Apple's WWDC conference 2017 takes place tonight
Ahead of Apple’s annual developer conference, there is always a hotbed of fevered speculation about what the world’s most valuable company will announce.
What is often lost in that rumour-mongering is the fact that this is, first and foremost, a developer conference. That means that while Apple will obviously want to excite and intrigue the general public — and the hordes of journalist hanging on every word Tim Cook says — its announcements are primarily focused on the thousands of developers in the audience and watching across the world.
Ahead of 2017’s running of the event, which kicks off with Tim Cook’s keynote on Monday, Apple has been eager to show developers just how important they are to the company and vice-versa. It announced Thursday that Apple had paid developers $70 billion since the launch of the App Store in 2008.
Implicit in that figure is the fact that Apple has pocketed $30 billion off the back of its developers for allowing them access to the store — showing just how important this community is to Apple.
So what has Apple in store for its army of devoted developers this year?
The purpose of WWDC is to update developers on what direction all of Apple’s software is going. That means we will see new versions of iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS, with most of the focus given to the first two.
Unlike previous years there has been little in the way of leaks about new software features coming to the iPhone and iPad. Apple will give iOS a polish, but it’s unlikely that it will radically overhaul the look and feel of the software this year.
iOS 11 is likely to have a number of new business-focused features to help boost the appeal of the company’s iPad Pro models, including better multitasking and split screen modes.
For the general consumer, Apple is likely to continue to improve its Messages app. Last year the company opened up the platform to allow third party integration of services like Square's payment app, and this year it is likely to accelerate that trend.
Screenshot from WWDC 2016
With challengers like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp continuing to expand the range of services they offer within their apps, Apple will be seeking to keep people tied into using Messages for as long as possible.
Apple will also likely “borrow” some features from Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram in relation to imaging, filters and video, as it seeks to capture the lucrative millennial market.
With macOS, again there have been very few leaks to give a read on what Apple is planning. But we can expect the company to look to increase the ways its desktop software works in conjunction with its mobile software.
Last year it introduced the ability to copy text on your phone and immediately paste it on your desktop. Look for more of the same this year.
iPads and Macs
Some reports suggest Apple could launch an all-new iPad Pro, with a higher-resolution screen, 10.5in in size. This could replace the 9.7in iPad Pro given that the new model is set to have slimmer bezels, so could have the same weight overall.
The new iPad is likely to have a faster chip than the current 12.9in and 9.7in models, which could also mean a speed bump for all models announced next week.
Turning to Macs, Apple recently made it very clear that it was still committed to its Mac line-up of computers, including its Pro desktop model, despite the failure of the previous model to gain traction. This was thanks, in large part, to the inability to upgrade key parts of its hardware.
Don’t expect any entirely new models next week, but we should see updates to the existing MacBook range, with Intel's new Kaby Lake processors in all of the MacBook Pro models that were launched last year.
While the focus will be on developers, the headlines will likely be about Apple’s version of Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home smart speakers.
While far from a certainty, a report last week claimed the device was already in production. Given that it sounds like developers will be able to integrate their apps into the device, Apple is likely to at least mention the new Siri-powered speaker to give developers time to update their apps in time for launch later in the year.
Apple has apparently been working on its speaker for some time, and employees have been testing the device in their homes for months already. It is set to act as a hub for all your smart home devices (as long as they play nicely with Apple’s HomeKit platform that is) as well as offering the ability to play music using only your voice.
Robots and drones
Apple last year announced the launch of Swift Playgrounds, an iPad app aimed at children to write their own iOS programs using its Swift language.
This year, the company will launch an updated version of that app, allowing coders to easily control gadgets like robots and drones using the code they write themselves.
Apple has signed up some of the biggest names in the gadget world to help boost engagement, including Lego, Sphero and Parrot.
Susan Prescott, Apple’s VP of product marketing for apps, markets, and services, said: “A lot of the world around is run by software. We think kids everywhere should have the opportunity to code.
“What’s better than a kid engaged on an iPad? A kid engaged on an iPad. With a robot.”