June 25, 2024
WWDC 2021: Here's what to expect

WWDC 2021: Here’s what to expect

These are among the announcements Apple (AAPL) may make this week during its Worldwide Developer Conference, a multi-day event that kicks off Monday. The annual event is typically a chance for the tech company to introduce changes to the software used everyday by millions of people.
Beyond new gadgets and the introduction of iOS 15, WWDC will also be an opportunity for Apple to address its developer community in the midst of two major recent spats with app makers — a contentious legal battle with Fortnite-maker Epic Games over its App Store fees and a feud with Facebook (FB) over Apple’s new app-tracking privacy policy.

This year, for the second time, Apple’s WWDC will be held online, though there will still be plenty for developers to do virtually, including more than 200 sessions on how to build new apps and services.

The event begins with a keynote at 1 p.m. ET on Monday, June 7. Here’s what to expect based on the latest reports and rumors.

New gadgets

The most significant hardware announcement expected during WWDC is the introduction of a redesigned 16-inch MacBook Pro, and possibly a 14-inch version, too, Bloomberg has reported.

The device — like other recent computer and iPad launches from the company — would likely be built with Apple’s M1 chip, which it has said provides longer battery life and faster processing speeds, among other benefits. The new laptop could also bring back the popular MagSafe power connector, Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, said in an email last week.

Among other hardware updates, Apple could announce a new version of its AirPods, a breakout product for the company but one that is facing increasing competition from the likes of Google and others.

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“I’m sure Apple is aware of that competition” and has plans to counter it, said Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners.

Finally, the iPad could get major new operating system updates, after Apple introduced a new iPad Pro with its M1 chip last fall.

“We expect to see the lines between the Mac and the iPad continue to blur with powerful demos of high-performance video editing software and more,” Wood said.

iMessage gets a social media makeover

Based on the company’s promotional materials for WWDC, a centerpiece of the event could be iMessage, the messaging service used by countless Apple device owners.

The iPhone maker has been working to make iMessage more like a social media platform that competes with Facebook’s WhatsApp. Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 iMessage updates will include new options for automatic replies, beyond the existing auto-reply for when users are driving.

This could further inflame the tensions with Facebook that emerged over privacy.

Focus on privacy

Industry watchers expect Apple to double down on its privacy focus during WWDC this year.

At last year’s conference, Apple announced its iOS 14.5 update that now gives users the option to deny apps permission to track their activity, a move that has drawn the ire of Facebook, which uses this data to target ads. Analysts will be watching for any data from Apple on how many users have stopped sharing data with apps since the feature went into effect in April.
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The company may also introduce even more ways for users to control what data they share with developers and app makers in the latest iOS update.

“We expect data privacy and security to be a main focus and theme of [CEO Tim] Cook’s keynote as Apple solidifies its privacy policy with the iOS 15 unveil,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in an investor note last week.

Scrutiny amid Epic trial

The developer conference comes weeks after Apple’s blockbuster trial against Fortnite maker Epic Games, in which the 30% commission that Apple takes from developers was heavily scrutinized.

“In light of the controversy kicked up by the recent lawsuit with Epic, Apple will likely go out of its way to reassure the developer community that it has their best interests at heart,” CCS Insight’s Wood said.

The conference was mentioned on the stand during the trial: An Apple executive revealed that the company spends $50 million a year to put WWDC together, in an effort to shore up its argument that it does a lot to support developers.

“We turn the place upside down for developers,” Cook said during his testimony, citing the company’s responsiveness to developer complaints.

But Cook also acknowledged during his testimony that Apple’s ultimate allegiance and priority is its users.

“We’re making decisions in the best interests of the user,” he said, “and I think it’s important to note that sometimes there’s a conflict between what the developer may want and what the user may want.”