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My favorite iOS 18, iPadOS 18 and watchOS 11 features that flew under the radar at WWDC 2024

Digging into best of the lower key updates coming to iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

Apple

There was so much Apple had to cram into its WWDC 2024 keynote that some features were left out of the spotlight. Here at the company's campus, I've had the chance to speak with various executives, as well as get deeper dives into iOS 18, iPadOS 18, Apple Intelligence, watchOS 11 and more. In these sessions, I've been able to learn more about how specific things work, like what steps exactly do you take to customize your iPhone's home screen and control center. I also got to see some other updates that weren't even briefly mentioned during the keynote, like new support for hiking routes in Apple Maps and what training load insights look like on watchOS 11. Of all the unmentioned features I've come to discover, here are my favorites.

I've always been a Google Maps girl, in part because that app had superior information compared to Apple Maps in its early years. These days, I stick to Google Maps because it has all my saved places and history. When I found out that iOS 18 would bring updates to Apple Maps, particularly to do with hiking and routes, I was intrigued.

Basically, in iOS 18, when you go into search in Maps, you'll see a new option under "Find Nearby" called hikes. It'll show you recommended hikes, and you can filter by the type of hike (loop, for example) and specify a length. You'll find options in the vicinity and tapping into one will show you a topographical view with the elevation details, how challenging it should be as well as estimated duration. You can tap to save each route and store it for offline reference later and add notes too. There's a new Library view and you'll find it in your profile in Maps.

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You'll also be able to create new routes in Maps by tapping anywhere to start defining your route. You can keep tapping to add waypoints, which will cause the trail to continue to connect them, then hit a "Close loop" button to finish your trail. These routes can be shared, though it's not yet clear if you can share it to, say, your friend or driver to have them take your preferred path to your destination.

Two iPhones separated by the iOS 18 logo, showing the Map app and Notes app respectively.
Two iPhones separated by the iOS 18 logo, showing the Map app and Notes app respectively. (Apple)

The hikes that Apple will serve up in Maps are created by its own team, which is working with US National Parks, so they'll only be available for the 63 national parks in the country to begin with. In other words, it's not porting information from AllTrails, for example. In a press release, Apple said thousands of hikes will be available to browse at launch.

As a city dweller who only sometimes hikes, my excitement is less about hiking and more about the potential of sharing my custom routes to show people how they should walk to my building or favorite restaurant from the train station. It's a compelling feature, and arguably a reason I'd choose Apple Maps versus Google's.

Frankly, the Maps update might be my favorite out of everything that wasn't shown off during the WWDC 2024 keynote by a huge margin. But some of the new tools coming to Calendar tickle my fancy too. Specifically, the new integration with reminders makes it easier to not just schedule your tasks right into your daybook, but also check them off from the Calendar app. You can soon move reminders around by long pressing and dragging them, so that note to call your mom can be placed on a slot at 5pm on Wednesday, instead of sitting in your Reminders app. In addition, Calendar is getting new views that better detail your level of activity each day in a month, similar to how the Fitness app shows your daily rings progress quickly in the monthly view.

This isn't one that wasn't mentioned at all during the keynote, but there are details about how Tapback works that weren't described at yesterday's show. If you're like me, you might not even have remembered that Tapback refers to those reactions you can send in Messages by double tapping on a blue or gray bubble. With iOS 18, you'll get more options than the limited selection of heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, "Haha," exclamation points and question mark. They're also going to show up in full color with the update, instead of the existing (boring) gray.

What I found out later on, though, is that when you double tap a message that already has reactions attached, a new balloon appears at the top of your screen showing who has responded with which emoji. This should make it easier to lurk in a group chat, but also could double as an unofficial polling tool by asking your friends to react with specific emojis to indicate different answers. That should make Messages a bit more like Slack, and I wish Whatsapp and Telegram would take note.

There are quite a lot of features coming to iOS 18 that didn't get much love on the WWDC stage, like the Journal app's new widget for the home screen, which shows prompts for reflection and lets you create new entries. Journal also has a new insights view that displays your writing streaks and other historical data, plus a new tool that lets you add your state of mind to each entry from within the app.

Meanwhile, Safari is getting a new "Highlights" button in the search (or URL) bar, and tapping it will show a machine-learning-generated summary of the webpage you're on. Tapping into this brings up a panel with more information like navigation directions to a restaurant mentioned on the page, for example, or a phone number to call up a business. You can also quickly launch the reader view from this pane.

I wasn't super enthusiastic about either of those, largely because I don't use the Journal app much and I don't need Safari summarizing a webpage for me. But there are some other buried updates that I really wanted to shout out. For example, Math Notes for iPad and with Apple Pencil certainly got a lot of time, but it wasn't till I looked at Apple's iOS 18 press release that I found out the iPhone's Notes app is also getting a version of it. According to the screenshot Apple included, it looks like you can tally up and split expenses between a group of friends by writing a list of expenses and how much each item cost, then add the names of each expense to a formula with plus and equal signs, then get that divided by the number of people in your group. Not quite Splitwise, but I could see this becoming more powerful over time.

I was also intrigued by some of the Smart Script features on iPadOS 18, especially when I realized that you can just move your handwritten words around by dragging your handwritten words further away from each other, and the rest of your scrawled text moves in tandem. This is hard to describe, and I'll have to wait till I can try it for myself to show you an animated example. But it was impressive, even if it's not extremely useful.

Finally, the Passwords app and other privacy updates got a shout out during the keynote, but I learned more about how things like accessory setup and contacts sharing with apps work. Apple is releasing a new accessory setup kit so that device makers can adopt a pairing interface similar to how you'd connect your AirPods or Apple Watch to your iPhone. If developers don't use this approach, the new Bluetooth connection interface will be clearer about what other devices are on your network and what you're actually granting access to when you let an app see other devices on your network. Though it wasn't entirely skipped during the keynote, the Passwords app is something that makes me happy, since I'm absolutely sick of having to dig through settings to get codes for apps which I use my iPhone's authenticator to unlock.

There are plenty of features that were talked about that I'm excited by and learned more about the workings of, including the new dynamic clock style in the Photos face in watchOS 11, pinned collections in the redesigned Photos app and iPadOS mirroring for easier remote tech support. Oh, and that Airplay feature that'll let you send money to friends by holding your phones together? Yes! Being able to pause and adjust your Activity rings in watchOS and that Training Load insight? Hallelujah!

And though I can see the appeal of locked and hidden apps, I'm not sure I'd find much use for that and it would probably exacerbate my already prone-to-suspicion nature.

I'm also a little wary of things like Genmoji and Image Playground, which are both Apple Intelligence features that won't hit all iOS 18 devices. There will be metadata information indicating when images were generated by Apple's AI, and guardrails in place to prevent the creation of abusive and exploitative content.

Clearly, there are plenty of updates coming to Apple's phones, tablets, laptops and wearables later this year, and I can't wait to try them out. The public beta should be ready around the end of summer this year, which is when most people (who are willing to risk an unstable platform) can check them out.

Catch up here for all the news out of Apple's WWDC 2024.