Apple’s WWDC Might Be Boring This Year

That’s good for users.

A HomePod, AirPods, and iPhones.
Photo illustration by Slate. Products by Apple.

Apple introduces the biggest new features of its mobile and desktop operating systems each year at its annual developer conference, which kicks off on Monday. WWDC, the Worldwide Developer Conference, offers a sneak peek at the new capabilities app developers will be able to work into their apps—and iOS and Mac users will get to use—during its opening keynote. After that, developers get deeper dives, demos, and how-to’s during the conference’s breakout sessions and panels. Sometimes Apple uses the event as a platform to launch new hardware products as well.

Last year, the big news included the HomePod’s debut, a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, redesigns to its App Store and Music app, and ARKit, the developer framework that lets developers more easily build augmented reality apps for iOS. It was an action-packed event, but much of it was learned about beforehand through leaks and reports. This year is different. Much of what Apple has in store for us is still a mystery, and what we do know isn’t particularly exhilarating. But don’t write off this year’s event as a snoozer yet. There are hints that several interesting developments and products are in the works.

New Hardware

While WWDC is a software-focused event—it is a developer conference, after all—there’s a good chance Apple debuts some new physical products too. Apple has a number of new devices reportedly in the works, and if any of these require special considerations by developers (or may be something they’d want to purchase), WWDC is the ideal platform for an unveiling. Unlike last year, when it was clear Apple would finally introduce its first smart speaker, this year there are a number of possibilities.

The most exciting unveiling we could see at WWDC is a sneak peek at the new Mac Pro. Apple last introduced a new model of its high-powered desktop machine in 2016. Due to its unique cylindrical design and engineering, Apple decided to completely rethink the form factor of the next version of this device rather than give it an iterative update. The company also confirmed to TechCrunch and other sources that the device will not arrive until 2019. However, that doesn’t mean that Apple won’t tease the new device ahead of a 2019 launch date in order to drum up excitement. Developers and WWDC fans are likely some of the exact targets for this pro-level product. At this event, the Mac Pro would be a highlight, but it would be a mere sidenote if its introduction were saved for a more general consumer-focused keynote like its fall iPhone event.

Given Apple introduced a new entry-level iPad at its small education event in Chicago earlier this year and a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro at WWDC in 2017, it’s also possible that Apple could issue a follow-up to this device. According to reports that circulated in March, the next iPad will feature a design akin to the iPhone X—with no home button and an ultraslim bezel—and also include the iPhone X’s signature TrueDepth sensor on the front for Face ID and augmented reality applications. It will also reportedly include a more powerful A11X processor inside for faster processing and graphics capabilities.

iOS 12

Apple originally had slated a major home-screen redesign for iOS 12, but that has reportedly been pushed back to a later iOS update. Instead, Apple’s iOS updates will focus on improving performance and stability—much needed after all the bugs of iOS 11. But we’ll still get a few notable upgrades.

The first will expand the functionality of the iPhone and Apple Watch’s NFC chips. According to the Information, Apple plans to open up its NFC chip, currently only used for Apple Pay contactless payments, to a variety of other functions including unlocking doors, verifying identity, and paying transit fares. For owners of smart homes, newer cars, or subway riders, this could minimize the number of cards and keys you have to carry with you at all times. It could also make these daily actions faster and more seamless for iOS users.

The second will be a boon for families: new and improved parental controls. Kids use mobile devices more than ever, and a growing cohort of concerned parents and experts are urging limited device time and greater safety options for young mobile users. While Apple already offers a number of parental-control features that can restrict what types of websites, apps, or movies a child can watch, it looks like Apple may also introduce ways to monitor or limit children’s screen time and get a breakdown of what apps they’re using most.

And while Apple has been quieter about its A.I. efforts than it was last year, we should also expect improvements to Siri if Apple plans to keep its digital assistant competitive with the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple hired Google’s former A.I. chief in April, so WWDC could give a first look at Siri under new leadership.

Bloomberg also reported Thursday that Apple will more tightly integrate its iOS and macOS platforms, which is good news for multidevice Apple owners whose workflows shift between the iPhone, iPad, and Mac throughout the day.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch, in addition to getting the ability to pay your subway fare, will likely get some broader health and fitness–related features. The details are thin right now, but it’d be reasonable to expect the watch to be able to track new types of workouts. (MacWorld gives yoga and weightlifting as two possible examples.)

Apple has been active in advocating the Apple Watch as a health aid, so we could see new ways researchers can tap into its data to learn about users’ health and medical conditions. In November, it debuted the Apple Heart Study, which uses the device’s heart rate tracker to detect irregular heart rhythms. (The device has also been credited with saving a handful of lives, including a teen who was quietly undergoing kidney failure until the device alerted her that something was amiss.)

Expect Apple to also add new watch faces to its current collection. While it’s not a particularly game-changing update, it is fun and gives Watch owners fresh looks for their devices. A particularly colorful one was leaked earlier this week: a Pride Month watch face with stripes of interactive rainbow strings.

For the most part, the expected WWDC updates aren’t major by Apple standards, but that’s OK. Things like Animoji and new apps sound exciting, but often it’s the more subtle updates that prove to be the most helpful and most used. WWDC and iOS 12 so far seem to promise many of those upgrades. But the truth is this year’s WWDC still has many unknowns, and that can be exciting too.