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Apple WWDC 2021, Facebook f8, Microsoft Build: What’s in it for Developers and Consumers this year

14 minutes read

Apple WWDC 2021 is the second all-virtual conference hosted by the company this year, one that will see both hardware announcements and software updates. WWDC 2021, which begins June 7 with the traditional Apple keynote will run the whole week long and will contain pavilions, daily recaps available to revisit, and more in this free-for-all developers virtual meet. 

WWDC 2021 is bringing big changes to iOS 15 and iPad OS 15, along with a new more powerful M2 chip and a redesigned MacBook Pro that gets rid of its maligned features like the Touch Bar, to re-introduce the HDMI port and MagSafe. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook began the keynote address welcoming “familiar” faces back again in the audience, virtual avatars aka Memoji instead of real people, given the ongoing pandemic. 

ALSO READ: Google I/O 2021: What’s in it for Developers and Consumers this Year

Here’s everything we noticed at the Apple WWDC 2021 keynote: 

iOS 15 

The new iOS update will come with a series of improvements including a better Facetime experience. FaceTime will now include features like Spatial Audio making calls more comfortable and natural, like you and the person on the other end are in the same room. The mic gets a Voice Isolation update, which, through the use of Machine Learning will block ambient noise and prioritize your voice. Another noticeable update is Wide Spectrum, to capture your voice and everything around you.  

The software update also introduces Portrait mode to blur backgrounds, and a grid view to enable multi-conversations with a highlighted tile to know who the speaker is. Users can also schedule individual FaceTime calls with Facetime links, similar to Zoom. Additionally, users can share their screen, music, TV show, or movie through a new feature called ShareTime, to enable a Watch Party of their own. FaceTime will, with this update, be supported on Android and Windows through a web browser.

iMessage, the messaging platform, available only on Apple devices, will now come with features that group similar images into galleries. A brand-new feature called “shared with you” will save links that people sent you and collects them in one place. It works across Safari, Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Podcasts.

ALSO READ: Here’s what a tech-enabled world will look like for future pandemic phases

Notifications will now have an updated design on the lock screen, featuring a clearer look. Titled the Focus feature, users can choose to go on Do Not Disturb mode or choose Work, Life hours to be able to receive notifications depending on their preferences, much like the OnePlus Zen Mode and Work-Life Balance feature that came with the OnePlus 7 series in 2019. 

Live Text, a new camera feature, will automatically identify and scan text or visuals in photographs. Another feature called Memories will use Machine Learning and AI to combine photos into galleries and add music from Apple Music. 

Apple Maps software is also updated with 3D data with this release. It now includes lanes, clearer city details, AR-led detailed directions, and more. The Weather app gets an interactive update where data and layout will change according to weather conditions. 

A new feature is also coming to AirPods called “conversation boost” which will help people better understand who they are talking to in real-time. Siri will be able to announce messages and read out your shopping list as well. Apple Wallet adds a new functionality which now includes corporate badges.

Quicknote is a fast and easy way to get to a note saved for later, while also allowing a user to jot notes using the Apple Pencil. Consumers can now add tags to organize their notes better and even mention others in shared notes.  

With iPadOS 15, Apple is adding features for multi-tasking, bringing widgets and app library to the iPad as well. Apple has also announced an iCloud+ subscription service with a focus on privacy. 

Privacy and Security: 

New privacy features, and a subscription-based iCloud+ was also announced at the keynote. Apple is now adding new privacy features across its devices. The Mail App, for instance, will have a feature called tracker-blockers to hide your IP address, location and other information that help building a digital personality for third-party apps. An App Tracker Report section in the Settings will allow users to see how often apps have used their info in the last seven days.

iCloud+ will also include a key feature called Private Relay, which essentially helps route web traffic through two separate servers, just like VPN.

Siri, on the other hand, has some new features including availability on third-party apps, and users can also request tasks from the Voice Assistant without an active internet connection. 

Speaking of legacy contacts, Apple has introduced a Digital Legacy Program that will help your trusted contacts to manage your account, close them et al, even when you’re no longer around. 

Digital Health: 

The latest Apple Watch software allows more interaction possibilities while also connecting health trackers that monitors everything from your gait to the sleep patterns via the Breathe app called Mindfulness and let’s you know as soon as it finds something out of the ordinary which can be addressed promptly. This is possible through Apple’s collaboration with a few electronic health record companies. If you’re away from your loved ones, the new software allows you to share health data too. 

New watch faces on Watch OS8 are available in Portrait mode and one also has the ability to write a text with their finger to send a text message. 

