Take a real close look at the image Apple has included with its virtual WWDC 2021 (alas, no in-person dev conference again this year). That is indeed a Memoji wearing glasses with app icons on their lenses.
Cue the “Apple AR glasses / headset confirmed” rumors, right? Not quite. While Apple has been known to hide teasers and Easter eggs in plain sight, this Memoji is also looking at a MacBook (a MacBook Air by the likes of its tapered edge). I’m not saying Apple won’t announce AR glasses / headset — it’s been rumored for years that Apple would unveil it as a “One more thing...” — but there’s sure to be announcements that will have a bigger impact.
WWDC is a software event — It’s a developer conference, which means new versions of Apple’s core software platforms — iOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS — will kick off the show. Last year, iOS 14 exceeded expectations with widgets and the App Library and macOS Big Sur revitalized the desktop OS with a much-needed fresh coat of pain. We’re not expecting major overhauls for iOS 15 or the next version of macOS, but more polishing.
If (and that’s a big if) Apple is planning to announce any AR glasses / headset anytime during its keynote on June 7, I don’t expect the hardware to be finalized. Every reputable report on the AR headset pegs a launch timeline for the device as 2022 or 2023. “It could ship as early as next year,” sources told The Information earlier this year. If that roadmap holds up, I’m willing to bet Apple shows a glimpse of the hardware but uses WWDC this year as a jumping point to get developers to start working on AR apps for the headset’s rumored “rOS” or Reality Operating System.
Apple has been building AR apps for years.
Apple has been building AR apps for years. Every version of ARKit has brought powerful new features like skeletal tracking and object occlusion. rOS would likely expand on the groundwork laid by AR on iOS. By the time the headset launches, everyone’s going to be looking for the “killer app.” It makes sense for Apple to get developer brains working on ideas so there’s a healthy collection of apps at launch to compensate if there’s no killer app. There’s still no killer third-party app for Apple Watch six years after launch and that’s okay because Apple’s core apps are strong on their own. But even a small collection of decent third-party apps for the AR headset will be better than nothing to start.
Hardware to expect — New iPads and AirTags are expected to come in April after the rumored March 23 event didn’t materialize. New MacBook Pros with next-gen Apple Silicon based on the M1 chip released in laptops last year are not expected until later this year. Same for third-gen AirPods that resemble AirPods Pro, but without ear tips and active noise-cancellation.
What hardware is Apple going to announce then? You can count iPhones out since those aren’t coming until the fall (back to September this year). I’m personally hoping for a new Apple TV with a redesigned Siri Remote. Maybe those rumored pastel-colored iMacs and Apple Silicon? Or maybe that smaller Mac Pro with Apple Silicon? One thing is for sure: the Mac is going to be The Platform to pay close attention to this year. Apple Silicon has been an absolute game changer and Intel could not be more terrified.
The AR headset — Everything available on Apple’s AR headset glasses suggests a lightweight device that will have a ton of cameras and dual 8K displays. The rumor mill literally throws out every possible AR and VR innovation out there, which has me extremely skeptical that Apple can deliver a product that won’t cost a small fortune. Current reports claim Apple’s not expecting the headset to sell in high volumes. (Think of it as an enthusiast device like the $6,000 Mac Pro). That feels very unlike Apple, since everyone will be clamoring for it. But who really knows? Nobody expected Apple to release a gold Apple Watch Edition that started at $10,000. It did and the Apple Watch has not suffered because of that foray into high-end luxury.
Whatever Apple announces, WWDC 2021 is gearing up to be one for the books. It sucks the event is virtual again, but until everyone’s vaccinated and the world returns to some semblance of normality, it’ll have to do. On the bright side, this editor can at least watch it in his PJs.