While it’s typically focused more on software developers, Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference serves as a solid preview of how consumers will interact with their various Apple devices in the near-future. The company’s major software platforms — powering everything from Apple Watches to iPhones to Macs — all get major and minor tweaks expected to go live a little later this year. And with Apple’s increasing efforts in the entertainment services space, WWDC offers our best glimpse yet at how we’ll discover, purchase, and consume all that content.
iOS: HomePod Gets Smarter, Siri Sounds More Natural
To no one’s surprise, the 13th iteration of iOS will bear the name iOS 13 when it launches later this year, usually in sync with the latest iPhone release. Its improvements and tweaks cover a wide range of categories, from performance and privacy updates to new options like dark mode. Smart homes and Siri, in particular, will also get some attention in the latest iOS release.
Apple’s HomePod smart speaker gets more personal via iOS 13, thanks to the ability to distinguish voices, meaning family members should be able to make requests and the speaker will customize its response to that specific person. That means HomePod will vary its results depending on who’s saying something like, “Play my favorite playlist” or, “Read back my messages.”
The Siri voice assistant also gets some update love, including the ability to read back messages when you’re wearing your AirPods. Apple’s also claiming a more natural tone and flow for Siri’s voice. In the past, Siri responses have been clipped and stitched together from sound samples provided by voice actors, but a fully software-based approach is coming to iOS 13. The company claims the results should be much more lifelike, especially when it comes to longer, wordier responses.
Apple’s HomeKit platform will also be adding support for security cameras and routers. Thanks to something called HomeKit Secure Video, supported cameras will be able to share their footage locally with an Apple HomePod before securely transferring it to iCloud. What’s more, as long as you have one of the company’s 200GB or 2TB iCloud storage plans and a home hub like an Apple TV, HomePod, or iPad, those security videos can be stored for free and won’t count against your data storage plan. Apple’s touting this as a more secure option than other existing video-monitoring methods, which can include uploading your footage to third-party services. The inclusion within existing iCloud plans also gives DIY home security users another option to consider, especially when Nest and others charge a premium to view stored footage.
Meanwhile, iPad users should be rejoicing thanks to the announcement of iPad OS, a version of iOS made specifically with iPads in mind. Up until now, the tablet line has been based on the same iOS that powers smaller-screened devices like the iPhone and iPod. But there’s been increasing sentiment that iPads have outgrown their status as iOS also-rans, and many iPad customers, especially power users, have been clamoring for more iPad-specific features and options. With iPad OS, Apple looks like it’s strengthening its messaging that iPads are true productivity platforms, not just large-screened entertainment devices.
macOS: Goodbye iTunes
Speaking of software that was getting a bit too bloated for its own good. Apple’s iTunes is getting a much-needed pruning, breaking up the monolithic program that managed music, podcasts, video, radio, and device syncing. The company will instead transition to a trio of apps to manage specific types of content: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV. The venerable software has long served as a jack of all trades/master of none for the company’s ever-increasing entertainment options, but these new, streamlined versions should give users a much less frustrating experience once macOS Catalina launches this fall.
“With its singular focus on music, it’s so simple, but it has all the powerful music features you expect from iTunes,” Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, said of the new Music app.
These dedicated experiences go hand in hand with Apple’s services focus. It’s likely trying to make a strong first impression with new service subscribers by using a suite of clean, streamlined apps — instead of having those new customers encounter the confusing and complicated hub that is the current iTunes.
Prepping tvOS for TV+
We still don’t have a set release date and crucial pricing info for Apple’s upcoming TV+ subscription service, but Apple CEO Tim Cook did bring out another teaser of original content planned for release this fall. “For All Mankind” from Ron Moore (“Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica”) imagines an alternate history where the Soviet Union beats America to the moon. It joins a growing list of original content Apple previewed earlier this year as the company works to entice consumers to yet another streaming entertainment option.
On the software front, tvOS, which powers the Apple TV 4K, will get several updates later this year, including a redesigned home screen, Netflix-style full-screen previews, and perhaps most significantly: multi-user support. That last update gives Apple TV users to ability to receive customized content suggestions based on individual viewing habits, and it brings tvOS in line with streaming services like Netfllx.
Apple also talked about its upcoming game-subscription service called Arcade, and it’s updating tvOS to support two rather popular input options: the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers. Third-party game controllers have been supported in the past, but adding Microsoft’s and Sony’s preferred input options (which are already inside over 100 million U.S. homes), might make it easier for skeptical gamers to give Apple’s fledgling service a try when it goes live this fall.
Mac Pro Kicks the Can
The cheese grater is back. After a controversial, trash-can-like redesign that many felt was more form over function, Apple’s top-of-the-line Mac Pro has gone back to a PC-like, modular design. This hardware is directed more at those creating games and entertainment than it is for consuming that content via Apple’s suite of services, but if you’re curious: The new Mac Pro comes out this fall, starting at $5,999, with a (currently undisclosed) top-end price far, far north of that.
What We Still Don’t Know
As expected, Apple’s annual developer conference focused on, well, developers. Even its big hardware reveal was targeted at content creators and other professionals rather than more casual consumers. Still, the various software glimpses give us a good idea of how we’ll be using Apple’s devices in the near-future and we did get a look at yet another content offering coming soon. Expect iOS 13, with its improved Siri features and smart home capabilities, to launch in the September-October timeframe, alongside the 2019 iPhone. It remains to be seen whether more concrete TV and Arcade plans will be announced at the annual iPhone event, or at separate presentations this fall. Either way, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Apple’s streaming plans as they develop.