WWDC is Apple’s famous annual showcase, known for “big reveals” across the company’s hardware and software. Previous WWDCs have featured iconic presentations from CEOs including Steve Jobs and current boss Tim Cook, plus the announcements of legendary products including Safari, the App Store, and various iPhones and Mac computers.
Our team creates apps for Apple’s iOS and devices every day, and many of us are Apple users. So, we were eager to learn what WWDC 2023 (5-9 June) would reveal about the future of Apple. This article is a focused summary of the most important updates, from our perspective as tech-loving app experts.
Apple’s new mixed reality headset: Vision Pro
The top headline from WWDC 2023 was the announcement of a new mixed-reality headset, called the Vision Pro. We suggest you check out Apple’s announcement video (above) to get the lowdown. Here are some of the key points:
- Apple is referring to the Vision Pro as a ‘spatial computer’, offering both AR and VR experiences
- Users can interact with the device using their eyes, hands and voice.
- The Vision Pro is set to support similar app types to an iPhone or iPad, with some familiar UI components. The headset will offer video calls, gaming, streaming media, work apps and web browsing, plus some headset-specific app types such as immersive experiences.
The Vision Pro is slated for an initial U.S. release early in 2024, with an introductory price of $3,499 that’s already proving controversial. Launches in other countries are set to follow later that year.
Given the Vision Pro’s premium price, expectations around the device are high. The headset certainly has an extraordinary and innovative set of features, including:
- Various levels of immersion in the user interface, ranging from full immersion to mixed reality.
- Two-way ‘see-through’ visibility.
- 3D modelling of the user for Facetime.
- Optic ID for security.
- Supports prescription lenses for glasses wearers.
The Vision Pro is not the first VR/AR headset to cause a splash with its announcement – but will it be the first to achieve a mainstream breakthrough? Rony Abovitz, the former CEO of the AR tech company Magic Leap, had this to say:
“All other VR companies are in deep trouble because Apple has raised the threshold. […] They just laid down a gauntlet for companies like HTC and Samsung and Meta to chase. They have surpassed all of them in one shot.”
visionOS: Apple’s new operating system for spatial computing
The Vision Pro will run a brand new Operating System (OS) designed for spatial computing, called visionOS.
Developers who are interested in making their apps available for the Vision Pro will need to adapt their apps to the new OS, which builds on existing Apple OS with some new mixed-reality-focused considerations.
App design for visionOS will involve a set of spatial design ‘building blocks’, including:
- Windows – one or more screens showing content within the app. These will support 3D content, as well as traditional views and controls.
- Volumes – the third dimension of visionOS app design, used to add visual depth to app content.
- Spaces – in visionOS, apps can either run in ‘the Shared Space’ (a desktop-like state) alongside other apps; or in a dedicated ‘Full Space’, where the user can be fully immersed within a particular app.
Starting this July, app developers will have options to start working with Apple on visionOS projects. These will include:
- Request a visionOS compatibility evaluation for an existing app, via App Review. This will help you to see how the app would look and work on a Vision Pro headset (from July 2023).
- Experiment with your immersive app at a Vision Pro Developer Lab. Details on this opportunity are scarce at the moment, but we do know that the Labs will be opening this summer in London, Munich, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and Cupertino.
- Apple plans on providing Vision Pro Developer Kits for developers. Meanwhile, the visionOS SDK is set to become available at some point this month (June 2023).
Apple has published guidance for developers on how to prepare for visionOS, covering numerous topics from gesture recognition to spatial audio. Time to get reading, fellow app developers!
New Mac device announcements
WWDC 2023 featured some huge hardware announcements across Apple’s laptop and desktop ranges, including a beautiful new MacBook Air, and two highly impressive desktop options.
Our team will certainly consider these models when the time comes for an upgrade.
15-inch MacBook Air
Described by Apple as “the world’s best 15-inch laptop”, this new MacBook Air is extraordinarily fast and elegant. The machine is powered by an M2 Ultra chip.
Mac Studio M2
The new iteration of Apple’s small-form desktop – the Mac Studio – comes equipped with your choice of an M2 Ultra or M2 Max chip.
Combining impressive specs with a pleasing industrial aesthetic, the new Mac Pro is sure to be a hit with digital media professionals. It’s equipped with – you guessed it – the M2 Ultra chip.
With these three announcements across the MacBook Air, Mac Studio and Mac Pro lines, Apple has completed its transition to solely using Apple silicon in its current product range (having previously used Intel chips).
iOS 17 and iPad OS 17
A new OS version is coming for iPhones and iPads!
iOS 17 is opening in a public beta this July, with a full launch expected to follow in September.
At WWDC, many details of the new OS were revealed. We were particularly interested to note the following:
- StandBy view – this cool new view lets you use your iPhone like a digital alarm clock, complete with configurable widgets.
- Journal app – Apple’s new, native journaling app is a digital diary that pulls in media from the user’s daily iPhone activity.
- Changes to Siri – perhaps most significantly, the ‘Hey’ is being dropped from ‘Hey Siri’. The smart assistant will now activate when it hears the single wake word, ‘Siri’.
- NameDrop – a new AirDrop feature that will help with contact sharing, a bit like Bump from 2009!
- New messaging features – updates across Phone, FaceTime and Messages, including a new voicemail transcription feature and a swipe-to-reply control in Messages.
- Customisable lock screens and interactive widgets in iPad OS 17 will increase the options for iPad personalisation.
- Airplay in hotels – this new feature will enable users to pair their iPhone to a hotel TV, by scanning a QR code.
- AirTag sharing – you can now share your item tracker devices with up to five people.
- Autocorrect improvements – the feature will soon use AI to interpret users’ intent and identify unhelpful autocorrections. “‘Ducking hell’ to disappear”, says one BBC headline.
- Personal voice – an important new feature for accessibility, Personal voice will enable users to create a virtual voice that represents themselves.
- The Health app will now log the user’s moods and emotions.
Watch, TV and Mac OS updates
WWDC featured comprehensive updates across Apple’s various operating systems, including the new watchOS 10 for Apple Watch, macOS Sonoma, and tvOS 17 for Apple TV:
- watchOS 10 boasts new cycling and hiking features, mental health tools and a ‘Smart Stack’ system for widgets.
- macOS Sonoma is expected to arrive around October, with improved features across widgets, video conferencing and security. Users will be able to launch any website as a web app, via File menu → Dock.
- tvOS 17 will add FaceTime and video conferencing to the Apple TV offering.
Useful updates for iOS developers
Further eye-catching announcements at WWDC 2023 included:
- TipKit – a new development resource, TipKit will provide tools for developers to introduce new users to their apps in iOS 17.
- Shortcuts app redesign – a usability-focused redesign of this native app, which is widely used by developers, will simplify automation and make it easier to attribute actions to a particular app running on a device.
Getting to grips with all the change at Apple
For those of us who own or create apps for Apple users, WWDC 2023 will surely have served up an awful lot of food for thought. This was a truly jam-packed conference, arguably featuring an even greater depth and magnitude of announcements than last month’s Google I/O 2023 event. We’ll be taking a look at all the new iOS developer features in due course, once we’ve got the latest beta SDKs downloaded – and we’ll share any further findings over the next few months.
If you’re interested in equipping your own app (or planned app project) for Apple’s updates, we can help. Contact The Distance team to learn how we can prepare your app for an exciting future with Apple devices.