Apple WWDC 2021 rumors: What we know and what we don’t know | ZDNet

With Apple’s WWDC less than a week away, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s coming out of Cupertino. WWDC of course is the Worldwide Developer’s Conference, and while the focus always includes developer-related content, Apple has historically shared big news as part of the event.

Let’s take a peak at the news we’re almost certain to get, as well as some we’d consider within the realm of possibility.

What we know

Apple always announces its new OS versions at WWDC. While this serves to give developers three or four months to update their products for new OS features and changes, it’s also a good way for Apple to build anticipation prior to the big iPhone launches that come in the fall.

Victory lap

Almost without a doubt, expect a good helping of self-congratulation coming out of California. At the last WWDC, Apple announced the move to Apple Silicon-based Macs. This has been one of the most ambitious and successful technology migrations we’ve ever seen. Apple rightly deserves to take a victory lap for it.

Consumer satisfaction with the new Macs is at an astonishing high, mostly due to the tremendous performance gains from the M1 chip over previous generations. Expect Apple to talk about the number of Mac applications native on Apple Silicon, make some comments on user uptake, and more.

Also expect a victory lap for AirTags, with Apple discussing the adoption level of the locators in the few months since launch. You can expect them to spin the growing privacy concerns as new consumer-friendly privacy features.

Mac OS “tok” update

Given how much was introduced last year in Mac OS 11 “Big Sur,” expect this year to be mostly a “tok” year. Apple, as many of you probably know, has something of a tik-tok cadence for OS upgrades.

Big upgrades with lots of new features are generally considered “tik” upgrades, while upgrades that have internal improvements and somewhat smaller new feature sets are considered “tok” upgrades.

We certainly expect to see more iOS-related migration capabilities added to MacOS, and probably some other features for both the UI and applications, but we do expect this to be a “tok” year.

iOS “tok” year

Similarly, iOS 14 was a big upgrade, with a wide range of new UI features and functions. More to the point, as Adrian Kingsley-Hughes reported just yesterday, iOS 14 has been full of problems.

See: Why is iOS 14 so bad?

While it’s extremely unlikely that Apple will admit to problems, expect to see discussion of improved reliability, performance, and battery life. Don’t expect to see radical feature upgrades.

iPadOS “tik” likely

Apple just announced (and we’re still waiting for ours here at Camp David) ridiculously powerful iPad Pros just a few months ago. These new iPad Pros are based on the same M1 chip as the new blazingly fast Apple Silicon Macs. The thing is, those new iPads are almost absurdly overpowered for what iPadOS 14 is capable of doing.

So, expect iPadOS 15 to remedy that, adding a bunch of new “it’s a computer” level capabilities. Although Apple has long claimed that iOS and MacOS aren’t going to merge, expect to see some features migrate from Macs to iOS.

One key feature we expect: better external screen management where the external screen isn’t just a mirror of the main screen, but formatted to match the display and with its own content.

What we don’t know

That would be enough for any announcement event, but Apple’s been on a roll lately, and is likely to try to shoehorn even more announcements into WWDC. While the rumor mills have been working overtime, we’ve long known that rumors are notoriously unreliable. AirTags, for example, had been rumored since at least 2019.

Given that, everything I discuss from this point on in this column is pure speculation. 

watchOS update, but no hardware hints

The Apple Watch is, to quote ZDNet’s Liam Tung, “totally dominating the wearables market.” As such, you can no doubt expect new watchOS features — but don’t expect any hardware hints. Any features that might tap into a new capability, like glucose monitoring, won’t be discussed until the Apple Watch Series 7 launches in the fall.

One thing to look out for: What devices will be obsoleted for use with watchOS 8? WatchOS 7 nuked support for Series 1 and Series 2 Watches, as well as any iPhone model before iPhone 6s. It’s fairly unlikely that Apple will kill off support for the Series 3 Watch, simply because Apple is still selling Series 3 Watches as new products. But will the iPhone 6s drop off? Probably.

tvOS…or is it homeOS?

Yesterday, MacRumors reported that Apple posted a job listing that included the term “homeOS.” Apparently it was quickly removed. Is Apple upping its game on home control? Will it combine the Apple TV, HomePods, and Siri into something it thinks will compete with Alexa? If the company did make that move, homeOS would be as good a name as any.

New Macs, new chip?

Finally, there’s the question of new Macs. Apple very, very rarely announces Macs at WWDC, so don’t hold your breath. That said, there are gaps in the pro Apple Silicon product line including a 16-inch MacBook Pro (rumored to be adding back an SD card slot), something to take the place of the insane Mac Pro (and it’s hybrid sibling, the iMac Pro), and a 27-inch iMac.

We’ve also seen rumors of a new, slimmer Mac mini Pro. Hmmm… where did I hear about a Mac mini Pro before?

New MacOS name, with groan-worthy Dad joke

Finally, it’s become a tradition that Apple introduces the name of its new MacOS version at WWDC. But first, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, gets up onstage and issues an groan-worthy Dad joke about California-related names Apple considered and discarded.

Not to be one to ever shy away from a Dad joke, I’d like to suggest MacOS Ono. Oh, no…that’s probably more appropriate to iOS given its failures this year. Okay, how about MacOS Arbuckle because of Apple’s interest in AR? What about MacOS Secret Town in honor of Apple’s ongoing quest for secrecy before product announcements? Here’s my personal favorite: MacOS Zzyzx, which would be just close enough to zyzzy to make me smile.

What do you think? What should Apple name MacOS 12? Will you be streaming the WWDC keynote? Let us know in the comments below.

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