Apple WWDC 2021: iOS 15, new MacBook Pros, and what else to expect

Apple’s annual developer extravaganza, the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), is coming up fast, kicking off with the keynote presentation on June 7th at 1PM ET. Like last year, WWDC will be an entirely digital and online-only event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the keynote, that means we can likely expect another tightly produced video highlighting everything Apple has in store.

While we aren’t expecting any announcements on the level of Apple’s shift to custom silicon in its computers, which was WWDC 2020’s big news, Apple presumably has some notable changes in the works for iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and its other operating systems. And if the current rumors pan out, we could also see brand-new MacBook Pros with the return of some long-missed features, such as MagSafe charging.

Read on to learn everything we expect from the big show. And don’t be surprised if Apple has a few surprises in store, too.

iOS 15 may bring improvements to notifications and iMessage

We haven’t heard much about what may be coming to Apple’s next version of its mobile operating system, which will presumably be called iOS 15, but we could see big changes to notifications and possibly iMessage, according to Bloomberg.

For notifications, you may be able to have different notification settings for situations like driving, working, sleeping, or even a custom category, and you’ll be able to flip those on as you need to. You might also be able to set automatic replies based on which notification setting you’re currently using, like what you can do now with Do Not Disturb while driving mode. Personally, I’m hoping iOS 15 will let me allow notifications from a select few people while silencing just about everything else.

As for iMessages, Apple is apparently working on features to make it act like “more of a social network” to compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp, Bloomberg said, but those features are still “early in development” and could be announced at a later date.

Apple also plans to add a feature that shows you apps that are silently collecting data about you, continuing the company’s trend of adding privacy-focused updates to its operating systems.

For iPadOS 15, you can apparently expect a major update to the homescreen, including the ability to put widgets anywhere you want. And with Apple just introducing the new M1-powered iPad Pros, here’s hoping we see some new upgrades to take advantage of the new chip.

In May, Apple also announced a lot of new accessibility features coming to Apple’s operating systems, such as improvements in iOS to VoiceOver, support for bidirectional hearing aids, a built-in background sounds player, and new Memoji customizations like cochlear implants. Apple said these features would arrive “later this year,” which suggests they’ll be included in iOS 15.

We don’t know much about macOS, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 — but we could see a new “homeOS”

We haven’t heard all that much about upcoming software updates for the Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Apple is cooking up. One tidbit: macOS could be a “more minor” update, Bloomberg says. That wouldn’t be too much of a surprise, given that the macOS operating system got a big overhaul with Big Sur last year.

However, we could see the introduction of a brand-new operating system called “homeOS,” which was recently mentioned in and later removed from an Apple job listing. While it’s unclear exactly which devices this OS is for, perhaps it will work on Apple’s home-focused products like the Apple TV and HomePod Mini.

New, redesigned MacBook Pros and a new Apple CPU could be announced

Apple doesn’t always introduce new hardware at WWDC, but this year, new MacBook Pros seem like a possibility. In a May 18th report, Bloomberg said that new MacBook Pros might arrive “as soon as early this summer,” which could indicate an announcement at WWDC.

These new laptops would have new Apple-designed processors that would “greatly outpace the performance and capabilities of the current M1 chips,” according to Bloomberg. The M1 is already pretty dang good, so it sounds like these new chips could be even more impressive.

Apple is apparently planning on releasing two chips for the new Pros. Both should have eight high-performance cores and two energy-efficient cores, while leaving you with the option of either 16 or 32 graphics cores. (By comparison, the M1’s CPU has four high-performance and four energy-efficient cores, while its GPU is offered with either seven or eight cores.) You’ll probably also be able to spec the laptops with as much as 64GB of memory, up from a max of 16GB on M1-equipped computers.

The new laptops should be offered with either 14-inch or 16-inch screens and those screens could have “brighter, higher contrast” displays, according to a Bloomberg report from January. The laptops may also have a new design with flat edges as in the iPhone 12, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in January. I’m curious to see what that design might look like in practice — I worry that the hard edges could be uncomfortable if you have the laptop on your lap.

The best rumor is that the new design may also mark the return of some of the ports and features that were taken away with the now-infamous 2016 MacBook Pro redesign, including a MagSafe charger, an HDMI port, and an SD card slot, Bloomberg said in its May report. And, according to Kuo, the OLED Touch Bar currently found on Intel-based MacBook Pros will apparently be removed in favor of physical function keys.

We could see at least one other new Mac

While it seems like MacBook Pros are the only new hardware we’ll be seeing at WWDC this year, that hasn’t stopped some other Mac rumors from swirling lately, and there’s always the chance Apple could announce more at its big event. According to Bloomberg, Apple also has “a revamped MacBook Air, a new low-end MacBook Pro, and an all-new Mac Pro workstation” in the works as well as a “higher-end Mac Mini desktop and larger iMac,” all of which would be powered by Apple’s custom silicon.

The new Mac Mini may have the same chip as the new MacBook Pros. The new Mac Pro could be a beast, with processors that are “either twice or four times as powerful as the new high-end MacBook Pro chip.”

And the redesigned “higher-end” MacBook Air could arrive as early as the end of this year. Frankly, I hope that refreshed Air arrives even later. I just bought the M1-equipped Air and it’s one of the best computers I’ve ever used, but I have a bad feeling I’ll be first in line to buy a redesigned and more capable Air anyway. (Especially if it gets the MagSafe charger that’s rumored for the new Pros.)

Apple might have dropped a hint about its AR / VR headset

Apple has long been rumored to have a mixed reality headset in the works, and recently, we’ve learned a few more potential details about it. The headset might be very expensive — approximately $3,000, according to one report — though it could be packed with 8K displays, more than a dozen cameras to track hand movements and capture footage, and might weigh less than an iPhone, too.

While the headset could be a ways out, as it’s not expected to ship until 2022 at the earliest, a few suspicious details in Apple’s WWDC promotional images may be hinting toward some kind of reveal of Apple’s upcoming headset or the software on which it runs.

Check out this image below (that I also used at the top of this post), which Apple released alongside the announcement of WWDC in March. Notice the way the app icons are reflected in the glasses — I could imagine some sort of mixed reality headset showing icons in front of your eyes in a similar way.

Apple continued that reflections motif with new images released in May — you can see things from the laptop screens reflected in all of the eyes of the Memojis.

Now, these reflections may just be Apple’s artists flexing their design chops. And if I had to guess, given how far out a rumored mixed reality headset is, I don’t think we’re going to see anything about it at WWDC this year.

But Apple has surprised us in the past, and maybe these images are an indication of one more thing Apple has in store for WWDC.

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