It’s time for Apple to surprise us again, and the pressure is on the tech giant as it preps for its annual developers conference.
The Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, historically has been the place where Apple shows off its new software and occasionally some hardware updates. This year, however, Apple watchers believe there could be a number of product announcements — perhaps including a new product line, with a new smart speaker.
Analysts are definitely expecting updates about iOS 11, Apple’s mobile operating system. A revamp of Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, is the most-expected new feature on the smartphone front. Analysts expect that the company will make it much easier for developers to build their own commands for Siri, as they apply best to their apps. Apple is also rumored to be working on a “dark mode” for iOS, which would present a darker version of the iOS layout — a move that could conserve the iPhone's battery, if Apple switches to an OLED screen for its next generation of smartphones.
Consumers should also expect to see small updates to Apple's operating systems for the Mac, Apple TV and Apple Watch.
On the hardware front, reports indicate that Apple could be prepping refreshes of iPads and MacBooks — two products that are due for upgrades. The company skipped its normal spring product launch event this year, so it would make sense for the company to announce an update to the iPad Pro, a competitor to the Microsoft Surface, as well as its laptops.
But the prospect of a completely new Apple product, combined with a more useful Siri, is the most anticipated possibility for analysts and Apple fans. The speaker, which would compete with Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo, is expected to be focused on good sound quality. The speaker is expected to be able to optimize the sound quality to fit whatever room it's in, according to a report from Bloomberg News, which would take some hassle out of a home audio setup. Focusing on audio quality underscores Apple’s strengths in music and could set it apart from the pack for consumers looking for a reason to buy a home hub.
(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)
And standing out is of critical importance to the company. Apple is a very successful company, but it’s also a firm that trades on its reputation for innovation. Looking at products over the past couple of years, it seems like Apple is lagging behind. Google, Amazon and even Apple’s historic rival, Microsoft, have all impressed consumers with products in new categories, fresh takes on old products and interesting experiments with new software. The firm’s top competitors talk about moving beyond being mobile-first and into new areas, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and automation.
Apple, for its part, hasn’t produced as much wow factor when it comes to showing what's next for tech. The Apple Watch is the company’s most innovative product of the past few years, and its growth has been steady but slow.
Apple doesn’t have to necessarily be ahead of the curve — its most successful products have come from polishing and repackaging good ideas. Apple, with its retail stores, could easily jump in and compete with Amazon and particularly Google, which has had trouble distributing its hardware in the past.
But Apple can’t wait too long. There are concerns about sinking iPhone sales and its ability to recover — even with a successful launch of its next iPhone, which is expected to sell very well thanks to pent-up demand for a truly innovative iPhone.
On Sunday night, Pacific Crest Securities became the latest firm to downgrade Apple’s stock, citing unease about whether it can continue to deliver more value than its peers. Apple’s reliance on the iPhone, analysts from the firm said, has become indispensable for a lot of people, but Apple itself is no longer driving the way that it’s used.
“We believe both the importance of smartphone brand and consumers' perception of value in incremental smartphone innovation have declined in recent years,” Pacific Crest analysts said in a note to investors. “Further, consumers now spend the vast majority of time on iPhones using services from third-parties, including Google, Facebook, and Tencent.”