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Apple to show off software (and maybe headset plans) at developer show

Apple to show off software (and maybe headset plans) at developer show

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For the first time in two years, Apple is hosting app makers in-person at its sprawling Cupertino campus to kick off its annual Worldwide Developer Conference today. But that’s not why people are paying such close attention this year.

Apple mainly uses its WWDC keynote address, which will be live-streamed at 1 p.m. Eastern (10 a.m. Pacific), to highlight new developments to the software that runs its iPhones, iPads, computers and smartwatches.

But as chatter about the metaverse continues to grow, many fans and industry observers also expect Apple to reveal that it is working on a “mixed-reality” headset — a kind of wearable display meant to blend digital objects and environments with your view of the real world.

Apple isn’t alone in exploring the benefits of mixed reality; Microsoft’s Windows 10 and 11 operating systems already support MR headsets and Facebook-owned Meta started teasing its powerful “Project Cambria” headset late last year. Even so, some view this new kind of product as crucial to a company that refreshes existing products more than it invents new ones.

“AR/VR technology will be a key broadening out of the Apple ecosystem as the company aggressively goes after the metaverse opportunity with Apple Glass,” wrote Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, in an investor note.

A surprise hardware reveal at a software show wouldn’t necessarily be out of character for Apple. The company has routinely used WWDC to reveal new gadgetry for the first time, although a steady stream of leaks has made true surprises hard to come by for many years.

In 2017, attendees got an early peek at the Siri-powered HomePod, a premium smart home speaker that struggled to catch on but begot a cheap spinoff. Two years after that, Apple revealed the expensive Mac Pro, a high-powered workstation that bore a passing resemblance to a cheese grater on wheels.

Apple observers think the chances of glimpsing a wearable display during the course of Monday’s keynote is unlikely. A Bloomberg report published earlier this year suggested that the company would likely push back the official reveal of the headset until later in 2022, if not the following year. More recently, Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst with TF International Securities with a record of accurate Apple predictions, cast doubt on the notion of a headset reveal at WWDC on Twitter.

“I’m sure that if Apple announces AR/MR headset and its OS at WWDC, competitors will immediately kick off copycat projects and happily copy Apple’s excellent ideas, and hit the store shelves before Apple launches in 2023,” he wrote.

Apple declined to comment on its product plans.

While it’s possible the company will discuss the software that eventually powers this new device, Apple will probably stick to the bread and butter of its conference keynotes: new software feature announcements for the rest of its products.

iOS, which powers the company’s iPhones, is expected to contain multiple new features, including new accessibility tools Apple publicly described last month. Meanwhile, iPads may be in for some more foundational changes.

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One report claims that the new version of iPadOS will give Apple’s tablets more flexibility in the way they display multiple running apps. Such a feature could make iPads more capable replacements for traditional computers, though Samsung’s smartphones and tablets already have an edge there.

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Additional announcements expected at the show include an improved power saving feature for the Apple Watch meant to extend its battery life, as reported by Bloomberg, as well as more sophisticated heart monitoring tools for the wearable. The software that powers Apple’s tiny set-top box and personal computers also regularly gets its moments in the spotlight, though it’s not yet clear what new features will be included.

And maybe, just maybe, Apple will have hardware to announce, after all. Reports suggest the company plans to follow up on last year’s well-received line of MacBook Pros with an updated version of its popular MacBook Air laptop.

We’ll be updating this story as the live Apple event unfolds.

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