WWDC 2024 — 5 biggest iOS 18 questions for this year's Apple event

Unofficial iOS 18 logo on an iPhone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Normally, you head into Apple's WWDC with a reasonable degree of certainty about what the company is going to show off at its annual developer conference. Apple typically uses this annual get-together as a chance to show off the assembled app makers — and the rest of the world — what it has planned for its iPhone, Mac, iPad and Apple Watch software for the rest of the year. And to be sure, that's certainly going to happen this year at WWDC 2024.

But describing what we're likely to see when WWDC gets underway on Monday (June 10) as a mere "software preview" seriously undersells Apple's likely agenda. It's not exaggerating to say that we're probably in for one of the more significant keynotes in memory when CEO Tim Cook gets WWDC started during a 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT keynote.

Thanks to a series of leaks, we're headed into WWDC 2024 knowing that AI features will be a major focus of Apple's presentation. The company plans to introduce AI capabilities that work across its different platforms, though it sounds as if the iPhone and its upcoming iOS 18 update will get the brunt of the attention this time around. Rumored AI features include summary tools for Safari web pages, text message conversations and even notifications. We're expecting features that a lot of people have asked for like AI-assisted transcripts of Voice Memo recordings and some you're probably wondering how you're going to use, like new emojis generated by AI. And Apple plans to hand over some of the AI heavy lifting to OpenAI and its ChatGPT model to fill in the blanks.

In addition to iOS 18, expect to hear about watchOS 11, macOS 15 and updates to both tvOS and visionOS during WWDC. Yet, it's the iOS 18 update — and by extension, iPadOS 18, since the iPad software will gain many of the same features — that I keep turning back to. Partly, that's because phones are my bread and butter, so understanding what Apple plans to do to its iPhone software is a big part of my daily to-do list. But also, my interest in iOS 18 changes stems from the fact that despite an unprecedented number of rumors about new iPhone features, I still have some big questions headed into this week's iOS 18 preview.

With the hours counting down until we can watch the WWDC 2024 live stream, here's a look at the big questions still swirling around the iOS 18 update and what we're hoping to hear from Apple come Monday's keynote.

What's going to be the biggest AI-powered change in Apple?

Siri

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Besides the aforementioned summary features, there's a slew of AI capabilities apparently slated for iOS 18 starting with auto-generated playlists and filtering all the way down to suggested writing cues in Pages and deck formats in Keynote. But apart from new capabilities in individual apps, it sounds like Siri is due the biggest AI-driven overhaul.

Since the first iOS 18 rumors emerged, Siri's been high on the list of likely updates, with the on-device virtual assistant tapped to become smarter, more responsive and more conversation with the help of AI and large language models. As Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports in one of his final WWDC previews before the keynote, the iOS 18 iteration of Siri is expected to give users control of specific actions within apps, like deleting things, making edits and providing summaries. These capabilities will come to your iPhone's built-in apps at first before expanding to third-party apps. Siri's also supposed to be able to perform multi-step tasks as well, though that functionality isn't expected right away.

Presumably, the WWDC keynote will fill in a lot of the specifics on what exactly the revamped Siri will be able to do, but there's another thing I'm wondering about heading into Apple's developer conference. Gurman writes that "these features are unlikely to arrive until next year," which almost certainly covers third-party app support and more complex Siri requests. But does it also mean that more sophisticated Siri tasks won't be immediately available when the full version of iOS 18 launches in the fall? It certainly wouldn't be unprecedented for Apple to roll out capabilities in subsequent updates, as it's done that with less substantial improvements than a complete reboot of its virtual assistant.

Here's hoping that Apple clarifies the timeline for new Siri capabilities during the WWDC keynote. The report that Siri and other AI features are expected to carry a preview label suggests right away that Apple very much considers its digital assistant revamp to be a work in progress.

