WWDC 2017: What’s Coming at Apple’s Big Spring Fling

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You can always tell when Apple’s WWDC developer shindig is nigh. Just follow the leaks.

A few months before Tim Cook and his executives take the stage to show off what Apple’s software teams have been building for the last year, whispers start to trickle out. The leaks start really flowing a few weeks leading up to the event, and in the last few days before WWDC, the pipes burst, the dam gives, the levee breaks. You get the idea.

This year’s conference, which starts Monday, has Apple at an interesting crossroads. The gadget-buying world is hyped beyond reason for the tenth-anniversary iPhone, but that’s likely not coming until this fall. (Or even later.) Meanwhile, most of Apple’s other products face some headwinds. The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar was met with a resounding meh. The iPad, the supposed future of computing, still can’t find a way to grow. The Apple Watch 2 still needs a killer app. The Apple TV, well, the Apple TV hasn’t exactly blown up the industry the way the folks in Cupertino wanted. Apple Music is losing to Spotify; Siri seems to be running a distant third behind Alexa and Google Assistant. Let’s be clear, Apple’s not doomed. Apple is still dominating the tech world. But there’s still that unshakeable feeling that the company’s moxie may be missing.

But Siri-ously

All of that may help explain why this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference is shaping up to be the biggest one in years. Siri will almost certainly be the star of the show, as Apple tries to keep up in the raging virtual-assistant wars. Siri will surely have new skills and new integrations, and Apple could even announce wider developer support. Right now, only certain apps can only do certain things with Siri, but opening the platform completely could change things quickly. Meanwhile, Apple’s most exciting new product could be the long-rumored Siri Speaker, Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home. We still don’t know much about the device, but it’ll reportedly be a HomeKit controller, a Siri machine, and an always-on speaker with supposedly superior sound. Throw in some Apple TV remote skills, and we’re really talking.

If the rumors are true (and they usually are), this year’s WWDC will be heavily hardware-focused. Apple is reportedly going to announce upgrades to its entire MacBook line, finally getting Intel’s new Kaby Lake processors. The big question: is the MacBook Air still part of the lineup? The much-loved ultrabook has seemed dead for years, especially since Apple announced the super-slim MacBook. But users still love the Air.

Rumors about a 10.5-inch iPad Pro have been flying for years now, and like clockwork they’re back again. The new device would supposedly be about the same size as the current 9.7-inch model, but with a smaller bezel. The 10.5-inch screen makes mathematical sense, the bezel-less-ness fits right in with the current trend. But good math doesn’t make good products, and even if it does that doesn’t mean Apple’s announcing this one. Still, we can hope.

Oh, and here’s one hardware announcement you can take to the bank: there will be dongles.

Soft Reboot

After all that, there’s still software, which remains the star of the WWDC show. Apple’s likely to show off the latest for iOS, MacOS, WatchOS, and tvOS, updating the range of its products to work better together and do more stuff individually. Within iOS in particular, you might soon be getting a dark theme for your iPhone, an improved iMessage experience, and lots of new features for photos as Apple fights against Google Photos. There have even been rumors of a big redesign, but that seems less likely with so many other changes coming.

Part of the presentation should focus on how all Apple’s different products fit together. Interoperation has always been part of the company’s sales pitch, and it only becomes more important as the rest of the gadget world continues to improve and expand. People want The Whole Apple Experience, or at least they have for a long time. So Apple needs to continue making the case for why you should buy an Apple Watch to go with your iPhone, and why a Mac makes both better. Smart-home control should figure into both answers, as will Siri.

One nice thing about Apple is the company doesn’t tend to talk in vague terms about ideas, or plans for the future. It doesn’t offer Ted Talks disguised as product announcements. Tim Cook and The Apples tend to get up on stage and talk about real things happening right now. In a tech world where everything seems to be in flux, and all the best tech is perpetually right around the corner, Apple’s focus on the here and now is genuinely refreshing. But for the last couple of years, at least, it hasn’t been terribly exciting. Let’s see if Apple can get back to blowing minds not with ideas and visions, but gadgets and gizmos.