ALSO READ: What will ‘Behavioural Changes’ Mean for India’s Digital Health Future

Additionally, in the Workouts app, new workout types including TaiChi and Pilates have been added guided by popular names such as Jeanette Jenkins as well as a new Artist Spotlight series that offers workouts on the music of Lady Gaga, Keith Urban, and more.

macOS Monterey: 

At the WWDC 2021 keynote address last night, Apple announced a new version of macOS. Titled Monterey, after the pristine beach town in California’s central coast, the new macOS brings a number of features including multiple screen-usage while using the same mouse and keyboard across a Mac or an iPad. This feature is called Universal Control. 

iOS devices can (for the first time) beam their screen to a Mac, thanks to AirPlay. The Safari web browser has also got a redesign with new and improved features including tab grouping and tab bookmarking. 

What piqued your interest the most at this year’s Apple WWDC? Facebook f8, held earlier this month also had a few interesting announcements. Take a look. 

WIIFM at Facebook f8? 

Facebook f8, held on June 2 this year kicked off with a promise that Facebook was returning to its roots and focusing on the developer community for this year’s virtual event. 

“This year we are refocusing F8 on developers,” Mark Zuckerberg said. “Some of the most important services in the world started when someone looked at an existing issue, and just found a better way to build. And I’m optimistic that some of the next generation of services are going to start right here with you.”  

On the business messaging front, Facebook announced that its Messenger API for Instagram is available to all developers. The social media giant is also testing a way for people to opt into messaging with businesses through a new feature called Login Connect with Messenger. 

Through WhatsApp Business API, it’s now easier for businesses to get started with using the tool effectively for their businesses. Among its key updates, Facebook said it has reduced the entire API onboarding process from weeks to five minutes. The company also announced new WhatsApp messaging features with an aim to give people a quicker way to make a selection when interacting with a business’s chatbot on WhatsApp. 

Augmented Reality, AI and Machine Learning: 

Facebook’s development of its futuristic augmented reality glasses is still ongoing, but the company has exhibited broad ambitions in terms of its AR experiences built on its SparkAR software. In the near future, Facebook has said that it wants to make it easier for developers to build augmented reality effects for group calls via its new Multipeer API.  

The SparkAR platform now has 600,000 creators in 190 countries, with 2 million AR filters and effects created to date, according to Facebook. 

PyTorch, the deep learning framework co-developed by Facebook in 2016, is now becoming the default framework for building all its AI and machine learning models in the foreseeable future. 

“PyTorch not only makes our research and engineering work more effective, collaborative, and efficient, it also allows us to share our work as open-source PyTorch libraries and learn from the advances made by the thousands of PyTorch developers all over the world,” Facebook said in a blog post. 

Missed Microsoft Build? Here are key highlights tailor-made for you: 

Microsoft Build, also a developer conference, was also held virtually this year from May 25 to 27. 

Following his keynote address, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on a LinkedIn post, “As computing becomes embedded in every aspect of our lives, there will be no longer such thing as the tech sector. The world will be transformed through tech intensity at scale. Every organization will need to not only adopt the latest technology, but more importantly, build their own unique digital technology, or be left behind.”

“We are building the platform for platform creators. It’s not about setting new rules or constraints that dictate how or what you should build. It’s not even about celebrating our own innovation. It’s about enabling your innovation and creating new opportunities for you,” he continued. 

From Microsoft Teams that allows users to complete projects from any location and at any time without needing to switch across different apps and data, to Windows Updates providing GUI support on Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), it will also allow seamless integrations with other workflows with Linux, GUI apps, and GPU-accelerated ML training.

In terms of privacy and security, Microsoft announced the integration of its Azure Security Center with GitHub. This integration will further enhance collaboration between the development and security teams. Interestingly, this collaborative effort will feature an update to enable security teams to be aware of the holistic development life-cycle instead of trying and fixing bugs only once the software is released. This measure will further allow the DevSecOps teams to run vulnerability scans, resolve findings, and visualize the security of workflows within their CI/CD pipeline.

The company also announced key updates to its Azure AI services, including Azure Bot Services, Azure Video Analyzer, and more. That’s not all, Microsoft also announced ML capabilities updates to accelerate its AI model deployment, namely Azure Machine Learning Managed Endpoints and Power Fx.

Automatic Aggregations was yet another feature that debuted at MS Build this year. Power BI dataflows that suitably handle streaming data sources, starting with Azure Event Hubs and Azure IoT Hubs, promises to make streaming data and real-time analytics accessible. 

Microsoft also introduced a low-code programming tool that allows users to write code without any prior coding knowledge. Called Power App Ideas, is the first-of-its-kind collaborative effort between Microsoft and artificial intelligence (AI) research company OpenAI. The app uses OpenAI’s Generative Pre-Trained Transformer-3 (GPT-3) AI model, among one of the highly advanced natural language AI models in the world today. 

