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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Apple’s Software Strategy Is More Important Than Ever

Software developer conferences, a long-held tradition for the big tech companies, have evolved in recent years. When the pandemic halted in-person gatherings, developer conferences went fully online, relying on livestreams and virtual spaces instead of convention center ballrooms. Their keynote addresses—once a main stage event for tech gods like Steve Jobs—are often prerecorded.

In addition to the software-focused sessions that make up the meat of developer conferences, the events’ keynote addresses now often include hardware reveals. Google has shown off new phones, smartwatches, and teleportation booths at I/O, its annual developer shindig. Apple is known to drop a new smart speaker, Mac Pro, or Mac laptop during its Worldwide Developers Conference keynote.

For Apple, especially, this makes sense. It’s a hardware company first and foremost, and its custom-designed silicon now sits at the center of its “control the whole computing stack” strategy. But it could be argued that Apple’s software strategy now matters more than ever. It’s what keeps customers “locked in” to Apple hardware. It includes Apple’s fast-growing, multibillion-dollar services business. Every time Apple makes a tweak to its App Store, whether it’s limiting advertising tracking tech in iOS or evolving its content moderation policies, the company’s decisions are scrutinized—because its software has that much influence over our lives.

Many people will probably tune in to Monday morning’s WWDC keynote address for the small changes to iOS that will liven up their older iPhones or the multitasking features that might turn their iPad into something more akin to a MacPad. We’re here for those updates, too, and will be following them closely on WIRED. Based on previous reporting, here’s what to expect from next week’s big event.

iPhone Lock Is Key

One of the most significant changes that could be introduced with the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 16, is a revamp of the phone’s lock screen, according to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. This would include support for an always-on lock screen—though that might be a feature that only works with future iPhone hardware—with “quickly glanceable information.” iPhone lock screens might also soon feature wallpapers with active widgets.

Other rumored updates we could see Monday include enhancements to Messages and the Notification Center, add-ons to the current Health app, and better support for text messaging in emergency situations (allowing messages to be sent over satellite networks). And, per usual, expect Apple to thump the privacy drum, especially in light of its Ad Tracking Transparency feature casting a shadow over other tech makers’ earnings.

The Window(s) to Your Soul

Apple’s iPad has been creeping closer to “real computer” status—newer models of the tablet even feature desktop-grade chips—but the inability to freely move or resize app windows has always made the iPad feel more like a giant iPhone. Could iPadOS 16 finally change this? Seems so. Developer Steve Troughton-Smith noticed last week that an early version of Apple’s latest web-browsing framework “added infrastructure for a ‘multitasking mode’ on iOS that sure looks like it’s a system toggle that enables freely-resizable windows.”

So iPads might soon have M-class chips, decent accessory keyboards, and new software that supports more customizable app placement and sizing. Sounds like a MacBook with a touchscreen to me!

Mammoth Updates

We’re not yet certain what MacOS 13 will be called. Apple has been naming each recent release after destinations around California known for their natural beauty, and Macworld suggests that this could be the year Apple goes with “Mammoth,” another California resort town featuring a large ski area and gorgeous lakes. It’s exactly the kind of place you wouldn’t want to bring your laptop to, so we’ll go with that.

One of the more significant software changes to come to Macs might be a revamp of System Preferences, the settings section of Mac machines. These will reportedly be “more in line with Settings on iOS,” including organizing settings by app. This is according to, once again, Gurman at Bloomberg.

We might also see new Mac hardware at WWDC 2022, if recent factory closures in China and the supply chain crunch haven’t forced Apple to tamp down its manufacturing plans. Monday’s keynote could include the introduction of the 2022 MacBook Air, as well as a new M2 chip, the successor to the M1 line of processors. However, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has speculated that the M2 chip might not be revealed until 2023; or if Apple does name a newly released chip the “M2” to juice sales of Macs, it might offer only minor upgrades over the M1.

Keeping Watch on Apple TV+

The future is this: The best-selling watch in the world has remarkably bad battery life. We’re talking about the Apple Watch, one of the best-designed smartwatches in existence and an addictive little health tracker. It has also had an 18-hour battery since the first version of the watch. Actual battery life varies by use, but it’s safe to say we’d all like to squeeze a little more juice out of our expensive machines.

Fortunately, WatchOS 9, which we expect to see in Monday’s keynote, might include an expanded version of “low power mode” that lets Apple Watch users run some limited apps when the wearable’s battery is dwindling. (Currently, low power mode only lets you view the time.) The new watch software will also reportedly include additional watch faces and some improvements to navigation alerts when paired with Apple Maps.

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Speaking of “watching” (OK, maybe that transition doesn’t work), it’s likely we’ll see a new version of tvOS—Apple’s software for its Apple TV box—introduced at WWDC. While Apple TV is mostly used for streaming media, Apple has recently positioned the box more as a smart home hub, so any new software tweaks might center on smart home controls. Kuo has reported that a new version of the Apple TV hardware might actually launch in the second half of 2022, so maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a glimpse of that on Monday.

Mixed Messages on Mixed Reality

It’s been widely reported that Apple is working on some kind of mixed-reality headset that showcases some of the strides the company has made in augmented reality. The headset reportedly utilizes pass-through technology, which uses exterior cameras on the device to stream digital imagery to the headset wearer. And Apple has been ramping up efforts around “reality OS,” or “rOS,” the operating system for the device, according to Bloomberg.

What’s unknown is when exactly Apple will reveal this product (to audiences beyond its own board of directors). The fact that the operating system has been named and board members have gotten up close and personal with the headset suggests Apple could officially enter the mixed reality hardware market as soon as this year.

And it will be major news if and when it does—both because it will be a brand-new category for Apple hardware and because it could be a tipping point for the broader AR/VR market. Microsoft, Meta, Google, and Snap have all produced technologically sophisticated heads-up displays and various forms of fun “smart glasses” that have only appealed to niche groups. Can Apple make a face computer that people will actually want to wear? Hard to say, and it seems unlikely we’ll get a real glimpse of it next week. Our best guess is that Apple’s “one more thing” at WWDC will be a carefully edited teaser reel of AR experiences that gesture toward what a headset might offer, rather than a showcase of any specific hardware.

Then again, we might get a surprise instead. Apple is known for that.

The Apple WWDC 2022 keynote will be livestreamed on Monday June 6, beginning at 1 pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific. Come back to WIRED one hour before the start of the keynote and join our live coverage of the announcements.

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