By Rohan Naravane
Interesting fact — did you know that Apple has been hosting its WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) since the late 1980’s? Year after year, the event has been used for software-related announcements by the world’s most valuable company. Today, customers and developers get a peek at what to expect from the next version of iOS and macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. While recent times suggest that Apple exclusively talks about software at the keynote presentation, rumours are also pointing to some hardware announcements. The company has used the event to announce new hardware in the past — like the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, Mac Pro, iPhone 3GS, etc. With less than 24 hours to go, here’s what you can expect from this year’s WWDC.
1. Siri Speaker
There are strong rumours that Apple will launch a “Siri Speaker” — a device that competes with smart assistant products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Although Apple pioneered the concept of smart assistants with Siri back in 2011, in recent times it has been overshadowed by Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant.
The Siri Speaker is said to deliver richer sound output than the competition; this would be a welcome addition since the Amazon Echo and Google Home right now are strictly above-average in terms of audio quality. Reports suggest that the product will include “virtual surround sound technology” and may include sensors that fine-tune the audio output depending on the room’s acoustics.
Next, using the Siri Speaker, users should be able to control Apple HomeKit enabled smart appliances like lights, switches, thermostats, etc. Some rumours point to the Siri Speaker having a touchscreen interface, while others also suggest a camera on-board for facial recognition. But only time will tell if the Siri Speaker will be more in line with the original Amazon Echo or the recently unveiled Amazon Echo Show — a smart speaker with a display. Expectedly, considering Apple’s positioning of its entire product lineup, this product will cost more than the Google Home (priced at $129) and the Amazon Echo (which sells for $179).
2. MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air spec update
The next set of rumours point to an updated 12-inch MacBook, as well as the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros, and even the ageing 13-inch MacBook Air. But this will merely be an update to the more recent 7th generation Intel ‘Kaby Lake’ chips. The MacBook Pros are the most recently updated of the lot, which got a completely new design with TouchBar and Touch ID support last year in October.
The 12-inch MacBook should also receive an upgrade to the improved second-generation butterfly mechanism keyboard switches that were introduced with the new MacBook Pros last year. The MacBook Air hasn’t been updated since 2015, in part because it’s been cannibalised by the other two products mentioned above. But due to the relatively low price, sales remains to be a strong. This could make Apple refresh its internals similar to how they launched the iPhone SE last year — a phone with the body of the iPhone 5s and internals from newer iPhones.
3. New iPads
Another thing that’s said to show itself this WWDC is the long-rumoured 10.5-inch iPad Pro. This supposedly will be a redesigned iPad that has slimmer bezels, and is able to accommodate a slightly bigger display in the same footprint as today’s 9.7-inch iPad. Being an iPad Pro, it will feature the smart connector that enables support for the official keyboard cover. It should also support the Apple Pencil, which currently is only made to work with iPad Pros.
4. iOS 11
iOS got a major visual overhaul in 2014 with iOS 7. It is rumoured that to celebrate the tenth-anniversary of the software that powers the iPhones and iPads, it will get an updated user interface. Next, Apple will also add more functionality to SiriKit, which currently only supports six types of integrations with 3rd party apps. Expanding SiriKit will also make a lot of sense if the Siri Speaker is indeed on its way. Apple Music’s frequently-changed interface will yet again be updated to give video content more visibility.
It is also expected that iOS 11 will bring in a more iPad-centric user experience improvements like improved multi-tasking. Since a lot of iPhone 8 rumours point to the use of an OLED display, it is also said that iOS 11 will bring a system-wide ‘dark mode’ that uses darker background colours instead of bright, white colour shades.
One oft-repeated rumour is the Facetime app getting the ability to make group video calls and a screen-sharing feature. It is also suggested that iOS 11 will be a 64-bit only operating system, so hardware older than the iPhone 5s or the first-generation iPad Air won’t get an upgrade.
5. macOS, tvOS, watchOS
There are very little rumours that talk about new features on macOS. Over the past few years, Apple’s operating system for its computers has been receiving less love than its mobile-oriented iOS. One prediction points to the use of Apple’s own filesystem that it deployed on iOS this year. Called APFS (Apple File System), it is optimised for flash/SSD storage, improved support for encryption and better overall efficiency. Considering most Macs sold today use solid-state storage, it’d be fair to assume the new macOS would also begin to use this file system. There are also talks of a system-wide dark mode, HomeKit support, unlocking a Mac using an iPhone, etc.
As for tvOS, there seems to be chatter about support for 4K video (though, it is unclear whether only newer Apple TV hardware will support it). There’s also talk of support for multiple users, which will be a god-send since there’s a very good chance that Apple TVs are used by more than one person in the household.
Finally, a version 4.0 update of watchOS — the software that powers the Apple Watch lineup of wearables — should be unveiled at WWDC 2017. The list of possible improvements include 3rd party watch faces, support for tracking new activities like skiing and snowboarding. The first Apple Watch was known to be slow and laggy, especially when using apps. That issue was reduced with the last watchOS 3 update, but it reportedly still isn’t as fast. Hopefully, watchOS 4 will also focus on improving the performance of the software on Apple’s smartwatches.
That’s it. Now that you’ve consumed all the information, it’s time to keep looking at the clock until it hits 10.30PM India Time (10AM Pacific Time) for the WWDC 2017 keynote to begin!
In the meantime, you could look at all the rumours and news to do with this year's WWDC 2017 right here.
The author has been writing about technology since 2007. He’s often conflicted between what Apple and Google have to offer. You can find him rambling about tech on @r0han.