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U.S. Business New Apple features a familiar game of catch-up to competitors

Apple CEO Tim Cook waves as he arrives on stage to deliver his keynote address at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, United States June 8, 2015.

ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS

The kickoff for WWDC, Apple Inc.'s annual conference for third-party software developers, served as a reminder that the Cupertino, Calif., company is a world leader in smartphone design, but on software it's often a fast follower.

Over 2 1/2 hours, the thousands of coders and entrepreneurs gathered at San Francisco's Moscone Center were treated to several glitzy videos with actors, comedians, music legends, scientists and a few regular folks as well. Apple CEO Tim Cook performed as master of ceremonies at WWDC, which stands for Worldwide Developers Conference. He touted such milestones as 100 billion apps downloaded on iOS. Senior VP Craig Federighi went through myriad updates to the mobile and desktop-operating systems and in a notable moment for the usually male-centric Apple, two female executives – Jennifer Bailey and Susan Prescott – presented updates to Apple Pay and Apple News (formerly Newsstand).

There was also a surprising amount of Canadian content. Rapper Drake showed up to pitch Apple's wares, "Canadian Poutine" appeared in a slide about multitasking and indie group The Weekend closed the show with a live performance.

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But the overwhelming feeling was one of familiarity: features added to the Safari browser that competitors such as Firefox and Google already have; multitasking for tablets that we've seen on Windows; even updates to Watch that Android Wear already does.

Streaming is the future of iTunes

As expected, Apple Music is the new streaming service for iOS users. Jimmy Iovine, a long-time music industry executive who was brought on board Apple through the $3-billion (U.S.) purchase of Beats in 2014, laid out his vision for a unified music experience.

The new app is combination of a music-streaming service filled with 30 million songs and customized playlists based, among other things, on your iTunes library; a 24/7 Internet radio station called Beats 1; and a new musician video-sharing service called Connect. All for $10 a month (after a three-month free trial), starting on June 30 in 100 countries, including Canada. It should be said, Android access comes later this year.

There was no obvious effort to hook users into buying the songs they listened to, and in many ways, this may be a loss-leader to keep people on Apple's devices. It's a huge moment for Apple, a late-comer to a game played very well by players such as Spotify, Pandora and even YouTube.

Apple is chasing Google on mobile software features

Mr. Federighi, Apple's software boss, told the developers on hand that Siri gets one billion requests a week, so we can all stop saying no one uses it. And now, the iPhone digital assistant has a feature called Proactive that will do things like bring up the music or podcasts you play as soon as you plug in your headphones; any search query will bring up apps or contacts that Siri thinks you might want based on time of day and things such as calendar appointments.

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Basically, this is Apple's plan to use the data your phone collects about your behaviour to help organize your day, in much the same way that Google Now does for Android. But, as always, Apple says its massive data-mining systems are not shared with third parties – the subtext there is the suspicion that Google Now is using your info to sell advertising. There were a number of moments like this where a new Apple feature is basically just catching up with Google, like with transit directions on the Apple Maps app.

Apple's different device software is converging

Apple's device software continues to operate similarly across its platforms, depending on form factor. Mac OS X El Capitan continues to drift toward a merger with iOS, incorporating gesture support into things such as the Mail app, turning some function key commands into swipeable commands on the trackpad. Updates to the Safari web browser bring it closer to what Google's Chrome offers. And when Apple says it has improved the performance of the OS by 1.4 times, the subtext is that the previous version, Yosemite, was pretty buggy and needed a lot of fixes.

One of the other big announcements of the day was the ability to multitask on the iPad. The split-screen options are different depending on the age of your tablet, but overall it feels a lot like the similar Windows desktop feature called Snap. The nicest example is the ability to put a video in a small tile that you can move around, so you could use Twitter while watching Game of Thrones on the same device. Also, the new version, iOS 9, supports all the same devices iOS 8 did (which is a lot).

Still no Apple Pay for Canada

Apple Pay expanded to more card holders, more stores, more apps and even one more country, the United Kingdom. Sadly, the ability to pay for stuff with your iPhone is still not available for Canadians. So, it makes even less sense in Canada that the Passbook app for keeping store credentials will now be called Wallet.

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With a report from Bloomberg

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