The WWDC keynote will be the most–and least–exciting Apple event of the year
All the news, rumors, and tips you missed last week.
By David Price, Editor, MacworldMAY 29, 2023 3:30 am PDT
Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
One week to go
There are just seven days to go until Apple’s WWDC 2023 keynote presentation, the second biggest event in the company’s calendar and the first of any kind since last fall. This time next week, the lucky few will be attending the watch party at Apple Park (and looking forward to their special tour; no, of course I’m not envious), while the rest of us will be huddled around our monitors listening to the latest announcements. Both groups, it’s fair to say, will have high expectations.
From the sounds of things–and for all Apple’s ruthless efforts to keep things secret, a lot has leaked–there will be some big news to justify the hype. The problem is that the news, as big as it is, will only be relevant to a small audience.
When you work in the media, you quickly learn to identify the things that are interesting to the largest number of people. On Macworld we are well aware that an article about the iPhone will be relevant to many more people than one about the HomePod, and is consequently likely, all things being equal, to get more pageviews; the former is simply more widely popular than the latter. It’s more mainstream. Following a similar logic, at WWDC each year Apple tends to focus on the software that runs on the products with the largest user base. For this reason iOS tends to be the marquee section of the presentation. There are lots of iPhone owners out there, and they want to know what new features are on their way.
Now, I’m not saying that Apple is going to ignore the iPhone completely at WWDC 2023. iOS 17 is expected to include a raft of new features, including a clever smart display function and, very likely, the momentous ability to install apps from third-party stores without jailbreaking. But most pundits agree that this is going to be a quiet update with no “tentpole improvement.” It’ll be about fixing bugs and improving reliability, with a few “nice to have” new features chucked in as a bonus.
On the hardware side, there’s the possibility of new Macs, such as a 15-inch MacBook Air and a Mac Pro (finally). But macOS itself–remember this is supposed to be a software event–appears to be headed for a dull June, so much so that my colleague has wondered if Apple cares about macOS anymore. “Our macOS 14 news hub has nothing,” he laments. “The chirping crickets just gave way to the sad trombone.”
Instead, the highlights of WWDC 2023 are likely to sit in two categories: the mixed reality headset, and watchOS 10. Reality Pro is certainly an interesting prospect to me, given that it’s an entirely new product line that could eventually be more important to Apple’s fortunes than the iPhone. It’s real futurist, risk-taking stuff. The problem is that, for now, it’s niche. A TrendForce report last week predicted that Apple’s headset will initially be targeted at developers, not consumers, and that this year’s shipments are likely to fall short of 100,000 units. By Apple’s standards, this is peanuts, and the product is largely irrelevant to the vast majority of people watching the keynote.
The Apple Watch isn’t quite as niche as that, but it’s nowhere near as mainstream as the iPhone or even the iPad. Depending on which research firm you ask, there are probably between 1 billion and 1.5 billion iPhone users in the world right now. The Apple Watch user base, by contrast, sits somewhere between 100 million (which the line officially passed in 2021) and 200 million, the approximate total number ever sold. And so it’s debatable how much the WWDC audience will care about even a fundamental rethink of the way we control our Apple Watches.
I’ve argued in the past that a dull Apple event is better than no event, and I think it’s important for Apple to give proper attention to the products on the margins. Apple can’t make every event about the iPhone, any more than we can make every article about it. Aside from anything else, it needs to find the product that will take the iPhone’s place once the tills stop ringing.
But make no mistake: this is going to be the riskiest set of announcements Apple has made in years. A colossal global audience has been waiting a long time for this event. It would be bold, to say the least, to spend most of the event talking about one product whose sales get rolled in with home products and accessories, and another whose customer base for this year would fit in a large sports stadium.
And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter or on Facebook for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.