What will, might and could happen at Apple's hybrid WWDC event

Themed as ‘Call to Code,' Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) will be held online for the third time since the pandemic began.

Apple, developers, WWDC, Mac, iPhone, iOS

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) will be held online for the third time since the pandemic began. Themed this year as "Call to Code," there’s already plenty of speculation — and an unspoken warning that things aren’t back to normal, yet.

WWDC runs June 6-10 this year.

Apple’s global reach brings global insight

Not so long ago, people used to track Apple retail store closures as indicators of COVID-19 outbreaks. The company's vast network of stores gave it insight into local infection rates.

Given that Microsoft, Google and now Apple have all decided to run their biggest developer events as online shows, that’s a message to any business.

Apple says the event will see: “Developers from around the world to come together to explore how to bring their best ideas to life and push the envelope of what’s possible.”

The good thing about hosting WWDC online is that hundreds of thousands of developers who can’t usually get there will enjoy equal access to those who do. The 6,000 or so tickets Apple provides each year tend to sell out in hours so democratizing access to the event's keynotes, forums, Q&As, and developer talks should benefit everyone.

While developers miss the chance to network and build connections, they probably don’t miss the ticket costs, travel expenses, and hotel fees. Not only this, most of them probably welcome the opportunity not to contract or spread COVID-19 in any of its ever-mutating strains — or mix a global collection of these viruses in a Cupertino crucible for a brand new infection.

From Apple’s point of view, it puts so much energy into building its developer army, the last thing it wants to do is put its coding battle groups in harm’s way. Despite that threat, Apple is holding one in-person event at WWDC.

It will invite some developers and students to watch the keynote and State of the Union videos at Apple Park on June 6. Information on how to secure a slot will be made available here.

What are we going to see?

It is certain Apple will preview iOS 16, macOS 13, iPadOS 16, watchOS 9 and tvOS 16.

The company has also promised the show will include more sessions, learning labs and digital lounges than it has before. Apple will provide more localized content and has announced the Swift Student Challenge, inviting young developers to submit a Swift Playgrounds app project for a chance to win much-coveted WWDC22 outerwear.

WWDC jackets are always in demand, of course, and have become much, much more unique now that the show has gone online.

What might we see?

It has been two years since Apple announced its transition to Apple Silicon in Macs. With that in mind, it makes sense to think the company might choose to introduce new Macs at WWDC. This could be a redesigned MacBook Air, maybe a larger iMac, or even the super-powered M-series Mac Pro.

Apple has introduced hardware at WWDC events in the past, including the last Mac Pro, which means that if new Apple Silicon Macs are ready it cou'd introduce them here.

Doing so would complete the Mac transition just in time for the first M2 machines to appear later this year. Apple watchers remain split on that road map. There is also the problem that on-going supply chain disruption, worsened by the invasion of Ukraine, may delay the launch of new machines.

[Also read: SAP VP Martin Lang touts Apple, M1 Macs and the mobile enterprise]

Apple’s invitation makes it clear the company's focus is on Swift. That could mean lots of things, not least the likely introduction of Swift 6, but the image used for the WWDC notice inevitably prompts speculation. It features a dark swift against a dark background surrounded by a colored iris-like circle.

That eye-like image invites conjecture that the company may plan to introduce its AR/VR headset at WWDC. That may not be true, but could work like this....

What could we see?

While some industry watchers think the move to host WWDC online makes the introduction of the AR/VR headset less likely — and they may be correct. But there are two things they seem to ignore:

  1. Apple will hold an in-person event in Apple Park, probably at the 1,000-person capacity Steve Jobs Theater. It could also hold an outdoor event, to protect attendees against COVID -19. 
  2. Apple needs to convince developers to build for the new platform. WWDC is the best place to evangelize any new platform to them.

At the very least, the industry will be watching for new ARKit APIs, new Swift features for interactive game development, and machine learning enhancements around proximity, movement detection/analysis, and gesture-based controls.

But Apple doesn’t need to launch the products to get developers on its side; it could just do it like this:

  • Preview the Apple Glass AR headset to developers at WWDC22.
  • Provide them with new developer tools to build for the platform.
  • Offer a preview developer’s kit, just as it did with Apple Silicon.
  • Hold a subsequent in-person event for the actual product launch, in fall, or (echoing the launch of the original iPhone) early in 2023.

This approach matches some current conjecture, particularly analyst Ming-Chi Kuo’s prediction Apple’s new product will debut later this year.

It also feels important to recall Kuo’s prediction that the new headset will use an M1 chip, which shows the opportunity Apple now has to introduce completely new platforms based on its ownership of the inherent technology used in them. This control of hardware, software, and processor means it can generate completely new product platforms and designs, which means one day you will wear your Mac-like sunglasses.

This is a brick along that road.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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