The big tech story for June will be all about Apple, and the media will have plenty to say before, during and after as to whether Apple’s new product announcements will have any potential. So, as expected, Apple has invited selected members of the press to attend the WWDC keynote on Monday, June 13 at 10:00 AM. This year’s event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, which will accommodate more attendees than the previous venue, Moscone West.
Having more members of the press present may hint at the potential for what’s to come. Or it may be a practical way to respond to the needs of the media to have people present. Or both.
While hints are vague, there are always certainties at a WWDC, and product expectations that really come true.
So the tech media is assuming there will be no hardware announcements. The reason? Well, because the WWDC is rarely the venue for a new Mac, although it happens sometimes. The Late 2013 Mac Pro made its debut at a WWDC keynote, although it didn’t actually ship until the end of that year. Other Macs have been announced, but you shouldn’t expect a new iPhone, Apple TV or even an Apple Watch.
This year, Mac updates are, so far, limited to only one model, the MacBook. Some of the speculation is that major upgrades remain in the pipeline. But Apple would want to get into the back-t0-school action, so pushing new Macs into the channel would have to occur in the next few weeks. With a WWDC imminent, it’s very possible there will be announcements about the next MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Just introducing them with a simple press release a week or two later wouldn’t hardly have as much impact.
The future of the Mac Pro is again uncertain, just three years after the small, lightweight cylindrical box was introduced. There are faster graphics chips, there are faster Intel Xeons, so why hasn’t Apple refreshed its flagship workstation?
Some suggest the Mac Pro is doomed, that you are expected to do all your math and 3D rendering on a top-of-the-line 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. But I don’t see why Apple would discontinue the Mac Pro. It wouldn’t cost all that much to swap out the guts with up-to-date hardware. It doesn’t even have to change physically other than expected connection port updates that include Thunderbolt 3. I suppose Apple could also add a couple of USB-C ports.
But the Mac Pro is a polarizing machine. Some customers are happy to be able to add loads of external stuff, even if it creates endless wiring nightmares. Others would prefer the old way, a huge tower with loads of room inside for expansion cards and storage devices. But I doubt Apple will go there, though I suppose it’s possible that a fancy breakout box could be offered that would operate with only a single connector to the cylinder, similar to what third parties offer. Or maybe a circular dock into which the Mac Pro is inserted.
All of that is uncertain. Developers come to look at the next OS releases, and this year there will no doubt be four — iOS 10, OS X (or macOS) 10.12, watchOS 3 and the newest tvOS, which I presume will follow the iOS numbering scheme and become version 10.
Last year, the iOS and OS X updates were relatively modest, focusing heavily on supposed bug fixes and performance improvements. While iOS 9 has been reasonably stable, except for a recent iPad Pro show stopper, the reception to El Capitan has been none-too-good. As of 10.11.5 (with a 10.11.6 rumored to be under development), it earns a three-star rating at the App Store. That’s not so encouraging, as it seems that lots of users are still complaining about bugs and performance issues.
Now as I’ve written in these pages, my sole remaining issue with El Capitan is an occasional stall with Mail. I observed it from the very first developer beta and it persisted through the maintenance updates, at least so far. So for 30 seconds or so, everything freezes in Mail before it starts working normally again. All the rebuild options I’ve read about, including ones for each mailbox, haven’t helped.
But the real speculation is about whether Siri will make its debut on the Mac. Perhaps it’ll be a souped up Siri with more expansive voice recognition capabilities, including the ability to respond to questions in context without having to restate everything from scratch every single time. The same capability would no doubt be incorporated in the versions of Siri for iOS, watchOS and tvOS. Perhaps it can all be done in the cloud, so the software changes would be minimal.
The real question is just how many fancy new tentpole features can be offered year in and year out. When does Apple run out of useful enhancements ahead of just rebuilding the whole thing from scratch?
I’m keeping the speculation to the minimum, since the truth is not far away.