This year, WWDC is all about the software
Apple's annual World Wide Developers Conference — WWDC 2016 or "Dub Dub" for short — is set to take place starting June 13th. We're expecting to see and hear all about Apple's next-generation operating systems, including iOS 10 for iPhone and iPad, OS X (or macOS) for the Mac, and watchOS and tvOS for the Apple Watch and Apple TV respectively. What we're not expecting is... well, read on!
How's WWDC 2016 going to start?
The WWDC keynote usually starts with a humorous video. One year it was a short Siri address. Last year a Saturday Night Live-style kit. Apple's trying to mix the traditional and the modern, and we'll likely see the planning team continuing to do so until they nail it.
Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, will almost certainly come out on stage first. He'll thank the developers, tell us Apple is doing great, and show off the opening of the new Apple Store at Union Square. I'd love to see Angela Ahrendts do that last part, but like Jony Ive, she seems to prefer working off-stage.
Will we get iOS 10 at WWDC 2016?
If Apple sticks to recent patterns, yes. Developer beta on keynote day with public beta to follow and release in September a couple days before the next new iPhone.
Apple's senior vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, with the help of some app and service-specific designated hitters, has done most of the heavy lifting at WWDC for the last few years. And he's gotten really good at it. That should continue this year for iOS 10
iOS 7 gave us a complete redesign, transferring playfulness from texture to simulated physics. iOS 8 was all about new functionality, with Extensibility and Continuity breaking the old bonds of app binaries and letting content and features move between apps and even between devices. iOS 9 began increasing the intelligence, merging Spotlight into Siri and giving Siri the beginnings of proactivity.
I'm looking for that intelligence continue, not in a Facebook or Google manner, but an Apple manner that leverages on-device data, Apple services data, and partner data to provide compelling results while maintaining as much privacy as possible. Same with the long-rumored Siri API (application programming interface). Handling collisions between different services, and getting services integrated internationally are non-trivial. But as we've seen with HomeKit, the advantages of Siri access are transformative.
It's no accident that Apple has spent the last few years updating key apps like Maps, Messages, Photos, Music, and News. Yet the company remains in a pitched battle for attention with Google and Facebook for that attention. It's Apple's device, so they start off with it by default, but I'm looking for the company to do more to maintain it. The key advantage it has here is integration. Getting that intelligence into the apps, and the apps into each other, would make them not only more useful but more compelling.
The App Store will be turning nine this month, but given that senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, only took complete control in the last year, ten seems like a far bigger — and more reasonable — anniversary for major announcements there. Besides, Apple Music and Beats is likely still getting, and needing, most of the services attention.
There's still a lot of low-hanging fruit on the system level. Apple could wait until it starts shipping OLED or Quantum Dot-based iOS devices before it releases its system-wide Night Mode, for example, but that or the more robust, CSS-style theming engine would be welcome by many who just want to tone things done for night time reading now. Likewise, we've had the static version of Control Center for years. I'd love it if Apple would ship the dynamic version already.
What about OS X 10.12 — or is it macOS now?
Same, and maybe! Developer beta at the show, public beta to follow, release in September/October.
Craig Federighi will probably continue doing double-duty for OS X 10.12 — or macOS if the rumored rebranding becomes a reality. Whether or not that affects the California landmark names we've had for the last three years, including Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan, will be interesting to see. macOS 10.12, or better still, macOS 12, would not only look cleaner, it would match better.
While increased intelligence will be key for the Mac as well, Siri itself would be huge. From an accessibility point of view alone, not having voice control makes the Mac harder to use.
Getting News onto the Mac would be a great way to increase the value of the service, especially with competitors like AMP and Facebook Instant being mobile focused. (So would properly integrating news at the OS-level across all platforms, including merging it with Reading List, Shared Links, and Siri Suggestions.)
Other than that, I'll keep hoping for Continuity for media — the ability to handoff music and video from iPhone to Apple TV to iPad to Mac and back — every year until it ships.
Chance of watchOS 3 at WWDC 2016?
We've only got one year of watchOS to base any guesses off of, but it seems very likely. There's hasn't been a public watchOS beta yet, though. So, whether Apple sticks with developer-only betas, or uses this year to launch a public beta, we'll have to wait and see.
While Jeff Williams, Apple's COO, has been handling Apple Watch hardware lately, the software demos have been done by vice-president of technology, Kevin Lynch.
A lot of what might be on some people's short lists will probably require new hardware, including an S2 computer-on-a-chip. Things like performance for Siri and apps, and features that will require greater battery efficiency. Software can always be optimized, but better chips are better chips.
watchOS 2 followed watchOS 1 so closely that it ended up being more about rounding out and completing feature sets. watchOS 3 has had time to observe how people use Watch in the real world, and the chance to start re-considering everything from Digital Touch to the nature of Watch apps themselves.
Sure, there's always more that can be done with watch faces and the amount of complications they hold, but there's also an opportunity to evolve the platform, to see where dynamic, on-demand interface can really do on the wrist.
How Apple continues to evolve watchOS for health and fitness will also be interesting to see.
This year there's tvOS 10 as well, right?
Yup! Last year Apple had to squeeze three operating systems into the WWDC keynote. This year, tvOS 10 makes four.
Although based on iOS, like watchOS, tvOS is developed by a separate team. That's why it was senior vice president of services, Eddy Cue, who showed it off as part of the new Apple TV introduction last year.
Apple has done a lot to iterate on tvOS since then, adding features that were obviously missing at launch, like Siri for Music and the Podcast app. While it has some amazing features on tvOS, Siri on the TV still doesn't have all the functionality it does on iPhone or iPad, including and especially HomeKit support. It also doesn't have all the apps, like News, which could work great as a video-centric version of your standard feed.
We still haven't seen the next-generation version of the Remote app yet. We also haven't yet seen any of Apple's Continuity-based handoff functionality. And, of course, there's all the intelligence and other new iOS features that can bleed over to tvOS as well.
New hardware? What about new Macs and Mac stuff?
So... about that. While Apple has used the WWDC keynote to announce new hardware in the past, especially developer-centric hardware like new MacBooks Pro and the new Mac Pro, it's primarily a software-focused show. Hardware announcements are opportunistic — a product is ready to ship, would benefit from a keynote, and the WWDC keynote is the closest one that makes sense.
When it's not opportunistic, though, Apple's perfectly happy to wait. That's why I don't expect a new 5K Apple Display with integrated GPU, or anything much in the way of new hardware.
New MacBooks Pro are coming. If it were just a Skylake bump, I hazard to guess we'd have seen them already. If it's something more, something that includes new technologies for the Mac, then that becomes harder to pin down.
Apple historically does not sit on products that are ready to ship, though, so expect it when you see it.
Any more things?
The keynote presentation, as usual, will kick things off at 10am PT, but at the Bill Graham Center, which is anything but usual. Last time Apple used the venue, it was at the September "Hey, Siri" event and it was in order to accommodate a large enough demo area for the iPhones 6s, 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the dozen on so mock-living rooms required for the new Apple TV set ups. With WWDC expected to be software-focused, what would Apple need that venue for now? Maybe nothing. Maybe more Apple TV demos. Maybe something else. We'll have to wait and see.
That's what makes WWDC so fun. Priorities change, features get brought forward or pushed back, projects get sidelined or dragged back out. Never say never when it comes to Apple, but the company is logical when it comes to introducing and expanding software and services. They build on top of what's come before and take it in new directions.
Just remember: Nothing is confirmed until someone from Apple shows it off on stage.