What all that success and maturity breeds, though, is a sense that Apple’s software is… finished — or at least very close. Over the last couple of years, the company’s software announcements at WWDC have been almost exclusively iterative and additive, with few big swings. Last year’s big iOS announcements, for instance, were some quality-of-life improvements to FaceTime and some new kinds of ID that work in Apple Wallet. Otherwise, Apple mostly just rolled out new settings menus: new controls for notifications, Focus mode settings, privacy tools — that sort of thing.
Apple must demonstrate what a world without cellphones looks like. Apple’s software is, in general, excellent. Even though Apple’s attention has shifted to a wider range of platforms than ever before — macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and whatever software it’s developing for its possibly-coming-someday automobile and almost-certainly-coming-soon AR/VR headset — those platforms have remained good. It’s been a while since we’ve seen an Apple Maps-style disaster; these days, Apple’s biggest blunders are more along the lines of placing the Safari URL bar on the wrong side of the screen.
This is not a bad thing! Neither is the fact that Apple is the best fast-follower in the software business, remarkably quick to adapt and polish everybody else’s new ideas about software. Apple’s devices are as feature-filled, long-lasting, stable, and usable as anything you’ll find anywhere. Too many companies try to reinvent everything all the time for no reason and end up creating problems where they didn’t exist. Apple is nothing if not a ruthlessly efficient machine, and that machine is hard at work honing every pixel its devices create.
Apple has been showing off AR for years, of course. But all it’s shown are demos, things you can see or do on the other side of the camera. We’ve seen very little from the company about how it thinks AR devices are going to work and how we’re going to use them. The company that loves raving about its input devices is going to need a few new ones and a new software paradigm to match. That’s what we’re going to see this year at WWDC.
But we’re at an inflection point in technology that will demand more from Apple. It’s now fairly clear that AR and VR are Apple’s next big thing, the next supposedly earth-shakingly huge industry after the smartphone. Apple’s not likely to show off a headset at WWDC, but as augmented and virtual reality come to more of our lives, everything about how we experience and interact with technology is going to have to change.
Remember last year, when Apple showed that you could take a picture of a piece of paper with your iPhone and it would automatically scan and recognize any text on the page? Live Text is an AR feature through and through: it’s a way of using your phone’s camera and AI to understand and catalog information in the real world. The whole tech industry thinks that’s the future — that’s what Google’s doing with Maps and Lens and what Snapchat is doing with its lenses and filters. Apple needs a lot more where Live Text came from.