The Apple of things: 8 reasons it’s all about the machines at WWDC

6 Jun 2017

Press catch a first glimpse of the new Apple HomePod. Image: Apple

Apple has made its boldest play to take on the internet of things, virtual reality and artificial intelligence worlds yet.

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2017 wasn’t just about the software or the hardware. It was a statement of intent for the future of computing.

“We’re going to take the world’s best and most advanced operating system and turn it up to 11,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook at his WWDC keynote yesterday.

While Apple traditionally keeps its best reveals for the autumn – such as the launch of its next iPhone – you get the sneaking suspicion that the company is revealing more hardware now to create more room for a launch focused on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) later this year.

In essence, WWDC is usually all about the software, but this year Apple gave sneak peeks into a world of invisible audio interfaces with its new HomePod speaker, as well as an array of hardware and software optimised for people who create VR, AR and AI-based experiences.

Here’s what we learned:

Apple gave a sneak peek of its new HomePod

The Apple of things: 8 reasons it’s all about the machines at WWDC

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, revealing the new HomePod. Image: Apple

As we reported last week, Apple is taking on Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home with a new artificial intelligence (AI) speaker system it calls HomePod. The platform is taking Apple’s lead in digital music and combining it with Siri. Designed for voice control with an array of six microphones – so users can give instructions even while loud music is playing – users can interact with the platform and inform it of their music preferences.

The device comes with an Apple-designed A8 chip and has room-sensing technology to optimise audio. It will be available from December in the US, with white and grey models retailing at $349.

“HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a beautiful speaker that is less than 7-in tall, can rock ’most any room with distortion-free music and be a helpful assistant around your home,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing.

AR comes to the iPhone and iPad with iOS 11

Say hello, dear world, to ARKit. Yes, Apple is introducing a new platform for developers to bring high-quality AR experiences to the iPhone and iPad, combining the camera, processors and motion sensors to create interactive gaming, immersive shopping and industrial design.

“With iOS 11, we’re delivering the biggest AR platform in the world, and it’s available today for developers to begin building AR experiences using ARKit for hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering. “iOS 11 gives iPad users the powerful app functionality they need to take advantage of everything iPad is capable of, and brings hundreds of new features and incredible updates to the iOS apps iPhone and iPad users enjoy every day.”

The newest macOS comes with powerful machine learning and VR capabilities

The Apple of things: 8 reasons it’s all about the machines at WWDC

Attendees check out VR experiences on the new iMac Pro. Image: Apple

Apple’s newest macOS High Sierra comes with support for VR content creation for the first time, and major platforms are already on board. Valve is optimising its SteamVR platform for macOS and enabling connection of the HTC Vive headset, while Unity and Epic are bringing their VR development tools to macOS. Also, later this year, Final Cut Pro X will add support for professional 360-degree workflows with the ability to import, edit and export 360-degree video.

Not only that, but macOS High Sierra comes with a new Apple file system optimised for massive storage technologies, and Metal, which adds support for machine learning used in speech recognition and computer vision. The new OS comes with support for HEVC (H.265), which enables video streaming and playback of 4K video files on the new iMac and MacBook Pro.

Internet of watches – new watchOS 4 integrates with gym equipment

At WWDC, Apple previewed its new watch operating system, watchOS 4, which comes with GymKit, a new platform that enables connected workouts with cardio equipment. The new operating system also comes with a new Siri watch face, which updates information on the display – such as news, alarms, calendars, and Wallet – with every raise of the wrist. Apple also revealed it is targeting the kiddie market with new Toy Story watch faces, as well as new summer band colours. Another nifty feature will be person-to-person (P2P) payments within messages or using Siri. The free watchOS 4 update is coming in the autumn.

Apple is going to prevent you receiving text messages while driving

Apple also unveiled a new iPhone feature at WWDC that will possibly save lives. The new feature, “Do Not Disturb While Driving” will be part of the forthcoming iOS 11 operating system. If the iPhone is connected to a car using Bluetooth or cable, or if the car is moving, the phone will withhold notifications to avoid distracting the driver. If someone texts you while you’re driving the phone will respond with an automatic messaging telling them you are driving and can’t respond right now.

New iPads show Apple isn’t giving up the ghost on tablet devices

The Apple of things: 8 reasons it’s all about the machines at WWDC

Attendees try out the new ARKit, bringing high-quality AR experiences to iPhone and iPad. Image: Apple

WWDC is usually all about the software but Apple didn’t shy away from bringing out new hardware. The company revealed a new 10.5in iPad Pro, as well as a new 12.9in model boasting the new A10X Fusion chip. The 10.5in model reduces borders by 40pc and weighs just one pound.

The iPad Pro models will come with a new display technology called ProMotion, which delivers refresh rates up to 120Hz for fluid scrolling and greater responsiveness. It also apparently reduces power consumption by adjusting display refresh rates, and makes Apple Pencil even more responsive. The key here appears to be productivity, and the new iOS 11 operating system will come with a new customisable dock for access to frequently used apps and documents, improved multitasking and a new files app that keeps everything in one place, whether files are stored locally, in iCloud, or on Box or Dropbox. The new iPad features in iOS 11 also include deeper integration with Apple Pencil, such as the ability to annotate PDFs or draw on screenshots.

New workstation machine iMac Pro is designed for the VR and AI professional

The Apple of things: 8 reasons it’s all about the machines at WWDC

Apple executive John Ternus gives a sneak peek of the all-new iMac Pro. Image: Apple

Yes, you read that correctly: workstations are still a thing. Last night, Apple gave a sneak peek of iMac Pro, a workstation-class product line for professionals in demanding roles. The new iMac Pro comes with a 27in Retina 5K display, powered by up to 18-core Xeon processors and 22 teraflops of graphics computation. It also boasts a new thermal design that enables 80pc more cooling capacity than its predecessors.

As well as this, the workstation comes with the new Radeon Pro Vega GPU, which Apple claims is the most advanced graphics processor to feature inside a Mac, enabling real-time 3D rendering and immersive, high frame rate VR, as well as precision computation for machine learning. The iMac Pro is scheduled to ship in December starting at $4,999.

New MacBook and MacBook Pro machines

Apple’s newest MacBook and MacBook Pro machines have been bulked up with faster processing power, and the new machines are available to order immediately. The MacBook features a faster 1.3GHz Core i7 Intel Kaby Lake processor that supports twice the memory. The updated 13in MacBook Pro features Kaby Lake processors up to 3.5 GHz Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.0 GHz, and the 15in MacBook Pro goes up to 3.1 GHz Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.1 GHz.

Apple updated the 13in MacBook Air with a 1.8 GHz processor.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years