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It’s that time of year again—the time when Apple starts laying the groundwork for its annual Worldwide Developers Conference—and this year it looks like the Cupertino tech giant has decided to be more proactive in the face of the ongoing global health pandemic.
Of course, to be fair, the entire onset of the novel coronavirus last spring caught almost everyone by surprise, including Apple, so it’s fair to say that it not only had to decide what to do about it, but it also needed to figure out how to do it. The result was that last year’s WWDC 2020 announcements unfolded much more gradually.
The status of WWDC 2020 was already in doubt in early March last year, even before Apple began closing all of its stores around the world. Around the same time it made that decision, however, it also announced an “all-new online format” for its developers conference. It was an announcement that was long on the kind of optimism that’s typical of Apple, but sadly short on many details.
Apple’s Phil Schiller, who was at the time still serving as Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing before being elevated to Apple Fellow last summer, promised that it would “deliver a full program” for the developer community, but not much else other than that we would hear more details “in the weeks ahead.”
To be honest, it did leave us questioning whether Apple would be able to pull it off, especially after others like Google and Facebook decided to throw in the towel on even attempting online versions of their developer conferences. However, despite the doubts and uncertainty, pull it off they did, although it wasn’t until early May that we began to find out more, including the fact that it was effectively going to be “Shot on iPhone.”
This Year’s WWDC
Since that time, Apple has had lots of practice running virtual events, with not only its WWDC 2020 keynote, but also three fall events that saw the launch of the Apple Watch Series 6 and SE and new iPads, the iPhone 12 lineup (and HomePod mini), and Apple’s insanely powerful new M1 Macs.
These events were wildly successful and well-received by media and Apple fans alike. The virtual format ended up being a breath of fresh air by allowing a much more diverse look and feel than just a presenter standing on a stage, and the events also ran shorter than the usual in-person ones, since Apple didn’t have to pack as much into a single event.
So, this time around, Apple isn’t hesitating for even one moment to do the same with WWDC 2021, hinting that it’s something that could continue even after the need for social distancing and lockdowns have come to an end.
Apple shared the news this morning, more or less on cue with the normal timeframe for its WWDC announcements in the pre-COVID era, and it’s also returning to the normal timeframe for the event as well. Last year’s WWDC didn’t run until June 22nd, likely to give Apple and its teams extra time to prepare for the new format. Now that they’ve clearly got it all figured out, however, WWDC21 is once again going to land on its traditional date of the first Monday in June — which means June 7, 2021 this year.
The biggest advantage of the new online format last year is that it allowed an unprecedented number of developers to participate in a whole new way. By necessity, attendance at a physical event has to be limited, plus there are registration fees and travel expenses that many developers can’t afford. However, an online conference suffers from none of these limitations.
In fact, last year Apple chose to make WWDC20 free of charge for all developers, which resulted in record-breaking participation, and so it’s doing the same this year.
Apple promises that this year’s conference will once again include all the usual events, such as the keynote and State of the Union addresses, online sessions, and one-on-one labs, while also promising “new ways for developers to interact with Apple engineers and designers.”
Swift Student Challenge
Apple is also once again running its Swift Student Challenge, which invites aspiring coders to create an interactive scene in a Swift playground.
The task is basically the same as it was last year, requiring younger developers to create an interactive scene that can be experienced within three minutes, with their own graphics, audio, and other elements.
Submissions will run from today until April 18 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, and winning participants will receive prizes such as exclusive WWDC outerwear, a customized pin set, and a one-year membership to the Apple Developer Program.
Apple’s Developer app has also received a pretty big update to go along with the WWDC21 announcement and prepare developers for the event.
The updated app now includes a new Discover tab experience that will allow users to browse content more easily on the larger displays of the iPad and Mac, along with iPadOS 14 sidebars to help navigate content and improvements to search.
The Apple Developer app, formerly known as the WWDC app, is expected to be core to the overall WWDC21 experience, and it’s likely the first place that you’ll be able to find more details about the event as they become available.
What’s Coming at WWDC?
Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is where the company traditionally unveils all of its new operating systems, so it’s a safe bet that we’re going to see iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, tvOS 15, and the next version of macOS — likely to be called “macOS 12” after Apple dropped the 10.x series numbers and dialled things up to 11 with Big Sur last year. The name, however, is still anybody’s guess.
Beyond software updates, though, it’s really hard to predict right now with any certainty what else Apple may choose to unveil. WWDC is of course a developer-focused event, so new product announcements are rare, but they’re also not unheard of.
In fact, until 2010, Apple used to unveil each year’s new iPhone at WWDC, and other past conferences since then have seen new Macs, the second generation of iPad Pro devices, and the HomePod mini, to name just a few.
So, with so much in the pipeline this year, there might be something special arriving at WWDC, but with Apple getting more comfortable with virtual events, we’d actually bet against seeing any new hardware.
In the past, Apple has announced new products at WWDC because it was already standing on stage anyway, but this time around, it could much more easily hold a standalone virtual event if it had something big enough to need stage time. Plus, there’s already very likely an Apple event waiting in the wings, where we’re expecting to see Apple unveil AirTags and its Find My Network and a new iPad Pro.
After all, with everything Apple has been packing into its software updates lately, it’s safe to say that it’s going to have enough to talk about just with iOS 15, much less watchOS 8 and macOS 12.