Three things Apple must do to stand out at WWDC 2022
What can Apple can do to deserve the inevitable fanfare from this year's WWDC keynote?
Apple's WWDC keynote will get lots of attention for sure, but that's just because Apple is always a great way to generate clicks. In one sense, Apple doesn't need to do anything at WWDC 2022 aside from hold it.
Unlike an iPhone launch event, WWDC is not just about selling Apple products…
Well, actually, ultimately it is, but not in the way you might think. Apple never really does anything that doesn't benefit the bottom line, because it's a business, like any other.
But the point of WWDC specifically is keeping developers on track, either producing software for existing Apple gadgets, or getting ready to produce software for upcoming hardware or hardware platforms.
I've been a tech journo long enough to remember the period, pre-iPod, when Apple was rapidly spiralling into tech obscurity.
Apple's hardware was interesting in the late '90s. I've still got a soft spot for the G4 Cube, even though at the time I wrote that it was a fantastic design stuck with limited expansion and appeal.
The iPod and then the iPhone dug Apple out of that hole, but what's kept it in the growth position it's enjoyed for the past couple of decades has been developers making nifty things above and beyond what Apple can or will offer itself.
That's often a cat and mouse game around App store approvals and Apple's notorious 30% cut of fees, but still, WWDC is all about wooing those developers, first and foremost.
Apple doesn't just leave it there, however, because WWDC is also the springboard for showing off its new innovations, or those established technologies that it's bringing into the Apple fold.
There's a bunch of upgrades and updates that we can take for granted in the WWDC keynote. There will be new versions of all of Apple's operating systems, and Apple will have to find yet another part of California to name this year's macOS upgrade.
Unless it's a smaller upgrade, in which case I guess it'll be macOS Monterey Bay?
If I'm right, remember you read it here first. But I digress.
Apple will of course stand out at WWDC because it's Apple's show. It's not like CES, IFA or MWC, where it would have to compete for attention.
Still, it would be nice to see a bit more concrete direction from Cupertino, and not just the regular old treadmill of predictable upgrades. Here's three areas where I reckon Apple could – and should – go further than just iterative upgrades.
#1 iPadOS badly needs to be more than just a tablet OS
Apple has for the past few years been insisting that an iPad is more than just a blank slate for watching Netflix on. For a start, it would prefer you were watching Apple TV on it, because it would make more money that way.
But beyond that, Apple insists that you can be productive and creative on an iPad. Along the way, it would like to sell you an Apple Pencil and an Apple Magic Keyboard, because it is still all about Apple making money.
Where it needs to step up to make all of this make sense is with the operating system. Again, I've been a tech hack long enough to recall back to the OG iPad, which was derided by many as a "big iPod Touch".
It's come some way since then, but there's still a big journey to make to shift the iPad line into true productive territory.
Multitasking is still limited, and so is file access. For anyone working beyond a very light, almost web apps level, the base line MacBook Air M1 is a more flexible and better bet right now. That's not because of hardware differences, because it's the exact same silicon platform!
It's because iPadOS is still so much closer to iOS than it is macOS. Over the years macOS has shifted slowly in an iOS direction, but iPadOS still needs more flexibility to be a proper productivity operating system.
#2 iOS probably needs to be left alone
Without a doubt, there will be an announcement around iOS 16.
iOS 16. All of a sudden I feel really old.
However, the reality for iOS is that while there's tweaks around the edges that could be made, it's a mature phone OS for a mature market.
Unless Apple's very quickly going to shift towards, say, foldable phones within the iPhone family, it should arguably apply an "if it ain't broke" philosophy to iOS, at least for now.
Inevitably, there will be security upgrades, and there's always the possibility to fine tune software for performance. That's expected, but it doesn't change the way that you interact with iOS to speak of.
Now, again, Apple might have something radical up its sleeve to show off for iOS that will change the way we think about the iPhone, and smartphones in general.
However, unless they can literally "iPhone" the iPhone – which is to say, disrupt it in the same way that the OG iPhone disrupted the mobile phone market starting all the way back in 2007 – it's more likely to be feature creep for its own sake, rather than something that the consumer will actually benefit from.
#3 What about realityOS and Apple's VR ambitions?
Ask Apple about VR or RealityOS, and you'll likely be met with absolute radio silence.
Once upon a time, the working script was that "Apple does not comment on rumour or speculation", but these days, it simply doesn't comment at all about unreleased products.
Still, there's a lot of data out there that strongly points towards the existence and development of Apple VR headsets.
Apple has for some years been talking up the AR potential of the iPhone and iPad family, too.
While the demos have been cute, and there are some vertical business-centric applications that do make good use of it, in consumer land outside it's been less impactful. Sure, there was Pokemon Go, but that didn't explictly rely on Apple's ARKit to speak of.
This is where the purported "RealityOS" and Apple VR headset comes into play. Apple has plenty of fancy designers on staff, and I've got little doubts it could make quite a nice VR headset. Early indications are that it may target a very high price point for any VR ambitions, which is going to be a tougher sell to consumers in these rather more financially constrained times.
However, like that G4 Cube that I have fond memories of, fancy hardware ain't going to seal the deal for Apple unless it has developers on board.
If RealityOS is actually a thing, does that mean that Apple must show off its Apple VR headset in its WWDC 2022 keynote?
Only Tim Cook knows for sure what the plan is, but I have strong suspicions the answer to that question is no.
Apple is not a front-runner in the VR space, and this is a very classic Apple play. To date, consumer VR has been very start-stop, despite the efforts of Meta with the Quest headsets, or Sony with its PlayStation-centric models.
Apple can fail in the hardware game – I'm thinking here not only of the G4 Cube, but also efforts like the iPod Hi-Fi, or the full-sized HomePod, or the Apple Newton. It can fail in software, too. Anyone remember Apple's social network, Ping?
Apple does not want to fail, but it will recognise the need to have developers with apps ready to roll for any VR ambitions.
Presuming that the timeframe of 2023 or 2024 is likely for actual sales, there's still time to develop apps.
If I'm Apple, I don't show off a VR headset at WWDC 2022 to the world, because that either brings with it huge expectations around a headset that might not have that "killer app" just yet, or leave too long a cycle for consumers to get bored with the idea of waiting.
Again, if I'm Apple, I instead do what Apple's done with plenty of prior hardware. Line up key developers behind legally rock-solid non disclosure agreements and get them working on app development well before you go public with a launch all of your own.
Now, maybe that's already happened and nobody's breached their NDA just yet – I hear Apple's lawyers have very pointy teeth – and Tim Cook will take to the virtual WWDC 2022 stage next week with a VR headset strapped on, showing us the future today.
But I doubt it.
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