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WWDC 2021 preview: How to watch and what to expect — new MacBook Pro, AirPods, iOS 15 and more

WWDC 2021 invite image
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) starts today and once again the event is being held entirely online. While consumers are not the target for the five-day developer event there's of course plenty of interesting news regarding the updates to iOS, iPadOS, macOS and watchOS coming later in the year. 

Last year the big news was the transition to Apple Silicon and that would be difficult for Apple to top, but there will still be plenty of new software and perhaps hardware announcements at WWDC 2021. The latter would almost certainly be announced during the keynote today, but the former should continue all week with details on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS 12 and watchOS 8 during the developer sessions.

Here's a quick look at how to watch WWDC 2021 and some of the highlights we expect from the event. If you want to watch along with us you can tune into our WWDC 2021 keynote live blog and get our thoughts on the event as it happens. 

How to watch

Registered Apple developers can view and attend the full schedule of events, but for most people, the keynote will be enough. It begins at 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT on June 7 (today). As we've seen with all of Apple's recent events, it will be streamed live from Apple Park. The keynote is open for anyone to watch and you will be able to tune in from Apple’s website, the Apple Developer app, the Apple TV app, or YouTube. 

Following the keynote is the State of the Union, which will start at 2 p.m. PDT/5 p.m. EDT and will cover what’s coming to each of Apple’s platforms. This event and the rest of the streamed engineering sessions are limited to registered Apple developers who paid a $99 annual fee. We’ll be sure to bring you any particularly exciting news out of those sessions as well.

Apple MacBook Pro 14 inch 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

New hardware

While WWDC is about the developers, we do occasionally get some new hardware during the event and it looks like at least one new device could arrive at this year’s conference.

The oft-reliable Jon Prosser claims the new 14-inch MacBook Pro and/or 16-inch MacBook Pro will be announced at WWDC. Prosser merely said he could confirm they are coming, and nothing more, but you can read our full coverage for everything we know about both laptops. 

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It's a plausible announcement for WWDC for a couple of reasons. The first is that these are Apple's high-end laptops which are naturally the most popular among Apple developers. Second, they are rumored to include Apple's second-generation Apple Silicon, which may open up some new possibilities for macOS developers.

With that said, an article in Bloomberg by Mark Gurman, another reliable oracle for all things Apple did not even mention the MacBook at all, let alone new hardware coming at the event. This certainly casts doubt on the prediction, but we'll find out shortly which was correct.

While the MacBook Pros remain the most likely announcements, there are some added possibilities. A new, more powerful Mac Mini would presumably use the second-generation Apple Silicon chipset. In keeping with the Pro theme, we could also hear about a new Mac Pro. While it's likely to be the last Apple hardware to make the switch to Apple Silicon, the Mac Pro is supremely relevant to this audience.

Last up would be AirPods; Apple took some heat last week for its newly announced lossless music being unsupported by any current Apple headphones. Maybe Apple takes this chance to announce that it has new headphones arriving that do support the new feature. 

I'd stress that everything beyond the MacBook Pro models is a reach, but they are outside possibilities.

iPad Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

iPadOS 15

While it may not be the most popular of Apple's primary operating systems, perhaps the most intriguing software updates at WWDC are with iPadOS 15. This is due to the newly announced iPad Pros using the Apple M1 processor. The raw power of these tablets is just completely unnecessary for iPadOS but that could change with iPadOS 15. 

The iPad enjoys some multitasking and split-screen features that the iPhone lacks, but the longtime claim that it is "just a big iPhone" still rings true in some ways. At a minimum, we hope to see Apple take some additional strides in better utilizing the screen real estate of the iPad Pro models. There have been some rumors to this effect suggesting a home screen refresh will finally happen with more customizable widgets available.

Turning again to the Bloomberg report, Gurman claims that the company will implement improved multitasking, specifically running multiple apps at once, but didn't offer any specifics on what that will look like.

However, we fully expect to see Apple push further and continue to stress how these tablets can be legitimate laptop replacements, which is irrefutably true from a performance standpoint, but a bit harder sell when it comes to the current features.

iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

iOS 15

iOS 15 will share quite a bit of DNA with iPadOS 15, but here's a look at the current rumors for what to expect on the iPhone this fall.

There's some hope that we see further loosening of Apple's iron grip on default apps. While Safari and Mail can finally be replaced in iOS 14, the Music app failed to get the same treatment in iOS 14.5, and with Apple seeing continued pressure for some of its more monopolistic tactics in its trial with Epic Games, it seems plausible that this is a point they could concede.

Another feature we expect to see on the iPhone, as well as the iPad, is greater flexibility with widgets. PhoneArena reported that this would include the ability to reshape widgets to more distinct sizes and shapes.

Another new feature that could be exclusive to the iPhone 13 is a notification system for the rumored always-on display of the iPhone 13. According to some details shared with EverythingApplePro, this may include a persistent battery level and clock display along with temporary pop-ups for notifications.

The aforementioned Bloomberg report indicated that enhanced privacy features are also expected with in-depth details on everything being collected by third-party apps on your phone. Another new feature referenced in the report is the ability to set a status, such as "driving, sleeping, working or don't want to be disturbed" with specific rules for how notifications are handled for each.

macOS Big Sur review

(Image credit: Apple)

macOS 12

Rumor has it that macOS 12 is going to be a much more minor and stability-focused update after the major redesign of macOS Big Sur. Given the rumor, it's unsurprising that we have seen very few rumors regarding new functionality coming to the operating system.

macOS typically lags behind other operating systems; we don't expect it to be ready until November, which is a couple of months after the others. Hopefully, Apple will have some surprises in store for us with macOS 12.

Apple Watch Series 6 in Product Red on wrist

(Image credit: Apple)

watchOS 8

Much like macOS 12, we don't have a lot of information to go off of for watchOS 8. Based on some of the rumors regarding Apple Watch 7, we can infer that it may add support for blood glucose monitoring. We've also seen new watch faces in some of the leaks, but little else.

Apple finally appears to be getting some meaningful competition from Google again with Wear OS so here's hoping that lights a fire under them and we see some interesting new updates for Watch OS this year. Apple may be the front runner but in a lot of ways that is more damning of the competition than praise for the Apple Watch. Apple still has plenty of room to grow with watchOS with improvements to sleep tracking, more refined fitness tracking, longer battery life, and better controls.