Look. We’re all interested in one. I know it, you know it, Apple certainly knows it. Much as AI was Google’s primary focus at I/O and…I don’t know — Windows 11, I guess — was Microsoft’s centerpiece at Build, we’re all going into and leaving WWDC 2023 with one thing in mind: XR.
The company’s annual developer conference kicks off with a keynote next Monday, June 5 at 10AM PT. Apple loves to effectively cram half a year’s worth of news into those two or so hours, leaving the rest of the week (up to and including June 9) for developer-focused sessions. There’s also a “State of the Union” for platforms starting 1:30PM on the 5th, but that’s more overview, less news.
Like last year, the event will feature limited in-person attendance (including some TechCrunch folk) at Apple Park in Cupertino. One nice outcome of that whole global pandemic situation is that Apple has begun streaming the various sessions and archiving them online for later viewing. The less nice bit is that the company’s move to pre-recorded event videos means those of us who are attending the show in person will likely be watching that on a big screen in the center of campus (I’m packing sunscreen this year).
The initial Save the Date went out at the end of March, followed by media invites that arrived early last week. Both featured a similar design with luminescent concentric circles. For such a secretive company, Apple sure loves to hide hints in plain sight, and this one seems especially clever. It can, at once, be read as a reference to the circle HQ building and the large rainbow ring sculpture that sits in the middle. More tellingly, it may well also be a render of the sort of lens arrays that appear in XR headsets. Trademark filings point to the potential name, “Reality Pro.”
Now, I can’t say that we definitively know the headset is coming next week, but I will tell you that you definitely don’t want to bet against the house on this one. Bloomberg has been leading the charge on leaks here, but an Apple AR/VR/MR headset has long been considered the worst kept secret in Silicon Valley. The company has reportedly been working on the product for around eight years, and pressure to ship has hit a fever pitch — to the apparent chagrin of CEO Tim Cook.
First-gen products are hard — even for Apple. Of course, this is more than just a first-gen product. It’s the first generation of a category that well-appointed tech giants have tried and failed to crack for decades. Apple gets the benefit of the doubt here, after a long track record of redefining existing hardware categories (smartphones, smartwatches, headphones, mp3 players). Cook no doubt wanted to get things just right for what may well prove the defining product of his tenure as CEO — for better or worse.
The executive reportedly wanted something closer in form factor to a pair of AR glasses, but the team apparently delivered a product akin to a VR headset. Given that it’s anticipated to be a mix of both technologies (mixed reality or MR), it seems likely that it will rely on passthrough technology similar to headsets from HTC, Microsoft and Magic Leap. This uses on-headset cameras to create the illusion of transparency with an opaque display, providing that AR effect. Another sticking point is apparently a clip-on battery back that would sit on the wearer’s belt.
The system will reportedly utilize a pair of 4K displays that may be manufactured by Sony. A prescription option is said to be in the offing, as well, which could point to a headset that doesn’t accommodate glasses. In addition to the on-board cameras, there will be a lot of sensors that will give the headset an idea of where it is relative to both the environment and wearer. This would also bring your arm movements into the equation, potentially without the need for controls or external sensors. Lidar is a maybe. Apple embraced it for AR on the iPad Pro, but non-automotive companies appear to be largely moving away from these sensors.
As I’m writing this, an additional note went out to developers with the words “Code New Worlds,” which strikes me as metaversey. It’s also an important reminder of timing. After all, this is Apple’s big developer conference, and the device we’re likely to see next week will be a developer edition. Remember when Apple made the shift to first-party silicon. The M1 chip got a rare pre-product announcement in order to give lead time to help create apps ahead of launch.
The company also released a developer-only Mac Mini to run them on. While rumors point to the headset’s use of iPadOS app (the reason the company forked its mobile operating systems may be clearer next week), any hope of success revolves around a lot of content at launch. While companies like HTC and Magic Leap have been shifting toward an enterprise play, however, it’s hard to imagine Apple making anything that isn’t a consumer-first product. That’s going to require games. A lot of them. Some ports from Meta and Vive seem like a no-brainer, but original content is also a must.
Signs currently point to a launch toward the end of the year — theoretically in time for the holidays. As for pricing, well, $3,000 is steep, even by Apple premium standards.
iOS will, of course, be a major tentpole for WWDC. Version 17 is on the way. Updates are said to be relatively minor, compared to iOS 16. The lock screen is getting some updates, including the addition of smart home functionality, which makes it even more useful when idle. Music is apparently getting some improvements, as well, including the potential addition of live lyrics from the lock screen. Other rumored upgrades include additional functionality for Dynamic Island on the iPhone and improvement to search.
The Health app may finally be coming to iPadOS — that could be a nice addition for those who use the tablet to stream Apple Fitness+. Rumored updates to watchOS 10, meanwhile, include an update to the home screen, functional widgets and some new tricks for the Apple Watch’s digital crown.
As for the rest of the hardware, new Macs are apparently coming next week. The most exciting of the bunch could well be a 15-inch MacBook Air, paired with a revamped 13-inch Air and Pro. The Apple Silicon Mac Pro could be on the way, but this doesn’t seem especially likely. Either way, it will be fun to see how the company out-horsepowers its existing desktops.
Things kick off at 10AM PT the morning of June 5. TechCrunch will be liveblogging and bringing you the news as it breaks. See you next week.