Since WWDC is nominally to give developers a sneak peek at what’s coming from Apple, the announcements cover hardware and software. Apple’s ability to keep things under wraps has taken a big hit in recent years, so there weren’t a whole lot of surprises, but it’s still nice to get confirmation of the rumors and leaks.
Let’s start small and work our way up.
Apple Watches are getting a few tweaks: the Cycling app will be able to sync to biking cadence sensors, giving riders real-time access to information about how hard they’re working. And the Hiking app is getting a couple of minor enhancements around the compass and map features. All useful for those who use those apps, irrelevant to us lazy types.
Macs are getting a new “Game Mode” that should make for more responsive games. I could see it being useful for anyone making live music, too, and there are probably other use cases. Safari will collect some security enhancements; Apple Health will start quizzing you to see if you’re depressed (an enhancement the mere thought of which depresses me); AppleTV can use your iPhone or iPad camera to put FaceTime on your big screen TV, AirPods will reduce noise cancellation when you’re talking, so you can hear yourself better; and iPads will allow you to customize your lock screen.
Also new in in MacOS, by the way: Widgets! Not only will you be able to place widgets on the desktop so you can check them without a click, but you can even use widgets designed for iPhones. It’s unclear if iPad widgets will also work, but even if not, this opens up a whole new way to keep tabs on what’s happening on the other side of your screen.
Oh, here’s a fun one: iPads will also nag you to hold them away from your face. Those of you in my age bracket and above will probably remember your parents warning you, “Don’t sit too close to the TV or you’ll ruin your eyes.” One more bit of parental responsibility turned over to an electronic nanny.
Naturally, the changes coming to iOS 17 are more extensive. You can personalize the picture and information someone sees when you call them. Because there’s no way that could be abused. Also completely free from potential abuse: the ability to share AirTags. Somewhat less problematically, iPhones will be getting a journalling app; I’m not sure it will be a major upgrade over just using the Notes app–especially if there’s no way to access your journal on your iPad or Mac–but it’s not an unreasonable niche to fill.
There will, of course, be new hardware to run that new software, but Apple isn’t saying anything about the iPhone 15 yet. Wait until September.
Hardware Apple did announce, on the other hand, includes a new MacBook Air. Unlike the current model with its 13-inch screen, the newcomer will have a 15-incher. Same selection of ports and colors as today’s, but despite the larger screen, the new one will weigh half a pound less. Nice if you’re lugging it through the airport, but if you thought it was awkward trying to balance your old Air on the plane’s tray table, wait until you try it with this one. Seriously, though, the extra screen real estate will be nice, but probably not enough to make up for Apple’s continued insistence on only allowing a single external monitor.
Apple also has an answer for the people asking why they should buy a Mac Studio, when the Mac Mini is faster and cheaper. Meet the new Studio with M2 Max and M2 Ultra processors. Not cheap–the wimpiest configuration is a mere $1,999–but definitely more muscle than the Mini, which isn’t getting an upgrade this year.
The biggest announcement, however, is the Vision Pro, a $3,500 augmented reality headset. Pardon me. Apple has learned from the failure of Google Glass and every other augmented reality device. What they’re pushing instead is a device for “spatial computing”.
To be fair to Apple, the announced capabilities of the Vision Pro far exceed anything else in that space. Sure, it can do the standard tricks of overlaying objects on the real world, but it’s not limited to the usual heads-up displays and a few scattered objects.
Consider this as an alternative to a laptop, docking station, and multiple monitors. Spread your apps around the full 360 degree space. And in theory at least, those could be full MacOS apps, not a limited iPad or iPhone experience: the headset runs on an M2 processor (plus a new helper chip, the R2, that will apparently offload much of the responsibility for the cameras, microphones, and other sensors) so it should be able to handle anything your MacBook Air can. That said, I suspect most apps will have multiple configurations: a stripped-down version when running on the headset alone with its virtual keyboard and hand-gesture controls, and a more complex version if you add a physical mouse and keyboard.
My favorite feature, though? There’s a screen on the outside of the Vision Pro that will turn on automatically if someone approaches. Why? To show your face so they can see if you’re actually paying attention to them.
I give it two weeks tops before someone figures out how to hack the screen to show whatever you want. Put up a video and let your would-be interrupter watch TV. Or how about a high-tech take on the old eye disguise glasses?