What to expect from WWDC 2020: OS updates, ARM Macs, and more

  • The Steve Jobs auditorium on Apple's campus.
  • The surface-level waiting area has a minimalist design with slight accents, like many Apple products and retail spaces.
  • You can see the now-famous spaceship campus through the window.
  • The elevator from the surface-level waiting area to the basement-level theater spins as it ascends or descends.
  • If you don't want to take the elevator, two identical stairwells are positioned symmetrically in the space. Samuel Axon
  • Once you've descended, Steve Jobs' name adorns the theater. Samuel Axon

By all accounts, tech enthusiasts are in for a red letter day this Monday. Apple will kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference with a keynote at 10am PT/1pm ET. Apple execs will take the stage to announce major new updates to the company's various software platforms, and maybe more.

It's going to be an unusual event this year. For the first time in WWDC's history, it will be held entirely online, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple will stream sessions by video, and will give registered developers Zoom-call-like training and help sessions to replace the sessions that are normally offered on-site.

In a way, it could be a welcome democratization of WWDC, a conference that most Apple platform developers from around the world can't afford to attend in person. Apple has long offered videos of its sessions on-demand through its developer portal, but there will nonetheless be some firsts for the virtual attendees this year.

We'll be liveblogging the event on Monday and covering all the news, of course. Here's what we expect to see at the event, from new OS features to hardware launches to that long-rumored ARM transition for Macs.

Table of Contents

iOS (or iPhoneOS) 14 and iPadOS 14

We probably know a lot more about iOS 14 than we usually do about a new version of the iPhone's software before WWDC. That's because pre-release builds of iOS 14 apparently leaked in part or in full to 9to5Mac. Frankly, so much leaked that we don't have room to summarize all of it here. And there's surely still plenty that didn't leak.

Apple introduced sort-of-Android-like home screen widgets in iPadOS (they're not as robust as Android's widgets, but they're something at least) and we could see those come to the iPhone. Some of the leaks indicate that Apple will introduce an all-apps view similar in function to the Apple Watch home screen, and that view will have sorting options or allow users to easily see which apps have unread notifications.

Below: Photos of Dark Mode, one of the biggest recent design changes to iOS 13, from our 2019 iOS 13 review.

  • Here's the Control Center in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • Using Haptic or 3D Touch on the brightness slider brings up this view, which has the toggle for Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • You can also swap in the Settings app, or make it automatic. Samuel Axon
  • In wallpaper settings, you can also set Dark Mode to dim the wallpaper. (It's off by default.) Samuel Axon
  • This is the homescreen in Dark Mode with wallpaper dimming disabled. Samuel Axon
  • And here it is with wallpaper dimming enabled. Samuel Axon
  • These are some widgets in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • The Settings app in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • Maps in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • Reminders in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • We've got two images from Mail here. To start, this is a Mail folder. Samuel Axon
  • And here's an email. Samuel Axon
  • Now for Photos. This is the For You tab. Samuel Axon
  • And here we're browsing an album. Samuel Axon
  • Messages looks very dark, especially on an OLED iPhone. Samuel Axon
  • This is Safari in iOS 13 Dark Mode, with Ars Technica's dark mode! Samuel Axon
  • Calendar in Dark Mode. samuel Axon
  • The TV app in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • Also, podcasts. Samuel Axon
  • And then there's Stocks. Samuel Axon
  • News has the same white-on-black look as Books' nighttime reading mode. But individual stories may be black text on a white background, depending on the publisher's styling. Samuel Axon
  • Notes in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • The Health app looks particularly different. Samuel Axon
  • The App Store in Dark Mode. Samuel Axon
  • The Clock app. Samuel Axon
  • And finally, here's Find My. Samuel Axon

There have been reports that Apple plans to do something users have been asking for since the App Store first launched: change the default system apps for things like email and web browsing. That would obviously be very welcome, but we'll believe it when we see it. We don't want to get our hopes up, after all.

More leaks claim the new iPhone and iPad software will have a feature called "Clips," which would allow users to scan a QR Code or maybe perform some other action to get nominally functional images of apps that haven't been installed yet, offering some basic features from those apps. Android introduced a couple versions of this idea a while back, for its part.

Messages is almost always a focus in new iOS updates, and it looks like we'll see that again this year. Users will reportedly be able to @ mention each other in group chats, like on Slack, Facebook, or Twitter. Additionally, users could gain the ability to mark messages as unread to return to them later. It also seems like Apple is considering adding the ability to undo sending a message you decide you shouldn't have sent, though it will let the person on the other end know that some omission occurred.

The leaks also say Apple will introduce a new fitness app that will include workout regimens and videos, as well as an augmented reality app. Details on the AR app are light, though.

One of the most incredible rumors is that Apple could introduce a version of Xcode that runs on the iPad Pro. This one came from a Twitter leaker, not the iOS 14 pre-release build leaks. If you're a developer and you know how all this works under the hood, you'll probably agree that seems like a stretch unless it's a stripped-down version of the Mac app missing some key features. But stranger things have happened, we suppose, and the lack of iPad versions of big apps like this is something we've repeatedly knocked iPadOS and the new iPads on, so it's worth mentioning.

