WWDC 2018: What Apple's Big Show Means to You


You might have heard that Apple is holding a big event soon — its annual Worldwide Developer Conference, or WWDC, in San Jose, Calif. And yes, there will be numerous announcements at a keynote address given on Monday morning (June 4) to open the event. But if you're not an Apple developer (and you probably aren't), what does the event mean for you?

Credit: Justin Sullivan/GettyCredit: Justin Sullivan/GettyUnlike most Apple events, the WWDC keynote is primarily about software — namely, the operating systems that run all of Apple's devices, from the iPhone and iPad to Apple TV, Apple Watch, and Mac. Every June, Apple previews the next versions of all its operating systems and provides app developers with advance versions. If Apple does its job right, app developers will then spend their summers revising all their apps to add compatibility with Apple's newest features.

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While regular users can sign up for "public beta" releases of iOS and macOS, which usually arrive a few weeks after WWDC, most users won't see these new versions until mid-September, generally right after the event where the company announces its next generation of iPhones. So if you're wondering what your iPhone will look like after the big software update this September, you'll get a pretty clear sense at Monday's keynote.

Apple doesn't always show all of its cards during the WWDC keynote, however. Frequently the company holds back a few software features so it can make the roll-out of the new iPhones later this year bigger. It's possible that a handful of new features, especially ones that don't require buy-in from the developers of third-party apps, will be introduced in September alongside the 2018 round of iPhones. And while those features often require new hardware only available on new phones, users of relatively recent devices (think the iPhone X in this case) may also benefit from them.

If you're wondering what your iPhone will look like after the big software update this September, you'll get a pretty clear sense at Monday's WWDC keynote.

WWDC is also important, broadly, because it offers the single best example of where Apple believes its platforms are headed. If Apple declares that making sure its users have a healthier relationship with their devices, for example, this means that Apple is building numerous features across all its devices to fulfill that vision. For the last couple of years, Apple has spent a great deal of time on augmented reality, and numerous developers have tried to build that technology into their apps and games. And last fall, Apple shipped the iPhone X, with an array of depth sensors designed with augmented-reality applications in mind.

The invite to this year's event.The invite to this year's event.It's anyone's guess about what Apple's focus will be at this year's event — a Bloomberg report suggests that managing how your devices fit into your life and an increased focus on augmented reality are on the agenda — but given the company's strategy of releasing its operating systems annually in the fall, anything that Apple lists as a priority will probably be reflected in all its product announcements for the next year. That's enough of a reason to pay attention.

Will there be new Apple hardware announced at the event? This is a common question, and the best answer is to say that since software takes center stage at WWDC, hardware announcements are optional. It doesn't mean that Apple hasn't made hardware announcements at WWDC before, but that an entirely hardware-free keynote would not be surprising or unusual. (The Bloomberg report by Mark Gurman says there will be no new hardware, and Gurman’s sources are generally impeccable; however, Apple has managed to slide things past him before.)

When in doubt, I always consider the crowd: Unlike any other Apple media event, which is filled with members of the media, VIPs invited by Apple, and Apple employees, the WWDC crowd consists of members of the general public — namely app developers who paid $1,599 for the privilege of going to sessions all week. The WWDC keynote therefore has a tendency to play a little bit more toward that developer audience, all of whom use Macs, most of them high-end models, to develop their apps.

So despite Gurman’s report, it wouldn’t necessarily be a shocker if Apple announced small refreshes to the MacBook Pro models so in favor with developers. Apple did the same thing at this same event last year. But really, any Apple product that's close to shipping could find itself on the big stage, if for no other reason than that Apple's unlikely to hold another media event until September, when it reveals the next iPhone at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple campus. Sure, Apple can announce new products without holding a big media event — but if you've got the audience, and the products are ready, why not take advantage of it?

Finally, it's worth remembering that when Apple undergoes major product transitions, it needs to keep its developers informed. In the past, Apple has made a Mac processor transition (twice) and switched out the entire Mac operating system — and on each occasion, it gave its developers a long warning period to get their apps ready to make the switch.

Were Apple to move the Mac from Intel processors to Apple-designed ARM processors, WWDC would almost certainly be where that transition was announced. Were Apple planning to migrate the Mac to a more iOS-based operating system, or allow the Mac to run iOS apps, or provide a bridge for iOS developers to write apps that can run on the Mac — all of which have been rumored — WWDC is the best place for that to be revealed. These transitions can take years to play out, but if they're coming down the road, we may hear about them on Monday.

Regardless, Apple's WWDC keynote is the second most important day on the Apple-watcher's calendar. (Sorry, developers — that iPhone event is far and away No. 1, because of the iPhone's outsized importance on the smartphone industry and on Apple's bottom line.) The keynote sets Apple's agenda for the next year. In many ways, it's the start of Apple's product year. By Monday afternoon we'll have a much better idea about what sort of year it will be.