WWDC 2021: Everything Apple is expected to launch at its biggest software event of the year

·6-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Apple is about to hold WWDC, its biggest event of the year.

It will see updates to ever single one of its active products: all of the platforms that run on them, from iOS on the iPhone to the software that powers the Apple TV, will receive new versions and new features.

But it may also play host to hardware launches too, giving the world a first look at its upcoming new products.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference starts on 7 June and runs through the rest of the following week. The big event, however, is the keynote that starts it off; the rest is focused on letting developers get to grips with those platforms to create new apps for them.

Both the keynote and everything else under the WWDC banner will happen virtually, for the second year in a row. As such, the reveal is likely to take the form of a dramatic and slick video featuring Apple’s executives and engineers detailing the new advances.

Here are the updates that they are expected to talk about.

iOS 15

iOS 15 – and the new version of iPadOS, which now has a separate name but is still developed in parallel – tends to be the star of WWDC, since it powers the iPhone. But that’s just about all we know for sure.

Last year, a host of rumours and leaks revealed details about iOS 14, which brought a redesigned homescreen, privacy, search and Siri updates and refreshes for the built-in apps. This year, Apple appears to have protected its secrets much more effectively.

That could mean that the company is not planning any drastic overhaul, and is instead planning on squashing bugs and fixing issues, as it has done with some releases in the past. Or it might simply mean that those leaks have been plugged up and there are plenty of surprises.

What rumours there are have suggested that Apple could bring an overhaul to notifications, in the same way that it tidied up and redesigned the home screen and app list last year. The new notifications could give better controls to allow them to be turned off or hidden, which can be changed depending on the time of day or other conditions, a Bloomberg report previously suggested.

It does seem almost certain that Apple will introduce substantial changes to iMessage, and the Messages app. The designs around the event have borrowed heavily from the message bubbles and Memoji famous from that app, which is presumably a clue – though it is not clear what Apple has planned.

Apple could also make changes to the apps that run on iOS. Numerous commentators have noted that the new iPad Pro, released earlier this year, seems too fast for the kind of software that can run on it, and that Apple could be putting together new professional tools that will run on the tablet; executives refused to confirm one way or another to The Independent, but it would not be a surprise if apps such as Logic and Final Cut Pro finally arrived on iOS and the iPad.

New MacOS

MacOS is also set to get an upgrade, with a new name and new features. Apple has registered Mammoth and Monterey as possible names, but they could both be a distraction.

It is also not clear what number it will even be. Last year – in recognition of the fact that MacOS had been upgraded to run on Apple’s own chips – it finally moved from the 10.x numbering scheme to be MacOS 11, and it is unclear whether that will mean the new version just goes straight up to MacOS 12.

The Mac operating system got its really big upgrade last year, when that Apple Silicon support was added, the design was brought in line with iOS, and new features were added. As such, the changes might be more minimal.

And every other platform too

Apple always gives something new to every platform, no matter how small and superficial that might be. So expect updates – whether big or small – for WatchOS and tvOS, too.

But there might also be a new operating system, as well. A job ad posted this week made reference to “HomeOS”, which could presumably be an operating system for smart home devices; it’s not clear what that is, so perhaps it could be unveiled during the event.

New Macs, with new chips

At last year’s WWDC, Apple set itself the deadline of two years to transfer all of its computers over from the old Intel processors to its own chips. We’re now halfway through and new computers are expected.

So far, the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini have all been given the M1 chip that Apple revealed last year, though they look the same as their predecessors on the outside. They were followed by the new iMac, which did get a redesign and an M1 chip of its own.

Now might be the turn of the more professional laptops, such as the 16-inch MacBook Pro and perhaps even a 14-inch version. Rumours have suggested they could arrive during the keynote, though there is no guarantee.

Given the increased power required by those devices, it’s likely that they won’t use the M1 but a more powerful and less power efficient version, perhaps known as the M2, M1X, or some other similar name. It will be the first look at an Apple designed chip focused more specifically on performance rather than being mobile or having a long battery life.

They are also likely to get redesigns, if they arrive. Rumours suggest they could have a more square design, perhaps in line with the newer iPads and iPhones, and the return of ports such as HDMI and MagSafe.

(There are other computers that still need their Apple Silicon update – the Mac Pro, and the now-discontinued iMac Pro – as well as rumoured new ones like a more powerful Mac Mini or small Mac Pro. But there is nothing to indicate they are ready yet.)

Some surprises

Very little definitive has been leaked about WWDC, and so there is the potential for plenty of surprises. What’s more, Apple’s new virtual events mean announcements can be packed in, allowing it to highlight many changes at speed.

This year’s WWDC also comes at a busy time for Apple developers, some of whom including Epic have expressed considerable frustration with the company’s policies. But Apple might not want to highlight that ongoing tension.

So there could be other announcements, too. There’s no indication that we’ll get a look at any of those big, rumoured Apple projects – an Apple car or the Apple glasses – but there is no way to know for sure until the event starts on Monday morning local pacific time.

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