What to expect from Apple’s annual developers conference

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference takes place every year in San Francisco, and is an important place for app developers to get the lowdown on upcoming features and technologies. More than that, though, it’s a platform for Apple to publicly announce software updates, new hardware, and to showcase the best apps of the past year.

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This year’s event runs from June 13 – 17, with the $1599 (~£1000) tickets allocated through a lottery system to account for the huge demand. Several thousand app developers will attend, alongside a few hundred talented students hand-picked by Apple for paid scholarships.

Last year’s conference showcased iOS 9, OS X El Capitan, watchOS 2, and Apple Music. We can expect updates on all these topics and more this year – let’s take a deeper look at what Apple’s got up its sleeve for WWDC 2016.

iOS 10

Apple has a history of unveiling new versions of iOS at WWDC, before launching them publicly each September alongside the latest iPhones. This year shouldn’t be any different, with iOS 10 pretty much nailed on to be one of the keynote’s biggest topics.

This will be the first full-point iOS update since Apple exec Phil Schiller took over responsibility for the App Store, and it will be interesting to see the direction he plans to take it. Expect an updated App Store layout, likely to focus on improved search and discovery to stop non-featured apps sinking into obscurity.

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Several other features have been rumored for inclusion in iOS 10: improvements to Siri and iCloud Voicemail, allowing the voice assistant to handle and transcribe audio messages; secure person-to-person transfers in Apple Pay; and the opportunity to hide all those unwanted apps that come preloaded with iOS. Finally. We’ll also be keeping our fingers crossed for more uses for 3D Touch, and maybe even the ability to customize Control Center.

Apple generally do a good job of keeping older devices compatible with new software, but iOS 10 may finally see the five-year-old iPhone 4s and iPad 2 slip off the compatibility radar. If last year is anything to go by, iOS 10 will be beta tested throughout the Summer to help squash bugs, first by developers and then as part of a public testing program.

OS X / MacOS

Apple typically unveils an updated desktop operating system at WWDC, in addition to a new iOS. This year should see the release of OS X 10.12, codenamed Fuji. There’s talk of an OS X rebrand to MacOS, a friendlier label more in keeping with Apple’s naming conventions. Either way, Fuji is expected to be a subtle, iterative upgrade to last year’s El Capitan release. We’re anticipating a few new features but none of the big design changes seen in Yosemite back in 2014.

One big feature Apple is expected to announce in June is Siri for Mac, making the virtual assistant available across all Apple platforms for the first time. This kind of cross-platform support would do wonders for the Apple ‘ecosystem’ and features such as handoff which work across devices. It would also help Siri compete with rivals like Microsoft’s Cortana, which is already integrated into Windows computers. Siri for Mac is expected to live in the menu bar, and could be accessed using the same “Hey Siri” commands used on iOS.

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We could also see some big changes to Apple’s much-maligned iTunes desktop app, which was criticized for becoming bloated and unworkable even before the erratic Apple Music interface was added last year. We’re interested to see how Apple will tackle the issues present in iTunes: will the software be reimagined completed, split into multiple apps, or simply streamlined and bug-fixed?

Apple Music

Speaking of software redesigns, it’s been confirmed that Apple Music will be overhauled at WWDC after a rocky first year of business. Though the streaming service has amassed over 13 million paid subscribers since launch, it still has its problems and it looks as though Apple will address those with a few design and functionality tweaks. We look at Apple Music and the potential changes in more detail in our second feature this issue.

Apple Design Awards

Apple’s esteemed award ceremony celebrates the best apps and games of the past year. Previous winners have included standout successes like Crossy Road, Monument Valley, Evernote, and Paper by FiftyThree. It’s a great chance to pick up some excellent titles you may have missed throughout the year and it’s always nice to see developers rewarded for their good work. Check out the full list of last year’s winners.

Apple Watch 2

This is a bit more of a long shot, but it’s very possible we’ll get a glimpse of Apple Watch 2 at WWDC, ahead of a launch later this year. Apple reduced the price of the smartwatch in March, implying some fresh tech is due soon. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this as a classic “one more thing” announcement towards the end of the keynote. With or without a new device, we’re likely to at least get an update on watchOS.

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Apple is expected to stick with near enough the same form factor as the first edition Apple Watch, albeit significantly thinner. Rumor has it that we’ll see an increase in power, perhaps longer battery life, a FaceTime camera for video calling straight from the wrist, and the ability to run apps independently of an iPhone – currently watch apps are largely reliant on being tethered to an iPhone.

Anything else?

It’s fairly likely we’ll see some new Mac hardware of some description: though Apple quietly updated the 12″ MacBook in March, both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are due a refresh – that is, if the Air isn’t discontinued in favor of a more streamlined laptop lineup. It’s unlikely we’ll see a new iMac or Mac Pro until later this year, though the little Mac Mini hasn’t been updated for a while.

We may see more from Apple’s HomeKit, a secure platform for operating smart accessories like lights, locks and heating throughout the home. HomeKit has been been somewhat neglected by Apple since its debut in iOS 8, but it’s rumored that a standalone ‘Home’ app will be launched to help bring home automation to a wider audience.

Apple looks set to focus more on services in light of slowing hardware sales. Though it’s probably too early for official announcements we might just see some talk of original content programming, a video streaming service or some new Apple TV features. We already know Dr Dre is making a show with Apple, and the company was reportedly involved in secret talks in April about making its own TV shows.

Finally, the super long shot we hope for before every big Apple announcement: is it time to speak up about the Apple Car, perhaps? Or Apple’s foray into virtual/augmented reality? Almost certainly not, but we can dream. C’mon Tim, give us something unexpected at WWDC.

You can live stream the opening keynote on June 13, and of course we’ll have a full roundup of all the important announcements just as soon as they happen.