SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple, beset by falling iPhone sales, announced upcoming changes to its phone and computer software intended to highlight its increasing emphasis on digital services and to further position it as a fierce guardian of personal privacy.
The revisions previewed Monday during a conference in San Jose, Calif., included a new feature that will let people log into apps and other services with an Apple ID instead of relying on similar sign-in options from Facebook and Google — two companies that mine data to sell advertising. Apple said it won’t collect tracking information about users from that service.
As part of that feature, Apple will also let users mask their true email addresses when signing into apps and services. That will involve faux email addresses that automatically forward to the user’s personal email. When the next version of the iPhone software comes out this fall, Apple is also promising to give people the option of limiting the time apps can follow their locations and prevent tracking through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals.
The revisions are part of Apple’s ongoing attempts to differentiate itself from other technology giants, many of whom offer free services in exchange for personal data such as whereabouts and personal interests, which in turn fuels the advertising that generates most of their revenue. Apple, by contrast, makes virtually all its money selling devices and services, making it easier for CEO Tim Cook to embrace “privacy is a fundamental human right” as one of the company’s battle cries in an age of increasingly intrusive technology.
Monday’s software showcase is an annual rite that Apple holds for thousands of programmers at the end of spring. This year, however, Apple is grappling with its biggest challenge since its visionary co-founder, Steve Jobs, died nearly eight years ago.
Although still popular, the iPhone is no longer reliably driving Apple’s profits the way it has for the past decade. Sales have fallen sharply for the past two quarters, and could suffer another blow if China’s government targets the iPhone in retaliation for the trade war being waged by the Trump administration. Another potential problem looms for Apple. Regulatory complaints and a consumer lawsuit both question whether Apple has been abusing the power of its iPhone app store to thwart competition and gouge smaller technology companies that rely on it to attract users and sell their services.
Apple is trying to adapt by squeezing money from digital services tailored for the more than 900 million iPhones currently in use. The transition includes a Netflix-like video service that Apple teased in March and thrust to center stage again Monday with a preview of one of the new series due out this fall, “For All Mankind.”
But the iPhone remains Apple’s marquee attraction. The next version of its iPhone operating software, iOS 13, manages to offer both privacy features and an aesthetic “dark mode” for the screen — a feature already available on Macs.