On June 4, Apple Inc executives will take the stage at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose to lay out the iPhone's software strategy for the next year and tease future hardware ambitions.
Each year when it upgrades the operating systems that power the iPhone and iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, the company touts enhancements that tie people ever closer to their devices and keep them engrossed in the latest apps and games.
This year, the company will highlight the opposite: using gadgets less.
Apple engineers have been working on an initiative dubbed Digital Health, a series of tools to help users how much time they spend on their devices and inside of certain applications. These details will be bundled into the menu of iOS 12, the likely name of Apple's refreshed mobile operating system, according to people familiar with the plans.
“Tony Fadell, a former senior Apple executive who worked on the original iPhone and iPod, said in a recent interview. “We need to get the finer-grain language and start to understand that an iPhone is just a refrigerator, it's not the addiction.”
Earlier this year, Apple investors Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System criticized the addictive nature of Apple's devices. The Cupertino, California-based technology giant responded by saying it would add more “robust” parental controls to monitor the use of its products.
Rising concern about smartphone addiction is less of a threat to Apple than other big tech companies. Apple makes the most of its money selling hardware, and the Digital Health software upgrades will likely give users another reason to keep buying the company's new devices.
At its own developer conference in May, Google has highlighted similar tools. The company has a new Dashboard for Android phones that users can use.
iOS software & augmented reality
Most of this year's WWDC will be up to Apple Gadgets. The company plans to show off its prowess in augmented reality by upgrading relatively new tools for iPhones and iPads. AR imposes 3-D digital images on people's view of the real world. Chief executive officer Tim Cook sees the technology as potentially revolutionary as the smartphone.
As part of the new software called “ARKit 2.0”, internally, the company has been in the same virtual environment. Another mode allows objects to be dropped into an area. The features will be a prelude to what's coming from an Apple AR headset is planned for as early as 2020.
Bigger changes later
Otherwise, upgrades to this year's software will be more muted. There will be minor new features for snoozing notifications, tracking the stock market, making video calls, and sending. Animojis – the virtual cartoons introduced with the iPhone X. Earlier this year, Apple executives decided to postpone redesigned Home Screen for launching applications and presenting snippets of information, an artificial intelligence upgrade to the Photos app, and new file-management tools for iPads – until next year to improve the quality and responsiveness of this year's upgrade.
The iPhone and iPad are the top mobile platforms for developers to make money from apps. In the first quarter of this year, consumers spent 85% more on iOS apps than Android programs, according to mobile data-analytics firm App Annie. But Apple's other platforms – the Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV – have become less attractive to developers, and Apple has the opportunity to turn that around.
In recent years, Mac software has taken a back seat to new features for iPhones and iPads, which makes sense given that those iOS devices generate about two-thirds of Apple revenue. But the Mac is still an important product for developers and users, and Apple will update the software again this year.
The focus this year will be on integrating more deeply with iOS. The company had been working on a project that would let iOS apps run on Macs, which executives could discuss as early as this year. This would address developer apathy to the Mac App Store, which has not been redesigned in several years.
Mac hardware upgrades have a key point in the past WWDCs. At last year's conference, for example, Apple updated its iMac Pro, launched new iPad Pros, and showed off the HomePod smart speaker. But this year, a suite of new gadgets is unlikely.
The MacBook Air. MacBook Air. MacBook Air. But those will not be ready until later this year, according to people familiar with the plans. Apple is also working on a redesigned iPad Pro line with Face ID, but that's also expected later.
Watch & TV
Watch & TV
Watch & TV
Since launching in 2015, the Apple Watch operating system, called watchOS, has not caught on as a major platform for developers, with big names like Instagram, Google Maps, Twitter, Amazon and eBay discontinuing their watch apps.
Apple will need to show developers why they should keep building apps for a gadget that has the same iPhone. That's especially important as Apple is preparing another big push for the wearable hardware later this year.
The Apple Watches that keep the overall size of the current models, but include slightly larger, edge-to-edge screens, according to a person familiar with the product's development. These changes will be the most notable external enhancements with the Watch.
The iPhone maker has released minor updates to its Apple TV software, branded as tvOS, and at its developers conference since revamping the device in 2015. new features for a device that's the center of its living room strategy so far.
Apple eventually hopes to make the Apple TV the main viewing hub for its upcoming encounters.
HomePod & Siri
Earlier this week, Apple updated the HomePod with stereo and the ability to add calendar appointments. It could choose to keep it up with the Apple Watch.
To catch up to Amazon and Google's digital speakers, Apple will have to improve Siri. On its phones, it plans to add more predictive Siri features this year, Bloomberg reported earlier this year. More significant changes will take time. Apple recently poached top Google AI executive John Giannandrea, after criticism about slow feature development compared to the competition. – Bloomberg