If you're an Apple developer or an Apple enthusiast, the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is always a major event—and this year’s was no exception. Held June 5-9, this year’s event kicked off with significant news in both hardware and software.
As expected, the 2017 WWDC unveiled a few new operating systems, such as watchOS 4, iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, which will include strong support for both virtual reality development (on macOS) and augmented reality development (on iOS).
On the hardware side of things, the biggest news was that new iMacs and new iPad Pros will be available immediately. In December, a new iMac Pro will be released. (To clarify, this is a new product and not an update to the existing Mac Pro line.)
The final piece of big news from WWDC was the unveiling of HomePod, a rival to the already popular Amazon Echo.
Probably the smallest news item at this year’s keynote was an update to tvOS. Aside from a couple of mentions throughout the presentation—and the long-awaited news that Amazon video will finally be arriving on tvOS "later this year"—nothing more significant was announced. There was no news about Apple TV services or new devices.
Version 4 of watchOS was announced, with visual improvements and new faces like Siri, Kaleidoscope, and Toy Story. watchOS version 4 will bring improvements to the Health and Fitness sections, including monthly challenges, a new UI for the Workout app and specific options for a HIIT workout. Apple is also pushing stronger integration with gym equipment, and we can expect an updated Music app—coming "this fall."
Back in 2009, OS X went from Leopard to Snow Leopard, and that minor name change represented a version more about refinements and improvements than new end-user features. Similarly, this year we'll be going from macOS Sierra to macOS High Sierra—with a bigger focus on "behind the scenes" improvements than on UI changes.
Those improvements are still significant, though.
High Sierra will include a new file system, Apple File System (APFS) and Metal 2, the next version of Apple's GPU-accelerated programming framework, including OS support for external graphics devices being able to connect external graphics cards over Thunderbolt. This renewed focus on graphical capabilities led to a section in the keynote about virtual reality support, with Industrial Light and Magic onstage to demo virtual environments in the Star Wars universe. VR support on the Mac doesn't mean a new device—there's no Apple headset, at least not yet—but we'll have macOS support for developing for the HTC Vive headset using SteamVR, the Unreal Engine 4 and Unity. Additionally, Final Cut Pro X will now support 360º video. And for video, macOS High Sierra will favor the new HEVC/H.265 compression format.
iOS 11 will bring particular emphasis to the iPad and its larger screen size. There's more support for using multiple apps, with features like drag-and-drop, and improved app switching for multitasking.
More generally, iOS 11 brings improvements to existing applications rather than new ones. That begins with a significantly redesigned App Store. Apple Pay will now include person-to-person transactions, and Siri will see the addition of translation features where you can ask Siri to take an English phrase and translate it to Chinese, Spanish, French, German or Italian.
For developers, the two new iOS frameworks of note are Core ML for machine learning, and ARKit for augmented reality.
WWDC can't always be relied on for hardware announcements, but this year had both expected—and some unexpected—news.
The iMac line saw long-awaited revisions. The 4K and 5K screens on iMacs were already impressive, but the revised iMacs available from today have improved, significantly brighter screens. Specifications also improve with new Kaby Lake processors and memory of up to 64GB on the 27" models. They’ll also see improved faster SSDs, USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 and more powerful Radeon graphics card options.
MacBook / MacBook Pro
The MacBook and MacBook Pro get specification bumps—moving to Kaby Lake chips—but nothing more significant, as they're relatively new.
The most significant hardware announcement was for the space gray iMac Pro: a workstation-class iMac. As a taste of what Apple means by "workstation-class," this will begin at $4,999 for an 8-core Xeon with 32GB RAM—and that's the minimum spec. It'll be configurable up to an 18-core Xeon processor and 128GB memory. These will be shipping in December 2017.
And there's a new iPad Pro. As before, there are still two sizes. But while the larger model keeps the same 12.9” display, the smaller version's screen size is increased from 9.7" to 10.5". Its display was redesigned to be brighter and with a much faster (120Hz) refresh rate. It will begin shipping shortly after the conference ends.
Finally, Apple announced the HomePod—their new Siri-enabled speaker, to compete in the same space as Amazon Echo and Google Home. However, Apple's focus seems to be slightly different, in that they strongly pitched this as a music device first, emphasizing the speaker technology and quality, and as a home assistant second, rather than the other way around.
But contrary to some of the rumors on tech websites over the past few weeks, HomePod does not have a screen—it's an audio-only device. HomePod is 7" tall, $349, and shipping in December.
What didn't they talk about?
There were two pieces of hardware conspicuously absent: The keynote had no mention at all of a new iPhone or the forthcoming Mac Pro. The Mac Pro is not a huge surprise—they've already said not to expect anything "this year"—but lack of anything at all regarding the iPhone is a little more unexpected.
Also not discussed in the keynote was anything strongly technical, like Xcode or Swift. But as in previous years, it was a huge day for beta software—if you have an Apple Developer account, you can already download betas of Xcode 9, iOS 11, macOS 10.13 (High Sierra), watchOS 4, tvOS 11 and Swift Playgrounds 2.
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