Each year, our Apple devices get a slew of new features that don’t even require splurging for new gear.
These improvements come thanks to upgraded and redesigned operating systems, which are unveiled annually at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Monday, the tech giant kicked off its big 2023 conference with a jam-packed keynote that I attended at the company’s Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino.
The announcement included the introduction of iOS and iPadOS 17, MacOS Sonoma and WatchOS 10 software for our iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches, as well as a slew of new hardware, including the much-anticipated mixed-reality Vision Pro headset, along with several noteworthy new Macs.
For travelers, there’s a lot to look forward to — here are the 11 top travel-focused upgrades and announcements that excited me the most.
Digital check-in with friends and family
Sometimes when I’m traveling alone, I like telling my wife and loved ones when I’m expecting to arrive at a destination. If I don’t arrive by the intended time, I usually ask them to check in with me to see if everything is all right.
With Apple’s new check-in feature, your iPhone will soon automate this entire process, making it easier than ever for loved ones to keep track of you when you’re on the go.
You can initiate a check-in via messages, and it’ll automatically notify your family and friends when you arrive at a certain destination within a defined timeframe. If you don’t, it’ll send some important information to the contact who is tracking you, such as your device’s location, battery level and cellphone service status.
This feature is great for travelers, and it’s poised to be incredibly powerful for parents and guardians who want to track their kids.
AirPods get more powerful for travelers
If you use the noise-canceling AirPods Pro, you might be familiar with needing to take out a pod to pause your music to listen to an important announcement.
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Fortunately, that’ll no longer be necessary beginning this fall when AirPods receive a software upgrade that includes a new “Adaptive Audio” feature.
This will dynamically adjust the active noise cancellation based on your external environment. Suppose there’s an announcement, or a flight attendant starts talking to you. In that case, your AirPods will automatically turn on transparency mode, which enables you to hear and interact with the outside environment without pausing your music.
I hate getting phone calls from unknown numbers. Sometimes my iPhone will recognize a number and suggest who the call may be from, but the upcoming iOS 17 release will include an even more powerful feature to help you filter these calls.
With the so-called “Live Voicemail,” you’ll see a live transcription of voicemails as they’re being recorded. If it turns out that you indeed want to take the call, you’ll be able to stop the recording and pick up the phone.
Better yet, Live Voicemail will also be available for calls from your saved contacts. This will be a great way for travelers who are always on the move to see if they need to pick up a call from a friend or loved one.
However, AirTags have historically only been tied to a single owner and account. If you share luggage, only the AirTag owner could see where the item is located.
But with iOS 17, AirTags and other Find My-capable items can be shared with up to five other people, which means that your entire traveling party will be able to see an item’s location, play a sound and pinpoint exactly where it is using the advanced compass and GPS chips — without needing to be right near you.
A travel journaling tool
Even before I became a journalist, I loved writing about my travel experiences. I used to do that in Google Docs, or the iPhone Notes app, but the journaling experience is about to get much better in iOS 17.
That’s thanks to the introduction of a standalone journal app, which will automatically offer suggestions on when to write in your digital journal based on recent locations visited, pictures taken and more. You can even set up notifications to remind you to write on a regular cadence.
As a writer and traveler, this is undoubtedly a feature I’ll use to help me keep track of my trips. You can link pictures, your daily step count and specific locations to the journal to complement your writing.
Critical compass updates
If you’re adventuring in the great outdoors, the Apple Watch’s compass app will soon be able to track two incredibly important and potentially life-saving waypoints.
The first is a last cellular connection waypoint, which will estimate the last location you passed that had reliable service for making a call or sending a message.
The second is an emergency call waypoint, which is the last location where you can still make an emergency call using any carrier’s wireless network.
These compass upgrades are only a small part of the WatchOS 10 software update, but they’re among the biggest and most notable for travelers.
Standby mode will replace alarm clocks
If you’re like me, you keep your phone charging next to your bed, perhaps face down and on silent to minimize distractions in the middle of the night.
But with the new Standby mode, Apple is turning the iPhone into an intelligent alarm clock that’s with you wherever you are. If you place the phone in the landscape orientation while charging, it’ll bring up the new clock interface, which can be customized with photos, stacks of notifications and more.
The clock will automatically dim during the night, and you can even set your preference if you want to be awakened in the middle of the night for a phone call or text message.
Goodbye, hotel alarm clocks.
Offline maps to navigate while on the go
Apple Maps has improved considerably in recent years, and this year’s big update brings offline maps to the Apple ecosystem.
By downloading a map of a specific area or region before you travel, you will be able to access turn-by-turn directions, find points of interest and see your estimated arrival time without being connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network.
On Monday, Apple introduced a 15-inch MacBook Air that’s 25% larger than the 13-inch version. In addition to the bigger form factor, it packs additional speakers and a larger battery that delivers a whopping 18 hours of battery life.
Plus, at just 11.5 millimeters thin, it’s the thinnest 15-inch notebook on the market, and it weighs just 3.3 pounds, so it’s sure to be a hit with those who are always on the go.
Wirelessly pair your device to hotel TVs
On a recent trip, I asked on Instagram if people actually travel with HDMI cables to connect their devices to hotel TVs.
I was surprised that nearly 70% of my followers said that they do, so this will be big news: IHG is teaming up with Apple to enable AirPlay on hotel TVs later this year.
With AirPlay, you can wirelessly connect your Apple devices to the hotel TV to enjoy your own content, perfect your presentation or watch a Fitness+ class.
This will be a popular feature with those who enjoy viewing content on a larger screen while on the go, and I’m hopeful that more hotels will add this functionality in the coming years.
A spatial computing future
While all of the aforementioned upgrades are big for travelers, there’s one innovation announced on Monday that could change the way we interact with the world and travel for good: the Vision Pro headset.
This long-rumored mixed-reality headset marks the beginning of Apple’s spatial computing era.
What this means is that you’ll put on this headset, and you’ll be immediately transported into an augmented reality world with all of your favorite apps on display right around you — your “real-world” surroundings will be replaced by this immersive digital environment.
You’ll be able to make a FaceTime call, browse the web, respond to messages and much more by using the movement of your eyes and hands.
There’s a lot to unpack with the Vision Pro headset, and I haven’t had a chance to try it myself yet. While it may ultimately change the way we interact with travel, the two-hour battery life and the price tag — $3,499 — will make it unattainable for most.
Purely based on those two factors, I’d count this one as developing.
Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday was the tech giant’s biggest and most important yet. It was packed with announcements, many of which will bring big improvements to the digital travel experience.
From Live Voicemail on iPhone to Adaptive Audio on AirPods, those who travel with Apple products will soon enjoy a slew of free software improvements that don’t even require a pricey device upgrade.
The company also dedicated a good chunk of the keynote to new hardware, which includes the travel-friendly 15-inch MacBook Air, new desktop computers and the Vision Pro headset.
With so many new features and devices, there’s sure to be something exciting for every type of traveler.