This story is part of WWDC 2022, CNET’s complete coverage from and about Apple’s annual developers conference.
Apple is expected to announce new software for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers at its annual WWDC developers event starting Monday.
Why it matters
The new software offers a chance for Apple to upgrade its devices without relying on manufacturing, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
What it means for you
Software updates can extend the life of a device, giving people flexibility during economic uncertainty.
The most important part of Apple’s upcoming announcements on Monday may involve an iPhone already in your pocket.
At the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC as it’s called, Apple is expected to announce an array of software upgrades for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers, in addition to, potentially, a new performance-focused Mac Pro computer and fresh TV-related features.
For iPhones, the new software is expected to include small “widget” apps on the lock screen, according to reports from Bloomberg and others. Apple is also expected to add features to improve multitasking and running apps side by side, particularly on the iPad. Those changes for Apple’s tablet would be welcomed by CNET reviewer Scott Stein, who’s criticized the device for its lack of PC-like features.
“The hardware seems just about perfect,” Stein wrote in his review of last year’s iPad Pro, which is now powered by the same M1 chips as the company’s MacBook laptops. “If Apple starts updating its iPadOS to add new features, more multitasking and monitor support, more Pro apps, and maybe even some sort of Mac compatibility mode using the M1 chip it now shares with all those new Macs, this could be an amazing machine.”
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
Though Apple may show off some hardware at this year’s WWDC, the event is primarily focused on the company’s plans for the future. It’s an opportunity for Apple to tease ideas that will power key new features in its devices. In the past, the company has used WWDC to announce revamped looks for its iPhone software, new coding languages for its devices and new initiatives like its transition to home-made chips to power its Mac computers.
Apple has also expanded its subscription offerings over the past couple of years. Those now include the $5 per month Apple TV Plus for movies and TV shows, the $5 per month Apple Arcade gaming service and the $10 per month Apple Fitness Plus. People have so far responded well to them, Apple has said, pointing to the 825 million accounts with paid subscriptions on its platform at the end of March. That’s an increase of 17% from the prior year.
“The pandemic has underlined even more how much we rely on this stuff,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies.
More, more, more
There’s a chance Apple will announce new computers at WWDC this year, particularly its already teased next Mac Pro performance desktop. But even if the company doesn’t produce a wow-worthy moment, Milanesi said, she’ll be watching for the seemingly small software changes Apple will undoubtedly announce that, over time, add up to big shifts in how its devices work.
For example, the company began experimenting with widgets, or small apps, in 2014 with iOS 8. At the time, those widgets were limited, and only visible in the Notification Center. After six years of refinement, Apple added widgets to the home screen with iOS 14.
Those software upgrades, which Apple makes freely available for iPhones and iPads produced within the last five years or so, are unusual. Most other companies don’t keep adding features years after their devices are sold.
The new software also offers an opportunity for Apple to present something fresh that doesn’t rely on manufacturing, which has struggled to keep up with demand, and that isn’t hit hard by the costs of inflation.
“With software, Apple has a unique ability to refresh products in a way that others don’t,” Milanesi said.
Another set of changes Apple has increasingly offered for its smartphones, tablets and computers is how well they work with other devices that the company doesn’t make. Over the years, Apple has, for example, added software technology that allows its Apple Watch to communicate with workout equipment. The company has also expanded its near-field communication technology, primarily built for Apple Pay wireless credit card payments, to serve as keys to get into a car, and soon driver’s licenses to use at an airport too.
“All of this translates not just to Apple playing better with their devices, but also with other devices,” said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at Technalysis research.
This year in particular, O’Donnell will be watching for any mention of industrywide initiatives that Apple will back. In the past couple of years, Apple notably partnered with Fast Identity Online, or FIDO, to improve login security across the web. It also joined Matter, a consortium of device makers including Amazon, Samsung and Google, who are hoping to make it easier for smart home devices to talk to one another.
“That’s where you move beyond the basic, ‘Here’s a new version of iOS with X, Y and Z features,'” O’Donnell added.
There’s still always a chance Apple could pull a surprise announcement of its long-rumored AR glasses, expected to maybe go on sale next year. But analysts say that at a time when manufacturing is struggling and the broader economy is shaky, it’s a good opportunity for Apple to focus on the software that helps its devices stand out.
“With an unparalleled installed base of 1 billion iPhones worldwide and 1.8 billion iOS devices for Cupertino this continues to remain Apple’s unique advantage over other technology stalwarts,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a recent message to investors, referring to Apple’s hometown of Cupertino, California.
Ives added that though a quarter of those phones haven’t been upgraded in more than three years, demand for Apple’s devices is still strong, in part because of those regular software upgrades. “The stickiness of the iPhone upgrade cycle is being underestimated,” he said.