What device am I going to need to run the new AI features in iOS 18?

iPhone 15 Pro shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I've got an iPhone 12, and based on iOS 18 device compatibility rumors, I'm almost certainly going to be able to install the iOS 18 public beta on my phone when that arrives in the weeks following WWDC. The question remains, though, as to just how many of iOS 18's features are going to be available for my phone or any other older device.

We've heard that only the iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max and whatever iPhone 16 models arrive in the fall will have the necessary hardware to support all of iOS 18's AI features. But it's not terribly clear what that means. Is it just referring to on-device AI or all AI additions Apple has planned for iOS 18?

If the former, that would mean older devices — basically anything from the iPhone XR all the way up to the iPhone 15 — would have to rely on cloud-based servers to provide AI capabilities. That's not ideal in terms of either performance or privacy. But it sure sounds better than the alternative, which would be no AI features on phones that aren't the iPhone 15 Pro or better. That would make iOS 18 very uninteresting for people with older devices and not much inclination to upgrade in the fall.

Gurman's latest column is not encouraging on this front. "The processing requirements of AI will mean that users need an iPhone 15 Pro or one of the models coming out this year," he write. "If they’re using iPads or Macs, they’ll need models with an M1 chip at least."

As I've said before when talking about iOS 18 AI requirements, Apple usually doesn't go into great detail on what features will and on't work on specific devices, leaving you to discover that for yourself when you peruse the iOS preview materials the company posts on its website. I think Apple needs to be very clear about what AI features are going to work on which phones, given the importance of this update.

Does Apple have anything other than AI features planned for this update?

Control Center on an iPhone 14 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

AI has sucked up so much of the oxygen around the iOS 18 update that it's understandable if you wonder whether there are any other types of changes coming to your phone. It's a fair question, especially if the matter of AI compatibility we talked about above proves more restrictive than us older iPhone owners might hope.

An early iOS 18 rumor covered an interface overhaul to iOS 18 that we now have a few more details about — namely, that you'll be able to customize the look of your iPhone home screen to an unprecedented degree. This would mean that grid of app icons and widgets is going away in iOS 18, giving you the ability to place things wherever you want. Speaking of app icons, you'll be able to change their color, allowing you to organize apps visually. (My wife already does this on her iPhone XR, so she'll be pleased if she can further tie an icon's color into the type of app it is.)

Control Center and Settings are also on tap to get redesigns in iOS 18, with the former adding new widgets and shortcut buttons. Gruman has indicated that smart home users will particularly benefit from the changes as there will be a new interface for controlling connected devices. Rumored changes in Settings should make it easier to search for the controls you're looking for.

Will there be any new apps in iOS 18?

Apple occasionally brings new apps to the iPhone with its major iOS updates — think the Freeform collaboration tool in iOS 16 — and it sounds like iOS 18 is no exception. Gurman reports that a dedicated password manager app will be part of this year's update and that it will tap into the existing iCloud Keychain, which manages passwords between devices.

To that end, the password manager app won't be an iPhone-only affair. It's set to launch on the iPad and Mac as well as the Vision Pro. We imagine the makers of the best password managers will have plenty to say about Apple apparently muscling in on their territory.

Are current apps getting any new features?

iOS Notes app icon

(Image credit: Ekaterina_Minaeva / Shutterstock)

While Apple's emphasis on AI is going to bring new summary tools to various apps, expect some of the built-in applications on your iPhone to get refreshed capabilities that have nothing to do with artificial intelligence. Take the Notes app, which is supposed to not only get built-in voice memos but the ability to display math equations as well. On a related note, Gurman reports the Calculator app is getting a revamp and that it's finally arriving on the iPad as part of the iPadOS 18 update.

An early look at potential upgrades to iOS apps hinted at tighter integration between the Calendar and Reminders app (though both apps will remain separate, according to Gurman). Maps has been tipped to add custom routes to its feature set as well.

And even with all the rumors spelling out different changes to built-in iPhone apps, expect Apple to announce a few surprise changes that have slipped under the radar leading up to WWDC. We'll find out exactly what those are the minute Apple begins its iOS 18 preview on Monday.

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Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.