include 3D audio, portrait mode to blur backgrounds, a grid view to speak to multiple people at the same time, and users can now send links to schedule individual FaceTime calls.

FaceTime users can also share their screens or music, through a new software feature called ShareTime.

The moves come as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis has over the past year led to a rapidly growing video communication service market, with tech giants battling it out to introduce new video-based remote working services.

“For many customers, iPhone has become indispensable, and this year we’ve created even more ways it can enhance our daily lives,” said Craig Federighi, Apple senior VP of software engineering.

“iOS 15 helps users stay connected while sharing experiences in real-time, gives them new tools to help reduce distraction and find focus. FaceTime helps customers easily connect with those who matter most and with spatial audio, voices in a FaceTime call sound as if they are coming from where the person is positioned on the screen, and new microphone modes separate the user’s voice from background noise.”

All video, all the time

According to Grandview Research, the global market for video-conferencing was worth $3.85 billion in 2019. By 2028, the worldwide video-conferencing market is forecast to grow at a rate of 11.4%, to reach $9.95 billion, as more workers unlock remote working functionality tools, influenced by the introduction of company’s remote-working policies.

The booming demand for video-conferencing services in 2020 saw Zoom’s stock skyrocket, with the company raising its financial guidance for the full fiscal year, through January 2021, to almost $2.4 billion in revenue, up from $623 million for the year through January 2020.

Meanwhile, 2020 revenue for Microsoft Teams reportedly reached $6.8 billion, while Alphabet said its Google Meet video-conferencing service added up to three million new users each day, a 30-fold increase in usage during the height of the pandemic last year.

During the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple also announced a number of privacy protections, including its private relay feature, to obscure a user’s Web browsing behaviour from Internet service providers and advertisers.

The company outlined plans to store virtual government IDs on its iPhones, to enable users in participating US states to be able to scan ID cards, which will allow citizens to make digital wallet payments and for the US Transportation Security Administration to accept the digital IDs at airports.

The iOS 15 introduces more privacy controls to help protect user information.
The iOS 15 introduces more privacy controls to help protect user information.

During the conference, Apple unveiled new tools and technologies to help developers build high-quality apps.

The company said it had paid $230 billion to developers since it launched, with over 600 million people visiting the iOS app store per week.

Among the new tools is the Xcode Cloud, which brings together the multiple tasks and tools required to build, test and deliver apps using the company’s cloud services, enabling individual developers and teams to provide great apps to their users, it says.

“With the robust set of tools included in Xcode Cloud, continuing innovation in the Swift programming language, a wide range of new APIs, and even more ways to reach users − Apple’s platforms have never been stronger,”said Susan Prescott, Apple VP of Worldwide Developer Relations.

The Swift program takes a massive leap forward with concurrency support built into Apple’s language, and augmented reality technologies to make it easier for developers to build immersive content in apps or on the Web, notes Apple.

The new developer tools come amid widespread complaints from developers, regarding Apple’s developer fees, which they say should be capped at 10%, while some demanded more clarity behind rejected apps on the iOS App Store.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the new beta software will be available for developers and early adopters in the coming month, and will be released to the public before the end of the year.

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