WWDC 2018: Expectations (and Hints of Marzipan)

As the last of the major developer events this Spring, WWDC leaves Apple with the unenviable task of upstaging Google and Microsoft. Apple has a lot of ground to cover before it reaches parity with those companies in some areas, including artificial intelligence (A.I.), but it’s already well ahead where it counts. Here’s what we expect from WWDC 2018.

Hey, Siri?

The strange thing about Siri is it’s arguably more widespread than Google Assistant, yet it’s not quite as brilliant. It’s the age-old ‘native versus web’ argument born anew; while Google leans hard into search and user data in order to power its digital-assistant platform, Apple is building a monolithic Siri that’s largely cut off from outside data streams.

Unsurprisingly, we expect WWDC 2018 to bring us a lot more Siri. The ‘skills and domains’ developers can tap into (similar to ‘skills’ for Alexa or ‘actions’ for Google Assistant) remain limited. Some, such as ride hailing, haven’t even made their way to HomePod.

Expect Apple to announce more Siri-related skills at WWDC, and have those skills reflected across its hardware and operating systems. I should be able to ask Siri to hail me a Lyft from my HomePod, then wait outside for the car to arrive. Look for Apple to (maybe) introduce a method for developers to hard-code their own if-then statements for apps, which could expand the platform’s utility to tech pros (while making it more vulnerable to shoddy third-party functions).

Apple’s Siri digital assistant on macOS

iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS

The biggest draw for most will be iOS 12, which will be previewed at WWDC 2018. We’ve already heard iBooks will see a refresh, and there’s good reason to think the Files app will be tinkered with.

Beyond that, expect just plain ‘more.’ More features in Photos. More gestures to navigate both the operating system and apps. More ways to control privacy, too! The rumor mill has been surprisingly light this year, but we’re also looking forward to anything related to Marzipan, Apple’s (alleged) unified macOs and iOS platform.

Which leads us to macOS. Like iOS, macOS’s main pull lately has been performance improvements and tweaks to core apps. But if Marzipan is coming, we’d expect a total overhaul. Sadly, we don’t expect it to land at WWDC, much less be discussed. If anything, more iOS-like features (Photos is fairly similar across iOS and macOS) could be coming to desktop apps, perhaps setting the stage for Marzipan.

For tvOS, the TV app will be lauded as the home hub for everything, we think. No hardware or software redesign is expected, and Amazon Prime proved a poor addition to the lineup. Expect Apple to circle its wagons and invest in its own stack.

watchOS will likely double down on health features. We don’t expect to hear about new hardware, and it’s clear that Apple’s current driver for Apple Watch is workouts and health. Any profound new watchOS features may hint at new sensors in the Fall, when Apple Watch hardware could be refreshed.

Mac App Store and Xcode

For many developers, WWDC 2018 should be about one thing: the Mac App Store.

In the wake of the iOS App Store’s refresh, its desktop counterpart seems dated and just plain bad. As Apple continues to weed out subpar apps from its app stores, WWDC will hopefully bring a revamped macOS App Store.

But there’s good reason it may not show up. If Marzipan is really set for public release anytime soon, a unified App Store could be around the corner, as well. If that’s the case, there’s no good reason to update the Mac version now.

Xcode, though – we need more Xcode stuff. We won’t get into the gritty details just yet (we’ll save that for WWDC week), but look for tooling that lines up with Swift 5 and ABI stability. More importantly, expect Apple to do some behind-the-scenes work to make Xcode faster and a bit more stable.

ARKit at WWDC 2017
Augmented Reality (AR) came to iPhones and iPads via ARKit at WWDC 2017

WWDC and ARKit

Want some ‘wow’? ARKit brings it. Last year, Apple debuted this developer platform for augmented reality (AR) apps. A few months ago, Apple added key features to make it a lot more contextual and fun to work with. At WWDC 2018, we expect Apple to encourage developers to tinker more with AR.

Apple already played its hand with ARKit version 1.5, but it’s entirely possible we’ll see a preview of ARKit 2.0 that will launch with iOS 12. Visually, ARKit 1.5 rolls in vertical plane identification and can detect two-dimensional images; it built ARKit into a true 3D platform.

Version 2.0 may roll audio into the mix in new and exciting ways. You can already visualize and play back recorded sound in augmented reality, but we’re expecting Apple to push the limits of spatial audio. It recently posted a job dedicated to the craft.

Marzipan & What Remains

Apple has some loose ends. Where’s the AirPower wireless charging pad we were shown last year? Are we going to get a preview of the new Mac Pro? HomePod needs AirPlay 2, also!

Marizpan lingers, and we’ll be looking for clues. No notable changes to the core platforms and apps is a signal that Marzipan is real and on the way. More feature parity in some areas could also suggest Marzipan is coming; Siri working across platforms and hardware would be our biggest clue.

The only real ‘tell’ may not arrive: Marzipan as a platform would almost certainly mean the death of AppKit, Apple’s framework for macOS development. Unless AppKit is dropped at WWDC 2018, don’t expect Marzipan to arrive this year.

If we’re speculating, expect WWDC 2018 to be a ‘down’ year; it won’t be chock full of new stuff. Look for Apple to double down on privacy in the wake of Facebook and Google. We’d also be less than surprised if Apple took a page from Google’s book and joined the nascent ‘JOMO’ movement, pushing users to rely on their smartphones a bit less day-to-day (at least as a time-waster).

Developers should expect a ton of great sessions around tech they’re already using. Some expect Apple may even delay iOS 12 while it works out some bugs and persistent issues. If that’s even slightly accurate, many sessions topics will be more about getting the most from what’s already available. That’s not a bad thing; perhaps WWDC will enter a tick-tock cycle like this, moving forward.

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