Kicking off WWDC (World Wide Developers’Conference), Apple’s annual event at Cupertino, CEO Tim Cook started by saying that we would now witness some of the most important announcements his company has made. Just as the iPhone had once been disruptive and transformative, there would now be something just as revolutionary. As the audience and watching world was soon to find out, the rumoured and later teased virtual reality headset was very real — and could quite possibly be transformative not too far into the future.
More Mac power
However, to begin with, the event keynote began with updates to Apple’s staple products. Since introducing its own chips, Apple has steadily completed the transition to its own silicone. Users have already been working with the M1 and M2 chips and experiencing greater power efficiency and battery life. And the sheer computing power. Now, the popular 13-inch MacBook Air is to be joined by a 15-inch version using the M2 chip. Apple claims there is no trade-off in performance or issues with heating. The battery life is 18 hours and the machine is faster, better, brighter, thinner, lighter, and quieter. It also has six speakers built in.
The Pro-level Macs, meant for heavy processing work such as movie editing, software development and so on get major updates with the M2 chip as well. Apple execs made constant references to how much more powerful than Intel-based machines the Macs now were, leaving the M1 machines significantly behind as well. Also announced was the M2 Ultra chip, which doubles the performance of M2 Macs, to be available on Macs.
Software for all WWDC is, despite all the hardware news at the keynote, primarily a software conference. What is upcoming later this year is iOS 17 and as ever this will bring new features to existing iPhones that are recent enough to support the upgrade. Typically, a full version upgrade brings several hundred changes, but some of the ones highlighted at the event were updates to the Phone app, FaceTime, and Messages. There are fun features to turn contacts into posters, putting voice mail up front on the Home Screen, swiping messages to reply, again from the Home Screen, and more sharing during FaceTime conversations including files and photos through AirDrop. There will be a new feature called Check-In that uses location to let a loved one know when one has reached home safely. Also, part of the bouquet of features to improve communication, IOS 17 brings better typing, predictive text, and autocorrect.
A new app called Journal is something Apple highlighted at the event. Using this, one can log one’s day, using text, photos, video, music, and more. The device will also throw up suggestions as it learns the user’s activities. This data will remain on-device and private but will allow the user to relive moments.
IOS 17 will also use a Stand By feature, which turns the Lock Screen into an always-on display like that found on Google Nest and Alexa Show. It will have live widgets with glanceable information and Siri available from there without a ‘Hey” as a prefix.
The Apple iPad, which the company considers its most versatile product, will also upgrade toiPadOS 17 and will see changes to the LockScreen as live widgets, screen effects, and customisable wallpapers make an appearance later this year. The information from the widgets will be live and interactive. Interestingly, the iPad will also get a new Health app, synced of course with the Watch and iPhone. This will let users see their health trends and activities on a bigger screen which will make it more user-friendly and usable. MacOS will also get widgets, moving towards a uniform interface across all the devices. This includes the Apple Watch and Apple TV. For business users, the TV will now allow Zoom and WebEx and calls.
The Apple Watch moves on to WatchOS 10w hich will now also have a new interface that looks more like the familiar one on the iPhone. You can add widgets of the tasks and apps you use frequently and track your activities. Several apps have been redesigned. As ever, there are new watch faces to add to the collection.
The Apple Watch has from the start been a health hub worn on the wrist. New health features will now include the hitherto neglected area of mental health. The Mindfulness app will take in emotion logging, privately. Any time the user chooses, the app can be opened up to label the way one is feeling. In time, one can note trends and try to identify reasons for feeling a particular way. Supportive content will also be presented. Whether this will really lead to a better sense of well-being or encourage an obsession with yet another measurement remains to be seen.
The watch will also, for the first time, focus on vision health and log parameters such as how much time is spent in daylight. The developers' beta for all these software platforms is to be available immediately.
Apple Vision Pro
With the staple devices and software has been presented, the anticipated VR/AR headset was finally introduced. The “One More Thing” tagline once used by Steve Jobs was invoked as Tim Cook announced that Apple was showcasing a revolutionary platform that would blend the real and digital worlds seamlessly. Referring to the platform as “spatial computing” Cook said this was a turning point for technology and the beginning of a new journey.
Specialists at Apple went on to demo the headset which has been many years in the making — how many, was not clarified. The device is exceedingly sleek looking and apparently very light. The front is made of a single piece of 3D glass and a lens. The glass is in a lightweight aluminum frame that has some buttons and a crown for control. The aluminum is flexible and fits the face. There is actually a full-fledged computer on the inside, comprising the M2 chip. Its straps are flexible as well and it has a 3D knitted band. For those who wear glasses, Apple has partnered with Zeiss to fit powered lenses in. The battery is in fact separate from the device and is carried in one’s pocket.
Vision Pro uses AR to place digital content in front of you, as if in your own physical space. You can scale these objects, making them larger than life. A photo can fill a whole wall, for example. A panorama can wrap around the room. A movie can be viewed as larger than a theatre. One interact with all objects and apps (some of them entirely familiar) using one’s voice, hand gestures, and eyes. Apps like Microsoft’s suite, browsers, Adobe apps, etc can be ‘placed’ in the room or space and arranged as the user likes - stacked, organised side by side, or all around - and a new form of multi-tasking would then take place.
The remarkable part is that other people in the space will not feel cut off from the person wearing the glasses as there is a representation of the user’s eyes and form that allows for two-way interaction. So, unlike with other virtual reality headsets, there is no need to always be cut off from surroundings unless there is something immersive such as games or movies involved in which case others will be able to spot the user’s-unavailability, so to speak. Vision Pro also has speakers that apparently let the user listen to sounds coming from all around. The user will see everything is in extremely high resolution, more than that of a 4K television, and in fact, fits 64 pixels where the iPhone fits one.
The device also uses a 3D camera which was described at the keynote as ‘magical’. The depth of the video you can see with this lets you peer back into that memory and more or less re-experience them. For example, you could sit down next to your children (virtually) and watch while they do something you filmed with them as if close enough to touch. Disney announced at the event that Disney Live will be immediately available on the Pro Vision.
The Apple Pro Vision headset is expensive. It will start out costing $3,499 in the US and will only be available there early next year. Only much later will it make its way to other countries. At present, there is no word on whether it will come to India in the near future.