Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is one of its biggest tech events on the calendar every year. This year’s show is due to run from June 7 to 11 and will be entirely online (like many of Apple’s recent events).
What can you expect to see at the show? Will there be any exciting new hardware reveals and software features? We have all the answers you need right here, with a rundown of everything we expect to see at WWDC 2021.
iOS 15 and iPadOS 15
Two of Apple’s most important platforms are those that run on the iPhone and on the iPad. The company always uses WWDC to shed new light on upcoming versions of these operating systems, and this year will be no different.
Details surrounding these new versions (iOS 15 and iPadOS 15) are thin on the ground, but we can make some educated guesses. For one thing, we expect Apple will continue its trend of allowing more freedom when changing default apps. You can change the standard web, mail, and music apps right now, and we are hoping that will expand to cover things like the calendar, reminders, camera, and more.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple is working on contextual notifications, and this system will be unveiled at WWDC. For instance, if you got an alert during the night (and presumably are not running Apple’s Bedtime feature, which disables all notifications), the alert would arrive silently. During the day, it would play a sound. You might be able to set a status — like Working, Driving, or Sleeping — and have your device handle notifications in an appropriate manner. This could also auto-reply to the alerts based on your status.
One of the biggest changes in iOS 14 was the introduction of widgets. In iOS 15, we expect Apple will further refine these, perhaps by adding more widget options for its own apps, more functionality, and more sizes.
The next version of MacOS
MacOS 11 Big Sur first saw the light of day at WWDC 2020, and it turned out to be one of the best MacOS upgrades in years. Apple will want to keep that momentum going this year with the new version, which, according to 9to5Mac, will be dubbed MacOS 12 (rather than MacOS 11.1).
It is likely we will see a refinement of some of the features that made Big Sur so good. For starters, that means more widgets and more customization of the Control Center, which is already one of the best features of MacOS Big Sur.
We would also love to see the introduction of Shortcuts on MacOS. The Shortcuts app is a handy tool on iOS that lets you quickly launch complex tasks that are activated with a touch or your voice. Bringing that to the Mac would be an excellent way to boost productivity and save time.
And what about the name? Right now, some of the leading contenders are Mammoth, Monterey, and Skyline. That’s because Apple patented a bunch of name ideas in recent years but allowed most to expire, yet it kept these three patented. However, not all recent MacOS names have been patented (like El Capitan and Catalina), and Big Sur’s patent expired in 2018, but Apple still chose to use it in 2020. Still, keep an eye out for these names at WWDC.
Other operating system updates
While iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS are the big ones, Apple’s other operating systems are expected to get some love too. For instance, while we do not know many details about the next update coming to tvOS, it will surely get some tweaks and new features given Apple’s continuing focus on services like Apple TV+.
The Apple Watch’s operating system will also tick over to WatchOS 8. Rumors indicate we could get new Health, Battery, and Hiking apps from Apple as well as a relaxation of the requirement to always be online in certain cases (such as when using some Siri features).
It is rare for a WWDC event to focus exclusively on software, and this year could be no different. Apple launched a lot of hardware at its spring event in April, but that still leaves plenty of possibilities on the table. For one thing, there could be updates to the Mac Pro based on how many related rumors and leaks have appeared of late. Not only could we see updates to Apple’s most all-out, all-powerful Mac, but there are strong rumors that Apple is also working on a half-size Mac Pro with an Apple Silicon chip inside. Previewing this high-end device to a crowd of tech-savvy developers at WWDC makes a lot of sense.
Leaker Jon Prosser has claimed Apple will launch new MacBook Pro models with an upgraded Apple Silicon chip, possibly called the M1X. It will have eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores in its CPU, while the GPU will come with 16- or 32-core options. That backs up an earlier report from Gurman claiming the same chip configuration. Apple’s WWDC 2021 invitation also depicts three Memoji characters using MacBooks, which might be a further hint at a MacBook Pro update.
In the same report, Prosser also outlined his belief that Apple is working on a major revamp for the Mac Mini. This would kit it out with the M1X chip, slim down its profile, add a new plexiglass-like material on top, and more. This might not make it to WWDC, though, but it is worth watching out for regardless.
If Apple decides to stick with the pro theme, there might also be time for the company to outline the next version of the AirPods Pro. Details on what this could entail are a little hazy, but there are some morsels doing the rounds. For instance, DigiTimes has claimed the next AirPods Pro will come with fitness-tracking features, which might integrate them nicely with what the Apple Watch currently offers here. We might also see improved noise cancellation, a new design, and perhaps even “in-air” gestures as detailed by an Apple patent.
That is not all that could be coming our way in terms of AirPods Pro. Prosser has recently disclosed his belief that Apple could announce a tie-in with its new Apple Music Lossless feature. Right now, AirPods Pro cannot use this high-resolution audio option because they connect to your device using Bluetooth, and high-res music uses too much bandwidth to be streamed this way. However, Prosser thinks Apple might enable AirPods Pro to stream music over AirPlay. This would provide much more bandwidth, allowing AirPods Pro (and all of Apple’s other AirPods products) to work with Apple Music’s lossless audio tier. Right now, AirPlay only works over a personal Wi-Fi connection, and no AirPods devices support Wi-Fi. However, we think Apple might have a trick up its sleeve in the form of an update that lets AirPlay work over Bluetooth. Seeing as Apple Music’s lossless tier is not going to launch until June — the same month as WWDC — it seems entirely possible that Apple will announce this new lossless-over-AirPlay feature at its summer event.
The future of Apple Silicon
Unfortunately, it is unlikely Apple will show off any new MacBooks at WWDC. According to Nikkei Asia, Apple has delayed the production of two MacBook Pro models until later in the year, making an October or November reveal more likely.
However, there is a good chance Apple will discuss the tech powering its Macs — namely, new Apple Silicon chips and the future of its transition away from Intel. A clue might be found in the WWDC invitation, which features a Memoji character looking at a half-open MacBook in much the same way Craig Federighi did while talking about Apple Silicon at last year’s event.
We know Apple is working on a raft of updates to its chip platform, including processors with 32, 16, 12, and eight high-performance cores (alongside two or four high-efficiency cores). It is unlikely Apple will talk about these in any great detail at WWDC 2021, but it might shed some light on a few things it has up its sleeve.
Apple mixed-reality headset
We mentioned clues in the WWDC invitation above. There is another possibility that some people have suggested: That it hints at an Apple-designed mixed-reality headset. We think this is very unlikely, though.
The suggestion revolves around the app reflections in the Memoji character’s glasses. The standard interpretation is that these are simply reflecting off the MacBook screen. However, some people have claimed that it might in fact be a depiction of augmented reality apps projected on the glasses’ lenses.
Apple is rumored to be working on augmented reality glasses, but these are not expected to launch until 2023 at the earliest, making WWDC 2021 a suspiciously premature date for the reveal.
But could the invitation be a reference to Apple’s upcoming mixed-reality headset rather than its AR glasses? That is doubtful too. Gurman, who has an excellent track record when it comes to Apple rumors, believes Apple will announce its headset at an in-person event this year, yet WWDC 2021 is going to be online only, seemingly putting the headset out of the running. We hate to be spoilsports, but at this point, it seems the mixed-reality glasses clue is simply a case of wishful thinking. That doesn’t mean Apple won’t give us a preview — in some ways, telltale signs of the headset have been all around us — but we’ll have to wait and see.
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