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: Apple boosts FaceTime, messaging with iOS 15 software upgrades

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Apple Inc.’s forthcoming upgrades for its iPhone operating system will aim to make FaceTime a more formidable competitor in the world of videoconferencing, while also adding new tools for messaging and photos meant to encourage greater sharing of content with friends.

The company kicked off its annual WWDC developer event Monday with a virtual keynote that previewed software upgrades coming to iOS 15, the company’s next smartphone operating system, which is expected to roll out later this year.

Following a year in which video calls became even more essential, Apple

is adding new features and taking steps to make its FaceTime app more universal. To start, the company is introducing FaceTime links, so that meeting organizers can pass around the link to a scheduled FaceTime call, even to web-based users who don’t have Macs or other Apple devices.

These upgrades make FaceTime more competitive against platforms like Zoom Video Communications Inc.

and Microsoft Corp.’s

Teams, which saw booming adoption during the pandemic among people looking to catch up with friends, conduct remote business meetings, and engage in other virtual gatherings.

Apple also is enhancing the audio settings on FaceTime, so that users can choose to block out noisy background sounds or alternatively opt for a wider sound profile that better captures everything going on around them.

The company will make it so those in a FaceTime call can watch content together in a synchronized manner. The feature will work with Apple-native apps like Apple TV+, but also with third-parties that choose to participate by leveraging an application programming interface (API). Walt Disney Co.’s

Disney+ and AT&T Inc.’s

HBO Max are among early partners.

The iMessage app is also getting upgrades meant to encourage more sharing and socialization. Apple will better integrate shared links into the News app so that people can read articles from friends later on and then reply when they’re finished. Apple will also situate playlists shared by friends inside the Apple Music app.

Within the photos app, Apple plans to make it easier for people to see shared photos from trips and events inside their libraries, and will upgrade the personalized memories section to include music.

Apple already allowed iPad users to take handwritten notes and then convert those writings to text after the fact, and the company is going to apply similar technology to the Photos app. Users will be able to scan new and existing photos for background text, like notes on a whiteboard or restaurant phone numbers on the side of a building. They will then get the ability to copy and paste that text or follow a link to call the listed phone numbers.

The Wallet app will become home to a broader range of digital cards, including hotel keycards and state licenses. Hyatt Hotels Corp.

will start rolling out a new room-key function within Apple’s wallet app this fall, and Apple is working with some participating states to let users scan their licenses in the digital wallet to create an encrypted version that the company expects to ultimately be compatible with Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.

Apple also wants people to consider opening their homes with their iPhones and has partnerships with lock manufacturers like Schlage.

The Maps app is getting some augmented-reality upgrades, including one that will allow people to exit subway stops, scan their surroundings with their phones, and see overlays of guided directions telling them which to travel next.

Apple’s stock fell 0.6% in afternoon trading, while the SPDR Technology Select Sector exchange-traded fund

slipped 0.4% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average

eased 0.5%.

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