Apple WWDC21: Expect Big Things
Apple’s annual developer event promises updates to all OSes and maybe one new one
Consumers get excited about all of Apple’s big launch events, the ones where the Cupertino tech giant unveils a passel of new products intended to brighten their days, improve their lives, and help them get more done.
I like them, too but the real juice comes from Apple’s annual, information-packed Worldwide Developers Conferences (WWDC). This is where Apple charts the roadmap, not for just current and future products, but the software and code that underpins all of it.
Look at it this way:
- The iPhone is just a slab of metal and glass without iOS.
- Apple TV is a black plastic brick without tvOS
- Apple Watch is merely pretty jewelry without watchOS
- The iPad is an unwieldy aluminum and glass slab without iPadOS
- The Mac is an attractive desk ornament without macOS
The nitty-gritty details, often dealing with programming languages and connective tissue like all the various kits (HomeKit, HealthKit, ResearchKit, CareKit) and APIs, can be a little hard to digest for consumers, but these are the things that help build the Apple ecosystem and connect it to a wide array of third-party devices and, most importantly, the apps you run on all of them.
Like last year, this year’s WWDC which kicks off on June 7, is an all-digital event, a limitation that tends to compress the critical keynote presentation into a more digestible duration for the desk-bound, video-stream viewing set (it’s debatable how long anyone can watch a video presentation). That said, I have a feeling that this will be one of Apple’s bigger, more impactful WWDCs.
Last year Apple introduced one of its biggest changes ever to the iPhone home screen, adding customizable widgets that reveal old photos, news, weather, or pretty much whatever you want.
This year I don’t expect that kind of visual sea change, although I do think there may be some hints that the carve-out for the iPhone’s TrueDepth module is going away. I expect Apple to hide the camera and other sensors under the screen or in a thin, black bezel (guessing here, of course).
Guaranteed there will be more health, fitness, and privacy-related updates
I also expect Appel CEO Tim Cook to, in light of the ongoing Apple vs Epic case, spend ample time reminding developers and the world of all the benefits of its app developers program and the app store.
There will be Swift language updates and more ways for developers to easily port applications across macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.
Most people believe Apple’ is planning a significate iMessage update. I’m not sure how much richer the platform can become. What I hope is that Apple somehow pulls the App Drawer out of its hiding place and better integrates it with the fluid operation of creating and responding to iMessages.
I guess Animojis could be more fun, but to be honest, I rarely use them and if they remain untouched in this go-around I won’t be bothered.
I hope Apple makes some more structural changes to iOS that’ll help extend battery life and prolong battery health, shrink the size of the OS, and improve stability.
It’s also possible that we’ll finally get some form of multitasking on the iPhone. What I want from iOS 15 and know Apple can produce is a system that allows for two apps running on a split screen and the ability to drag and drop between them. Yes, this all exists on iPadOS
The iPad, which now sits firmly between the iPhone and Mac will probably see a collection of subtle changes, some will pull directly from the iOS 15 update.
The focus here, though, will again be on the iPad as a productivity platform and how the platform can use the additional performance headroom granted by the Apple Silicon M1 chip on the iPad Pro.
If the rumors — and that recent job posting — are accurate, we’re about to see a brand new Apple operating system platform: homeOS.
This, my friends, is very good news. No longer will we have to deal with or consider Apple’s HomeKit, which was not a platform but a framework that third-party developers used to connect their devices to Apple’s Siri-driven smart home system. The problem was that Apple tried to have it both ways, treating HomeKit as both a developer’s tool and a consumer-facing platform. It didn’t help Apple’s already unnecessarily muddled smart home strategy.
homeOS, which I suspect will live inside the excellent HomePod mini and other Apple Smart home hubs could be the start of Apple finally making its smart home as simple and inviting as Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant-based system.
An Apple smart home platform also means more Apple smart home hardware. We might finally see an Apple smart home dedicated screen that’s a combo of an iPad, HomePod mini, and Apple TV.
Even if Apple doesn’t introduce any new smart home hardware next week, the introduction of homeOS is an undeniable boost for Apple’s smart home prospects.
I think that most of the major tvOS 15 changes will revolve around how it works with the new homeOS and enables more powerful smart home activities.
I’m fairly confident that Apple will introduce either a second-generation Apple Silicon chip or, perhaps, a power version (more threads) of the M1. They might call a new chip M2 or their power one M1 Max. I don’t think we’ll see new hardware running these chips. Apple will want to give developers time to write desktop and tablet apps to run on it.
On the other hand, maybe we get a MacBook Pro 16-inch running M2 tease. I guess anything is possible.
Whatever we learn about the next Apple Silicon release will have some impact on the next macOS.
While I don’t expect major changes, I think it’s fair to assume that the nudging together of macOS, iPadOS, and iOS, will continue, especially with two of these three platforms now running the M1. macOS 12 (it might, by the way, still be macOS 11, just version 11.2) will go right up to the edge but stop short of touch-screen Macs. That’s just not gonna happen.
More important than the technical changes, though, will be what Apple calls this next version (😉). Assuming they stick with the West Coast and in the general area of Big Sur, maybe Apple goes with Lucia, Sand Dollar, or Pacific Grove.
While watchOS 7 introduced cool new features like Sleep tracking, more workouts, and new faces, I think watchOS 8 could be a more significant reinvention. What I’d like to see (and I think this is possible) is a down-to-the-bits code rewrite that more than doubles battery life. Granted, this version of watchOS won’t show up until we have a new Apple Watch in the fall, one that supports more battery-efficient operation. Whatever we learn about watchOS 8 now will tell us a lot about the next major Apple Watch update.
Here's what I do know: On June 7, Apple CEO Tim Cook will take the stage and talk about every single platform Apple makes. He’ll exceed expectations in some areas while disappointing in others. Cook can’t manage those expectations. He can only deliver the news and set the stage for days of nitty-gritty developer details that will paint the canvas of Apple products for years to come.