Apple WWDC 2021: iOS 15 And iPadOS First Peek, But Will We See New Chips, MacBooks Or Beats Earbuds?

The annual Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) starts later today, and it continues to be in a virtual avatar for the second year running. Even in the all-digital guise, WWDC remains as important as ever. This is where, as it is every year, the company is expected to give us a sneak peek at the future of the software side of things—iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, tvOS, App Store, services, apps and more, and is focused more on the developers and the software roadmap, than consumers. This year however, there is that potential extra edge. While WWDC is not usually the base for new hardware announcements, we could however see a slight diversion from the usual. There is the possibility of some hardware announcements too, including perhaps new wireless earbuds, a new MacBook update and maybe even a glimpse of the augmented reality glasses.

Look Into My Eyes: The WWDC 2021 invite shared with journalists, including yours truly, had the image of three distinct memoji characters looking at their MacBook screens—and all three happen to tease us with a reflection of what’s on their MacBook screen, either on their glasses or off their eyes. Before we get into what is what, could these be indicative of something? Augmented Reality glasses, perhaps? Or they simply are trying to tell us about what the software side of things holds. If it is the latter, important to try and understand each Mac’s reflection. The first one seems to be a lot of code. No surprise there, considering it is a developer-focused event. There will be updates and new tools for developers and the apps they make, particularly with the iOS, iPadOS and macOS closer to each other than ever before. The memoji in the middle seems to be using iMessage with the familiar blue chat bubble quite visible. Clearly, significant updates for iMessage are on the way with iOS 15. The memoji on the extreme right, as you’d look at the image, could be hinting at new macOS, updated apps and icons too.

iOS 15 Could Simply Build On iOS 14: Chances of Apple trying to redesign iOS from the ground up for this year’s roll-out around September, is highly unlikely. With iOS 14, significant changes were made under the hood and also in terms of functionality, including widgets and App Library. This year, the focus could very well be on improving usability and how you interact with your iPhone. Reports seem to indicate updates for iMessage app to give it more tools in the global instant messaging app battles against the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal and even Google Messages for Android phones. There could be new functionality enabled for on-screen widgets, tweaks to how you can access and handle notifications on the lock screen and an updated control panel. Expect performance boosts and tweaks for other apps, including Safari, Mail, Notes and Health. The Ios 15 update should, if the previous years are anything to go by, release sometime in September, just ahead of the availability of the iPhone 13 series (or the iPhone 12s series, depending on what Apple goes with).

iPadOS Getting the macOS Inspiration: This will be a crucial year for Apple, in terms of determining what direction iPadOS takes. And that in turn will define what direction iPads take (particularly the iPad Pro series) with regards to how professionals stack them up against the MacBook computing devices. In 2021, iPadOS could be getting more macOS-esque features, including perhaps better app switching, multitasking and a more conventional file explorer. Not everyone has got the hang of Slide Over and Split View, and somehow, I have always had the opinion that multitasking on a Mac is much simpler and intuitive than on an iPad—the latter has a learning curve, which you really don’t want to jostle with in the middle of serious work. There have often been complaints that Apple hasn’t yet made a touchscreen Mac. It may be time to give those folks an iPad, as a touchscreen Mac they always wanted. We had noted earlier this year that among the latest updates for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch and iPad Pro 11-inch, there are higher spec variants that have 16GB RAM while others have 8GB RAM—hard to say why that is so, but it could hint at what’s coming in with iPadOS 15 this year.

Where Is The M Chip For “Pro” Machines? Before you call me names and point to the MacBook Pro 13, I’d raise you the MacBook Pro 16, the Mac Pro and the iMac 27. These are yet to get the switch from Intel chips to Apple’s own Silicon, the M-series. Yet, it seems highly unlikely that these more powerful and more expensive machines will make do with the same M1 processor that we see in the new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13 and the Mac Mini. Higher clock speeds, more max RAM handling and even more capable graphics would be in tow. That begs the question—where is the next, and even more powerful M processor? The answer could very well be revealed at WWDC, if these machines are to get updates at some point this year.

We had said last year that a two-tiered approach could very well be the way forward for Apple’s as it switches from Intel chips to Apple Silicon. “Apple could also look at both processor variants for the same families of Macs as well. For instance, we could have the lower spec and more affordable of the MacBook Pro 13 run the 8 core Apple M1 which the more powerful configurations could get the 12-core iteration of the Apple M1X—either by default or as an optional configure your Mac upgrade,” we had said at the time.

All The Hardware You Expect, But May Not Get To See: With WWDC being a developer-focused event with the large chunk of the conversations around the future of Apple’s six major software lines as well as the App Store and Services, hardware and product launches don’t always figure in the midst of all there is to absorb. Yet, we can always hope, can’t we. For the sake of the masses on Twitter, if nothing else. There is a chorus for the MacBook Pro series refresh, which includes the MacBook Pro 16 and the expected MacBook Pro 14 (I feel it is too early for that, considering the MacBook Pro 13 has led the way with the Apple M1 switch). Then there is the expectation for new smart speakers. Perhaps the HomePod successor, one that taps the Apple Lossless Audio and Dolby Atmos capabilities for Apple Music. More to the point, what about these new wireless earbuds that have been reportedly referenced already by beta versions of iOS 14.6 and tvOS 14.6? They seem to called the Beats Studio Buds wireless earbuds. And social media seems to think they have seen NBA superstar LeBron James wearing these in an Instagram post—white in colour and unreleased for the rest of us mortals, just yet. If you ask me, this isn’t the time. Unless they support Apple Lossless audio, which will put the AirPods and the AirPods Pro, in a slightly tricky position. And that means I should leave you with a question—will Apple release a workaround to get Apple Lossless streaming to the AirPods and AirPods Pro, as part of a software update?

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