Redesigned iMacs to iOS 14: Everything we expect to see at WWDC 2020

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WWDC 2020: What to expect at Apple's big developer conference.
Get ready for some big revelations!
Image: Apple & Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

WWDC 2020 Apple execs won’t get to feed off the usual live audience’s energy during next Monday’s WWDC 2020 keynote, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to get excited about.

As usual, Apple will stream the big event for all the world to see. But, due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire Worldwide Developers Conference will take place online this year. Read on for our rundown of what we expect to see during the WWDC 2020 keynote, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Pacific on June 22.

Each year, Cupertino execs and the company’s partners take to the stage to pitch what’s next for the Apple ecosystem. While the weeklong conference gives developers the info they need to grapple with upcoming changes to iOS, macOS and other software, the WWDC keynote also serves a wider purpose.

Second only to the annual iPhone launch extravaganzas, WWDC’s kickoff event gives Apple a high-watt spotlight to showcase future plans. That makes the keynotes must-see events for true Apple fans.

Serious software needs serious hardware

Could a new iMac look a little something like this?
Could a new iMac look a little something like this?
Concept: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

While some WWDC keynotes bring precious little in the way of hardware announcements, this year looks like a good one for physical products.

iMac’s biggest refresh in years

When people think of WWDC, they tend to think of software rather than hardware. But Apple’s developer conference showcased plenty of exciting new hardware over the years. The biggest one this year likely concerns the iMac, a product line that people frequently accuse Apple of forgetting about, especially in recent years. The iMac’s current look — rolled out nearly a decade ago — is starting to show its age.

This year, the rumor is that Apple will unveil an iMac refresh, possibly bringing it more in line with the look and fee of the latest iPhones and iPads. (Apple historically patterns the iMac after the company’s most popular products of the moment.) No definitive designs have been leaked. But flat edges, slim bezels and a bigger display all make sense.

Mac’s transition to ARM processors

Jumping from Intel CPUs to ARM-based chips would be one of the biggest changes Apple has made in years. (Steve Jobs announced way back in 2005 that Apple would switch from PowerPC to Intel processors.) Apple already uses ARM-based CPUs in the iPhone and iPad, and the fact that Apple could go in that direction with the Mac has been heavily rumored and discussed.

Ever-reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested an ARM-based Mac could debut this year. But with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the supply chain, this may have been back. Apple might therefore hold off on the announcement, especially if the hardware is not ready for launch (and it doesn’t want to douse enthusiasm for the redesigned iMac).

Keep your fingers crossed for a summertime miracle, but it’s more likely Apple would simply announce the coming transition — and tell developers how they can get in on the ground floor with the next-gen Mac hardware.

A follow-up to the HomePod?

Is a new HomePod on the way?
Is a new HomePod on the way?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple first showed off its HomePod smart speaker at WWDC 2017. In the years since then, the smart speaker market continued to grow, but the HomePod remains a bit player. Part of that probably relates to price, since — despite price cuts — HomePod remains substantially more expensive than entry-level devices like Amazon’s Echo Dot.

Lately, persistent rumors indicated that HomePod price reductions mean Apple’s trying to clear out old stock. That could mean a new model is on the way. Some observers suggest a smaller, more-affordable model could land soon.

AirTags

AirTags are Apple’s rumored tracker tags that promise to help users locate bags, keys and assorted other valuables. They’ve been rumored for some time, and evidence keeps mounting that they’re on the way. The question is whether the WWDC 2020 keynote is when Apple finally pulls the trigger on announcing them.

Expect lots of software, too

iOS and iPadOS 14

iOS remains Apple’s biggest mobile platform, used by the largest number of Apple customers all over the world. Last year was the first time that Apple split iOS out into two versions: iOS for iPhone and iPadOS for, well, iPad. It will be interesting to see how Apple builds on that delineation this year. (A recent rumor indicated Apple might change “iOS” back to “iPhone OS” soon.)

High-profile new features expected for this year’s iOS 14 include Home screen widgets, a dedicated app for viewing augmented-reality content and a Fitness app for exercise freaks. The next version of iOS also reportedly will bring changes to the Messages app, built-in translation tools for Safari, wallpaper packs, a way to use iPhones to unlock certain cars and more.

On the iPadOS front, rumors include a new handwriting recognition feature, courtesy of the Apple Pencil. (Don’t expect any “egg freckles” or “eat up Martha” jokes this time around, either!) Other than that, iPadOS rumors remain few and far between this year. That’s not too surprising, since Apple added a ton of new features in iPadOS 13. This year it likely will be all about the iPhone. But of course, iPads get to take advantage of those improvements. And those Home screen widgets might prove more useful on the iPad’s larger display.

macOS 10.16

No name has been leaked for macOS 10.16, the follow-up to last year’s Catalina. (Maybe Apple will pick “Redwood”? Or “Cupertino,” to embrace the stay-at-home theme?) There have been fewer rumors for macOS 10.16 than iOS 14. Expect some advances on the Catalyst front, however. That’s Apple’s tool for porting iOS apps to macOS, and it could mean a range from interface overhauls to big, new, cross-platform features. We’re definitely stoked if that means an updated Messages app for Mac that doesn’t suck.

watchOS 7

Don't expect to learn all of the next-gen Apple Watch's tricks during WWDC 2020 keynote.
Don’t expect to learn all of the next-gen Apple Watch’s tricks.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple likely won’t reveal this year’s biggest new watchOS features at WWDC. Those probably won’t come until the next Apple Watch makes its debut, likely this fall at an iPhone event. For instance, a reference to a blood oxygen level-tracking feature was discovered in iOS 14 code. However, this feature could be limited to new Apple Watches, so we might not hear about it until fall.

Nonetheless, you can count on various watchOS announcements at WWDC. We’re most likely to hear about broad plans for expanding Apple Watch’s role in the Apple ecosystem.

As mentioned, Apple reportedly is working on a fitness app, code-named “Seymour,” that would work with the smartwatch but also with iPhone and Apple TV. And we could hear about much-needed upgrades to HealthKit, the framework that ties together all of Apple’s health plans.

One expected new watchOS feature — Schooltime — supposedly will let parents manage which apps and complications kids use at certain times. We also likely will see new (and sharable) faces announced, including a new Infograph Pro watch face with a tachymeter.

tvOS

While Apple supposedly will launch a beefed-up Apple TV box sometime soon, we’ve heard no rumors so far about what this year’s tvOS update will include. Since this is the first WWDC since Apple TV+ debuted, however, it’s possible that Apple dedicates some extra time to its platform. Maybe.

Miscellaneous updates: Services and more

Tim Cook could open up on the success of Apple's various subscription services.
Tim Cook could open up on the success of Apple’s various subscription services.
Photo: Apple

WWDC always gives Apple a chance to crow about its various successes over the past year. Alongside the usual satisfaction and upgrade statistics for platforms like iOS and macOS, Apple might use this year’s event to give us some updates on subscriber numbers for services like Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News+.

Will Apple be willing to touch the current developer backlash about alleged anti-competitive behavior in the App Store. Or the EU’s current antitrust investigations into Cupertino’s practices? That seems unlikely. But a controlled media event like Apple’s first virtual-only WWDC could be a good place for Apple to make its case in the court of public opinion.

What are you most excited for at WWDC 2020?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Graham Bower and Ed Hardy contributed to this WWDC 2020 preview.