We’re just two weeks away from getting our next official glimpse of Apple’s future.
The company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference offers clues about the road ahead for the next operating systems and software applications that power Apple’s iPhones, iPads, Macs, watches, HomePod speakers and Apple TV streamers. The show, which runs this year from June 4 to 8 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, CA, will also give third-party developers the opportunity to mix it up with Apple executives, engineers and product designers.
WWDC is very much about unveiling upgrades to operating systems, apps, services and software frameworks that will hit later in the year. However, Apple sometimes uses the spotlight to launch new hardware, too. We’ll tackle that possibility first, before offering a deeper dive into the more likely software expectations.
Possible new iPad Pros, MacBooks and more
Don’t expect to see new high-end iPhones or the new Mac Pro when Apple CEO Tim Cook takes the stage on June 4. The sequels to the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are expected in September as usual, and Apple has already confirmed that the new Mac Pro isn’t coming until 2019. Likewise, the HomePod speaker and entry-level iPad are basically brand new, having just been released in February and March, respectively.
But here are four product categories that have a good shot of being refreshed in June:
MacBooks and iMacs: Apple refreshed nearly its entire line of laptop and desktop computers at last year’s WWDC. Now, a year later, moving the line to the newest eighth-generation Intel processors would be an easy — albeit boring — upgrade. Whether that would entail a larger design overhaul — such as rethinking the problematic butterfly keyboards and still controversial Touch Bar features on the MacBook Pro laptops — would remain to be seen. The same goes for the MacBook Air, which has long been rumored to be getting a comeback model.
iPad Pros: Apple brought a keystone feature of the iPad Pro line — compatibility with the Pencil stylus — to the new entry-level iPad that debuted in March. The conventional wisdom is that the pricier iPad Pro models can now be teed up for an iPhone X-style design overhaul: Ditching the home button and adding Face ID, perhaps.
iPhone SE 2: As we said, the big iPhone upgrades are expected in the standard September time frame. But there are persistent rumors that the iPhone SE, the entry-level iPhone which debuted in March 2016, is due for an upgrade of some sort. Whether that’s a full-screen iPhone X design (which seems improbable) or just a specs upgrade in the same body (much more likely) is unknown.
Apple AirPower: When Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, introduced this multi-device charging pad alongside the iPhone X in September 2017, he said it was coming “next year.” So while you can’t say it’s “late” until Jan. 1, 2019, one has to assume Apple would like to get this accessory on store shelves before the one-year anniversary of its announcement. WWDC would be a perfect opportunity to announce pricing and availability — and maybe we could see that AirPower-compatible AirPods case, too.
Other stuff we don’t expect on June 4: As for other Apple hardware, pretty much anything else would be a longshot. Don’t expect new Apple Watches, Apple TV boxes, second-gen AirPods or mini HomePod speakers. And while Apple may spend more time talking up AR Kit — its software toolset for bringing augmented reality to iOS — and virtual reality on the Mac, definitely don’t expect any hint of that Apple AR/VR headset that the company is apparently tinkering with behind closed doors — that’s expected closer to 2020, if at all.
What you will see, however, is plenty of new software and operating systems for nearly everything mentioned above. Here’s what to expect.
iOS 12: prioritizing quality over quantity
After grappling with a persistent streak of flaws and glitches that have besmirched the reputation of iOS 11 — including the controversial “feature” that intentionally slows down iPhones — Apple is said to be focusing on quality over innovation with the forthcoming version of its mobile operating system, ostensibly called iOS 12.
This may result in the postponement of some planned upgrades including a redesigned home screen, photography enhancements and multiplayer support for AR gaming, according to Bloomberg, which has been the primary source for the lion’s share of published rumors to date.
That’s not to say that iOS 12 won’t deliver some new treats. Japanese blog Mac Otakara reports the update may feature a more polished version of Face ID that includes the ability to unlock a device in a horizontal landscape mode. And Bloomberg has reported that Apple plans to expand its lineup of Animojis. And, of course, if Animojis (and Apple’s TrueDepth camera technology) are coming to future versions of the iPad, that support will need to be added to the tablet side of the iOS software, too.
MacOS: Doubling down on security
It’s not just iOS that’s been buggy. In November 2017, researchers discovered a colossal security flaw in Apple’s Mac operating system, allowing users to login to virtually any Mac laptop or desktop without a password. (Here’s how to prevent access if you haven’t updated MacOS recently.) As such, we expect Apple to invest more time and energy than usual highlighting security and privacy at this year’s WWDC.
WatchOS: expanding health and fitness functionality
Little is known about what Apple has up its sleeve with regard to its wristbound OS, but the recent news about Apple’s new round-display Watch patent portends a new avenue of possibilities. There’s also the chance of an expanded watch face store, or more watch face customization. Otherwise, we expect to see some announcements related to the continuing expansion of the Apple Watch’s health and fitness functionality (via the HealthKit software toolset).
TV OS, Audio OS and Siri: Making Apple TV and HomePod smarter
We already know that the beta for tvOS 11.4 more tightly integrates Apple TV into the Home app, and offers compatibility with the AirPlay 2 multiroom speaker feature first unveiled at WWDC 2017. That may mean more integration with HomeKit, Apple’s smart home platform, is on deck for this year’s WWDC. Maybe we’ll hear more about games and the TV app on Apple’s streamer, too.
iOS 11.4 will finally deliver that promised multiroom audio and stereo pairing for HomePod, too. But while that product’s hardware is top-notch, its software remains seriously lacking. We’re hoping Apple uses the one-year anniversary of the HomePod’s WWDC debut to spell out specific improvements to its Audio OS operating system, so the speaker can rely less on a paired iPhone and become a more viable challenge to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home speaker systems.
And while we’re at it: Everyone agrees Siri needs a serious overhaul if Apple wants to go toe-to-toe with Alexa and Google Assistant.
What about ‘Marzipan’?
One of the biggest obsessions of Apple developers in recent months revolves around “Marzipan.” That’s the supposed code name of an initiative, first reported by Bloomberg in January, to give users a “way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs.”
While many assumed that meant an eventual world where iOS apps could run on Macs — if not a unified iOS/MacOS operating system — the truth may be less dramatic. According to Apple pundit John Gruber, the Marzipan name is unknown to his sources. But he says that Apple is apparently working on a shared toolset which would allow iOS and Mac apps to be developed in a common environment, at least up to a point. That’s a contrast to the current situation in which developers must design, engineer and distribute separate versions for each platform, which requires a lot of redundant work.
Gruber’s story puts forth a less ambitious and certainly less dramatic narrative for a future collaboration of iOS and MacOS — albeit one that sounds more practical for developers, as well as more technically feasible. However, he also points out that “it’s a 2019 thing” — meaning you shouldn’t expect to hear any public disclosure of the plans at this year’s WWDC.
See you on June 4
CNET will have complete coverage of WWDC, including previews, live coverage of the event from San Jose and plenty of follow-up analysis, too. Stay tuned.
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