After iOS 12 and iOS 13 saw some pretty serious bugs at launch, Apple made some changes to how it tests software internally. The hope is that iOS 14 will be more stable at launch. Apple has said for a couple recent iOS updates that it wanted to focus on stability in that update and then make sweeping feature introductions in the next one, but those stability-oriented updates ended up not being as stable as expected, so that seems to be the narrative once again with iOS 14.

This isn't from as credible a source as some of other reports, but it makes a lot of sense: a leaker said just this week that Apple will drop the "iOS" name and go back to "iPhoneOS" so it fits neatly with macOS and iPadOS.

macOS 10.16 [Insert California Landmark Name]

Not nearly as much as known about macOS 10.16, but we know for sure it will be covered at the event.

Lately, Apple has put a lot more fanfare around iOS and iPadOS updates than macOS ones. Last year, the focus was on Catalyst, a framework that allowed iPad apps to be ported to macOS more easily than before in some cases.

This year, very little has leaked about the new version of macOS in advance of the conference. We really dont know what to expect.

We can guess that some of those new iOS features mentioned above will make it to the Mac. But theres definitely not always feature parity, so its hard to know which ones.

We also dont know what Apple will name this new version of the operating system. Ever since Apple adopted the macOS name in lieu of Mac OS X, it has named every annual update after a place of natural wonder in California.

Thats likely to continue, but who can say for sure? Well find out Monday.

watchOS 7

We have a little more to go on about watchOS 7 than we do about macOS, in part thanks to its tight integration with iOS 14 and the slew of iOS 14 leaks in recent months.

Credible rumors to date include the ability to share Watch faces, as well as a handful of new faces, including faces made from the photos you have stored in the Photos app.

One of the biggest likely changes is under the hood. Reports have said that Apple will make watchOS apps fully standalone. This sort of already happened as far as the user is concerned, but not really, as apps were still based on extensions. Thats very likely to change imminently.

Other likely features include blood oxygen tracking and a kids mode with new parental controls.

The beginning of the ARM transition for Macs

In recent weeks, a widely circulated Bloomberg report from a reputable journalist claimed that Apple plans to announce the first steps in a transition away from Intel for the Mac product line. New Macs would start sporting Apple-designed CPUs and GPUs derived from the A13 or A14 expected in future iPhones.

This would be monumental news, but at this point, it would not be at all surprising.

The report is only the latest in a series of reports making the same case. This one said that Apple plans to transition the entire Mac product line to its own silicon, but not all at once. We don't know which machines would make the switch first, but a MacBook- or MacBook Air-like product seems like a relatively safe bet.

There are many benefits for Apple in making this transition. Philosophically, the company has always argued for full integration of hardware, software, and services, but reliance on Intel's chips has undermined that. Intel's sometimes shaky roadmap has also stymied Apple's attempts to update Macs in the way and at the rate it wants, too.

Apple's own silicon found in recent iPhone and iPad devices makes a case that an actively cooled Mac with a chip based on the same architecture could deliver supremely impressive performance. If nothing else, we might expect battery life improvements. It would also mean Apple can introduce some mobile-specific hardware, like the Neural Engine machine learning chip, that it very likely wishes it could put in the Mac more easily.

In the long run, users could end up with faster, more reliable, and maybe even cheaper Macs that more gracefully run apps that originated on the iPhone App Store, which (depending on what your priorities are) might be considered a healthier and more robust software ecosystem than what the Mac enjoys—and Apple would have greater control over the machines that make the backbone of its entire product lineup.

It could be a real headache for developers, though. Apple last made such a major architecture change in Macs about 15 years ago. It generally went more smoothly than some feared, but there was still plenty of friction, and some developers' apps and businesses didn't survive.

If Apple makes this announcement as predicted, we believe it will be a forward-looking announcement, possibly not even tied to any immediate hardware release. And it will probably focus heavily on the tools and support Apple will offer to developers to help prepare for the inevitable.

A new iMac

The iMac was last updated over a year ago, in March of 2019.

A leaker by the name of Sonny Dickson posted to Twitter that a new iMac is coming at WWDC that will incorporate “iPad Pro design language,” “Pro Display-like bezels,” an “AMD Navi GPU,” the T2 chip, and “no more Fusion Drive.”

In addition to the length of time since the last iMac refresh, this sounds quite plausible because of whats said to be included. For example, the iMac is the last Mac left without a pure SSD storage solution—and Apple has been cutting the prices of its solid-state storage across its product lines over the past year or two, indicating that the economics of shipping an SSD-only iMac are more attractive than ever.

We dont usually write news articles based on Twitter posts from supposed leakers, and we didn't in this case, but since we're speculating in this non-news article… the timing really does seem right here. So while were not exactly predicting its going to happen, itd be fair to say we think itd be welcome.

Below: Photos of the iMac Pro from our 2018 review.

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