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Enhancing digital patient experience with healthcare chatbots

5 minutes read

Chatbots are fast emerging at the forefront of user engagement across industries. In 2021, healthcare is undoubtedly being touted as one of the most important industries due to the noticeable surge in demand amid the pandemic and its subsequent waves. The Global Healthcare Chatbots Market is expected to exceed over US$ 314.63 Million by 2024 at a CAGR of 20.58%.

Chatbots are being seen as those with high potential to revolutionize healthcare. They act as the perfect support system to agents on the floor by providing the first-step resolution to the customer, in terms of understanding intent and need, boost efficiency, and also improve the accuracy of symptom detection and ailment identification, preventive care, feedback procedures, claim filing and processing and more.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital tools in healthcare, most commonly chatbots, rose to the forefront of healthcare solutions. Providence St. Joseph Health, Mass General Brigham, Care Health Insurance (formerly Religare), and several other notable names built and rolled out artificial intelligence-based chatbots to help with diagnostics at the first stage before a human-human virtual contact, especially while differentiating between possible COVID-19 cases and other ailments. The CDC also hosts an AI-driven chatbot on its website to help screen for coronavirus infections. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) partnered with a messaging app named Ratuken Viber, to develop an interactive chatbot for accurate information about COVID-19 in multiple languages. This allowed WHO to reach up to 1 billion people located anywhere in the world, at any time of the day, in their respective native languages.

For Care Health Insurance, Mantra Labs deployed their Conversational AI Chatbot with AR-based virtual support, called Hitee, trained to converse in multiple languages. This led to 10X interactions over the previous basic chatbot; 5X more conversions through Vanilla Web Experience; Drop-in Customer Queries over Voice Support by 20% among other benefits.

Artificial Intelligence’s role in the healthcare industry has been growing strength by strength over the years. According to the global tech market advisory firm ABI Research, AI spending in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries is expected to increase from $463 million in 2019 to more than $2 billion over the next 5 years, healthtechmagazine.net has reported. 

Speaking of key features available on a healthcare chatbot, Anonymity; Monitoring; Personalization; collecting Physical vitals (including oxygenation, heart rhythm, body temperature) via mobile sensors; monitoring patient behavior via facial recognition; Real-time interaction; and Scalability, feature top of the list. 

However, while covering the wide gamut of a healthcare bot’s capabilities, it is trained on the following factors to come in handy on a business or human-need basis. Read on: 

Remote, Virtual Consults 

Chatbots were seen surging exponentially in the year 2016, however, the year 2020 and onwards brought back the possibility of adding on to healthcare bot capabilities as people continued to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Chatbots work as the frontline customer support for Quick Symptom Assessment where the intent is understood and a patient’s queries are answered, including connection with an agent for follow-up service, Booking an Appointment with doctors, and more. 

Mental Health Therapy

Even though anxiety, depression, and other mental health-related disorders and their subsequent awareness have been the talk around the world, even before the pandemic hit, the pandemic year, once again could be attributed to increased use of bots to seek support or a conversation to work through their anxiety and more amid trying times. The popular apps, Woebot and Wysa, both gained popularity and recognition during the previous months as a go-to Wellness Advisor. 

An AI Wellness Advisor can also take the form of a chatbot that sends regular reminders on meal and water consumption timings, nutrition charts including requisite consultation with nutritionists, lifestyle advice, and more. 

Patient Health Monitoring via wearables 

Wearable technologies like wearable heart monitors, Bluetooth-enabled scales, glucose monitors, skin patches, shoes, belts, or maternity care trackers promise to redefine assessment of health behaviors in a non-invasive manner and helps acquire, transmit, process, and store patient data, thereby making it a breeze for clinicians to retrieve it as and when they need it.

Remote patient monitoring devices also enable patients to share updates on their vitals and their environment from the convenience and comfort of home, a feature that’s gained higher popularity amid the pandemic.

A healthcare chatbot for healthcare has the capability to check existing insurance coverage, help file claims and track the status of claims. 

What’s in store for the future of chatbots in Healthcare? 

The three main areas where healthcare chatbots can be particularly useful include timely health diagnostics, patient engagement outside medical facilities, and mental health care. 

According to Gartner, conversational AI will supersede cloud and mobile as the most important imperative for the next ten years. 

“For AI to succeed in healthcare over the long-term, consumer comfort and confidence should be front and center. Leveraging AI behind the scenes or in supporting roles could collectively ease us into understanding its value without risking alienation,” reads a May 2021 Forbes article titled, The Doctor Is In: Three Predictions For The Future Of AI In Healthcare. 

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