Microsoft and Apple's newest updates show how the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with computers

Microsoft and Apple's newest updates show how the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with computers
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  • Apple and Microsoft's new software updates bring big changes to their video calling apps.
  • Other new features hope to help us better manage work-life balance.
  • The updates are a sign the way people use their computers has fundamentally changed over the past year.

The world may be opening up again, but remote work is here to stay for many people. That's the sentiment that has seemingly shaped the new updates coming to Windows and Mac computers later this year.

Apple and Microsoft are both introducing new features that vastly improve conference calls and the way we manage work-life balance, updates that will come as the majority of American workers continued working remotely into 2021, according to Gallup.

Some of these new features are a response to remote work, but they're also a sign the two biggest operating systems see a fundamental shift in how we'll use computers to work and communicate.

Microsoft unveiled Windows 11 on Thursday, its first major Windows update in six years. The free update will bring a slew of aesthetic changes to Windows computers this holiday season, but tighter integration with its Teams video chat app is one of the biggest updates. With Windows 11, Teams will sit right in the task bar so that you can start a text chat, video call, or voice call without having to launch the app.

Apple also announced big changes coming to FaceTime during its Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month. That includes some Zoom-like features, such as grid view for group calls and the ability to create links to join FaceTime conferences from any device, marking the first time Apple has expanded FaceTime beyond its own products.


The iPhone maker is also launching a new capability called SharePlay that lets you watch movies and TV shows in sync with someone else via a FaceTime call - a feature that surely would have been appreciated over the past year as many sought to co-watch shows with friends and family.

But videoconferencing is only one aspect of remote work; there's also the actual work. Apple's macOS Monterey update and Microsoft's Windows 11 will both have new tools for helping us better separate our digital work lives from our personal matters. Windows 11, for example, will let you create separate zones called Desktops tailored to different themes like work, personal, or gaming.

Apple is launching a new Focus mode that makes it possible to block out notifications based on your activity across all devices. That means no Facebook notifications during the workday and no Slack alerts past 6 p.m. if you so choose. Such features could be particularly useful as American workers are grappling with burnout, particularly over the past year. A survey conducted by Insider and SurveyMonkey that polled 1,093 working Americans in late April found that about 60% of respondents felt at least somewhat burned out. Nearly half of the respondents who reported feeling a little burned out said this happened over the past few months.

The launches also come at a time when there's a desire to continue working remotely even after the pandemic. A national survey conducted in April 2020 by GetAbstract found that 43% of respondents said they wanted to continue working remotely more often moving forward.

Still, the software updates are just the latest example of how tech companies are tailoring their products around longterm behavioral changes. New laptops that debuted at the annual CES show in January came packed with technologies meant to improve video calling and security, such as sophisticated microphones and sensors that could lock your device when you're away.


It's possible many of these features would have arrived to Windows and macOS whether there was a pandemic or not. But what is certain is that more than a year of remote work has changed the way we use computers in both a professional and personal capacity. Now, we're getting a sense of which trends the big tech companies think are here to stay.