The ability to unlock your car with your iPhone, real-time Siri translation into 11 languages and a radically different iOS home screen were some of the technologies that Apple previewed at its Worldwide Developers Conference.

The tech company typically invites thousands of developers to California for the WWDC. This year, the event went virtual.

Some 20 million tuned in for the livestreamed keynote, which began at 5am NZT and online sessions over the next two days will be free (streamed here or via Apple's developer site).

Near-future products that Apple previewed in the multi-speaker keynote included:

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• A first-look at iOS 14, which will power iPhones from later this year. It includes app library, a new home screen page that will show up after you swipe past your final page of apps. It automatically categorises and sorts all of your apps, highlighting those you use the most.

The automatically-generated
The automatically-generated "library" view of your apps, coming with iOS 14. Image / WWDC 2020

• iOS 14 will also bring a new picture-in-picture feature, so video - or a video chat - can be minimised, and appear in a small, resizable window that follows you as you toggle between apps.

• iOS 14 will also let you pin an important message to the top of your inbox.

• A boosted Siri translation feature will work offline in iOS 14, with Apple's voice assistant able to help you with real-time translation to and from 11 languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian. It now looks like much more of a head-to-head competitor to Google Translate (which can also be used on an iPhone).

• "App clips" will also feature in IOS 14 - lightweight apps that require no installation, and only appear onscreen while they're being used. An example could be an e-scooter rental app that's triggered by a QR code or NFC (NFC being the technology used in contactless eftpos machines and the like).

Apple's new initiatives include a partenership with BMW that will let you unlock your car with your iPhone.
Apple's new initiatives include a partenership with BMW that will let you unlock your car with your iPhone.

• Apple says it's been working with carmakers on a new feature that will let you unlock your vehicle using your iPhone or Watch. BMW's 5-series will be the first to support the new technology, but Apple says others will follow.

• An update to Maps will have a green focus with elements such as cycle lanes, the locations of charging stations and the most fuel-efficient routes. Various UK, US and Chinese cities are first in line for the upgrade, with no immediate date for NZ.

• iPads will get a new universal search feature under iOS 14, allowing you to search for one phrase across multiple apps, files, Messages and Mail.

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• If you use a Pencil with your iPad Pro, Apple is promising handwriting recognition that works in any text field, plus the ability to draw rough shapes like stars or arrows and have them automatically convert to swish, professional shapes.

Apple says the spacial sound feature coming to its next AirPods Pro will offer movie theatre-like surround-sound. Image / WWDC 2020
Apple says the spacial sound feature coming to its next AirPods Pro will offer movie theatre-like surround-sound. Image / WWDC 2020

• AirPods are getting automatic device switching - so there'll be no more manual fiddling a you, say, answer a call on your iPhone while watching a video on your iPad. The new automatic switching feature is coming to the AirPods Pro, second-generation AirPods, Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro in a firmware update later this year.

• AirPods Pro are also getting spatial audio feature that Apple says will offer movie-theatre-like surround sound. No timing was given for new AirPods supporting the feature.

• The pending Watch OS 7 will get cycling directions, support the ability to display more than one app on a watch face for the first time and, through the detection of "micromovements" be able to tell when you're asleep - the better to work with new "wind-down" features on iOS 14 for iPhone that are designed to help calm your mind over the our before you fall asleep.

The pending Watch OS 7 will feature an automatic 20-second timer when it detects you're washing your hands. Image / WWDC 2020
The pending Watch OS 7 will feature an automatic 20-second timer when it detects you're washing your hands. Image / WWDC 2020

• Watch OS 7 will feature hand-washing detection. When you start sudsing, it will start a 20-second timer, complete with soapy sounds. It's billed as a first for a wearable.

• Apple also used WWDC to tease a new approximate location feature - that will let your friends and family know your general whereabouts but not your pinpoint location. The approximate option will be available over a range of mapping and tracking apps

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Image / WWDC 2020
Image / WWDC 2020

• Another privacy feature coming with iOS 14 will see your iPhone show an orange dot in the upper right corner of the screen whenever the microphone or camera is activated, similar to the green camera light built into Apple's laptops.

• Apple has also asked developers to more clear about what information their apps collect - a system it says will be akin to nutrition labels on packaged groceries.

• CEO Tim Cook said his company would ditch Intel in favour of designing its own chips for Macs (Apple already designs its own processors for the iPhone and iPad). The change will be phased in from later this year.

A public beta of Watch OS 7 is due out next month. A public beta of iOS 14 is due around the same time.