Apple heads into its WWDC 2020 facing some big questions, and no, they're not all to do with how the company will pull off its first-ever online-only developer conference. Because large public gatherings are still unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no cheering crowds, no in-person demos and no throngs of Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch app makers descending upon the San Jose convention center.
There will, however, be plenty of announcements, most of which will come during Monday's WWDC kickoff. What those announcements will cover, though, is a matter of conjecture.
We know what Apple's going to talk about in broad strokes. WWDC is where the company showcases the changes, fixes and enhancements it makes to the software that powers its Macs, iPhones, smartwatches and more. All of the big Apple software platforms — including iOS 14, macOS 10.16 and watchOS 7 — will get some time in the spotlight, and Apple may even have a hardware surprise or two up its sleeve.
But exact announcements at WWDC? Those remain up in the air. Stil, we can make a few educated guesses as to what precisely we're going to hear when Apple tells us its plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond. Here are the five biggest questions Apple faces head into WWDC 2020 and what we think the answers might be.
WWDC 2020 keynote: How to watch
The Worldwide Developers conference gets underway Monday, June 22, and runs through June 26 all online. Most of the event will include very technical talks aimed at the people who build software for Apple's various platforms. But the week itself kicks off with a WWDC keynote on Monday in which Apple provides an overview of software updates coming up later this year.
The keynote gets started at 1 p.m. EDT/10 a.m. PDT on Monday. And it's pretty simple to follow along from home.
Apple hosts a live stream of the keynote on its Apple Events web page (opens in new tab). Anyone with an Apple TV can also watch on the big screen via the Apple Events app. The stream is also available on YouTube, which we've embedded above.
WWDC 2020 question 1: What is Apple’s roadmap for Macs on ARM?
One WWDC announcement that leaked out prior to the show involves Apple's plans to ditch Intel chips in favor of its own ARM-based processors for laptops and desktops. (Basically, Apple's hoping to repeat what it did with the iPhone, where the A13 Bionic has set the standard for mobile processing.)
Reportedly, Apple will make the announcement at this year's WWDC to give developers a year's head start on reworking their apps for this brave new world; the MacBook ARM would then debut in 2021. One tipster has suggested that an ARM-based MacBook may even arrive this year, but that seems too soon to be believable.
That much we know. What we're still waiting to hear is Apple outlining how the transition will work. WWDC will give Apple a platform to make the case for the switch, explaining to app makers what they'll need to do to ready their software. And for those of us who've never learned to code, WWDC is a chance to outline the benefits of the MacBook ARM.
Obviously, there will be speed and power efficiency improvements. But how many apps will need to be converted, and will some of the older apps we depend on wll work just fine? We can guess at some of those answers, but it will be good to hear some definitive ones straight from Apple.
WWDC 2020 question 2: What hardware might Apple announce?
I've been attending Apple developer conferences for the better part of two decades, and when someone asks me what new hardware to expect, my rote response is to shake my head and mutter something along the lines of "WWDC is primarily for software announcements."
That's still true, though in recent years, Apple has shaken things up. Two of the last three WWDCs have featured hardware releases, with the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR appearing last year and 2017 introducing new iMacs, a MacBook and an iPad Pro. Clearly, someone in Cupertino didn't get the memo about this being a software-only affair.
This time around, we're not going to see the bounty of hardware debuts we were treated to three years ago. But rumors suggest a new iMac 2020 could be on the way, and rumors point to it getting some stage time at WWDC 2020.
The rumored iMac update wouldn't be a mere refresh. Instead, Apple is reportedly a redesign that draws on the iPad Pro for inspiration. Think thinner bezels and new hardware such as AMD's Navi GPU. Apart from some tweaks here and there, the iMac has kept the same look since 2012, so we're eager to see how aggressively Apple changes things up.
There’s also a chance that Apple could unveil its AirPods Studio, a new pair of over-ear headphones that would compete directly with the likes of the Bose 700. These cans would vie for a spot on our best noise cancelling headphones list and will reportedly offer swappable earpads.
WWDC 2020 question 3: What's Apple planning for ARKit in iOS 14?
WWDC will give us our first official looks at iOS14, watchOS 7 and the next version of macOS, revealing the features we'll be able to use when those software updates arrive later in the year. But what I want to hear about is an update that end users never really get to see — a new version of ARKit, Apple's developer toolkit for building augmented reality apps.
Why? Because any ARKit update might offer a hint as to what's coming with this fall's iPhone 12 update. Reportedly, the iPhone 12 Pro models are adding a LiDAR sensor to their rear camera arrays, just like the sensor on this year's iPad Pro. That likely means improved portrait effects on photos, but a LiDAR sensor can also help AR apps be more immersive.
Should ARKit get any extensive stage time at WWDC, that could provide some insight into Apple's hopes for what it's new iPhones will be able to pull off. Superimposed directions and landmarks in a map app on your iPhone screen? New filters for photo apps? Some other possibility we haven't even begun to think about? Potentially, an ARKit update can give us a lot of clues.
Plus, the new ARKit should pave the way for killer applications that could show up on Apple’s rumored Apple Glass augmented reality glasses.
WWDC 2020 question 4: Is this the year Apple Watch gets sleep tracking?
We'll be honest — we were expecting sleep tracking features to show up with the Apple Watch 5. When they didn't — and when subsequent leaks have suggested Apple's still working on the feature — all eyes turned to the Apple Watch 6 and the watchOS 7 update that will debut on the upcoming watch.
If sleep tracking is in the cards, you would imagine that Apple would dive into that new capability during its watchOS 7 preview at WWDC 2020. If, however, it wants to maintain an air of mystery about the watch in advance of the inevitable fall launch event, the company could also stay mum about sleep tracking and the battery improvements such a feature would require.
For what it's worth, we'd expect watchOS 7 to add the ability to log metrics for measuring sleep quality. Hardware-dependent features like an SpO2 sensor that can monitor blood oxygen levels for detecting conditions like sleep apnea will likely remain hush-hush until it's time to talk Apple Watch 6 later this year.
WWDC 2020 question 5: Will iPadOS get some love?
Apple's typical pattern with iPad features in iOS updates is to spend a year lavishing attention on new capabilities for the family of tablets and then spend the next year totally ignoring the iPad. Since last year brought a host of new features to the iPad — multitasking upgrades, Apple Pencil improvements and support for a redesigned cursor — you'd expect the iPad to get the cold shoulder in 2020.
Only Apple didn't just make improvements to the iPad in 2019 — it introduced iPadOS as a separate entity from the standard iOS. While the two mobile operating systems share many features, iPadOS lets Apple introduce things specifically designed to make the most of its tablets.
With iPadOS 14 in the works for later this year, it seems unlikely that Apple will return to that every-other-year approach to iPad updates. We're expecting further refinements to cursor support, including gesture controls and variable cursors. New drawing features for the Apple Pencil could be on the table as well. And we hope Apple wows us with something unexpected to show that iPadOS isn't just a cosmetic variation on iOS.