WWDC Hardware

WWDC has been, for most of its run, a software show. Numerous new versions of macOS have first appeared there over the years, and summer iOS announcements settled into place once the iPhone 4S introduced the era of fall iPhone hardware releases.

That’s not to say Apple has not done hardware at WWDC since. However, hardware releases at the conference need to either serve the software story, or fit with the developer-heavy audience.

Examples of the former are hard to come by in the modern age. My favorite example from before the iPhone 4S-inspired calendar shift may be the Intel Developer Transition Kit, which prepared developers for the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors. It was introduced as part of the Intel announcement at WWDC 2005, and Intel Macs started rolling out just a handful of months later.

The biggest hardware announcement at WWDC in the recent era has to be the original MacBook Pro with Retina display. It checked both boxes; software developers had to prepare their Mac apps, and the hardware was well-suited to power users.

That brings us to tomorrow’s keynote. There are rumors of refreshed MacBook Pros, which would please power users who have felt neglected in recent years. That always-rumored-but-never-released 10.5″ iPad Pro would be a great way to showcase new iOS 11 iPad goodies, and appeal to the pro iPad users in the crowd.

Then there’s the Siri Speaker. The timing of this is very interesting to me.

Apple could pre-announce it at WWDC, and ship it in the coming weeks or months. If it comes with SiriKit support, and if Apple expands that in iOS 11, does it make sense to launch it now with SiriKit being limited to such a small handful of app categories in iOS 10?1

Rumors say that the thing may already be in production. If that’s true, I expect the initial emphasis won’t be on apps as much as it is on things like Apple Music and overall sound quality. That may help keep the Siri Speaker out of the same “what is this supposed to do for me” rut that the Apple Watch fell into after launch.

If Apple announces the Siri Speaker, regardless of a ship date, it would mark the return of meaningful hardware announcements to the WWDC stage. That is always fun.

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Siri Speaker being like the Apple Watch: tethered to a single iPhone where the real computing happens. I can see why Apple would do that. It would let SiriKit apps run as extensions (again, like the Watch) without much configuration needed by the user. However, these devices are best used in a place like the kitchen, where multiple user support is important. Amazon isn’t doing anything there, and Google has just really dipped its toe in the water. What if the Siri Speaker could know who is talking, and load up the right stuff based on voice? App extensions from a single iPhone wouldn’t scale to something like that. I’m probably being too hopeful.