Is Apple building a Siri speaker? We might find out this week
Apple's annual developer conference kicks off on Monday. It's the time of year where the world's biggest technology company touts new software and teases new hardware ahead of its big product launches in the fall.
In previous years, Apple has introduced next generation operating systems for its computers, tablets, and phones; unveiled new services such as Apple Music; and announced redesigned Mac computers and accessories. And while it's rare that Apple unveils entirely new products at its World Wide Developer Conference, or WWDC, rumour has it there might be an exception this year.
Here are some of the things we're likely to see, and few that are likely to sit out Monday's keynote:
- Siri goes standalone. It's been rumoured over the past few months that Apple is preparing to announce its own smart speaker — a voice-controlled, internet-connected competitor to Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Microsoft Cortana. The speaker would leverage Apple's personal assistant Siri, which has thus far only existed as a feature on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, rather than as a standalone device. Bloomberg reported late last month that the device has already entered production, and will ship later this year.
- Updates to MacOS, iOS, and more. WWDC is usually when Apple offers a glimpse at the next version of its Mac and iPhone operating systems, and all the new features contained therein. The idea is that developers will have the next few months to build software that takes advantage of newly announced features, and ensure that existing apps work correctly on the new operating systems. And given all the different products that Apple now makes, it's also a safe bet we'll hear about software updates for the Apple TV, Apple Watch, and its in-car dashboard CarPlay as well.
- New Macs. Hand-in-hand with the usual software updates, rumour has it we can expect new Mac laptops, too — specifically, upgraded versions of its existing MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.
- iPhone 8. Sorry, but you're probably going to have to wait until the fall for this one. That's when Apple typically does its big iPhone reveals — and it'll likely be given its own event, as it's the iPhone's tenth anniversary, too.
- HealthKit and the Apple Watch. Apple believes that devices like the iPhone and Apple Watch have the potential revolutionize the way we think about health — thanks, in part, to the data these devices can track and collect (whether you agree with that vision or not is another matter). Last month Apple acquired a sleep tracking startup called Beddit, and there have been rumours that Apple is looking to expand the health-tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch with additional non-invasive wearable sensors. CNBC has reported that at least one of those sensors could track glucose levels for diabetics, and that Apple has added additional biomedical experts to its team. It's possible that Apple could announce updates to HealthKit — the software it uses to track such data — to reflect some of its recent efforts.
- HomeKit. Apple has been trying to make the iPhone an integral part of the connected home, pushing its HomeKit platform as the glue connecting everything from smart light bulbs to internet-connected thermostats together. With myriad competing connected devices, some have called Apple's unifying attempts lacklustre. But if Apple introduces a Siri Speaker — which would almost certainly let users control home appliances with their voice — HomeKit will play an important part. If that's the case, expect updates here, too.
- Artificial intelligence. For the past few years Apple has been busy integrating machine learning into many of its products — but it's only over the past year or so that the company has been more open about its efforts. Apple hired well-known researcher Russ Salakhutdinov from Carnegie Mellon University last fall as its director of AI research. And earlier this year, Apple was said to be developing its own chips to handle tasks such as graphics processing and artificial intelligence — the latter, underpinning technologies such as speech and facial recognition. Competitors such as Facebook and Google have been more than happy to talk about how AI is baked into their products, and have offered up their tools for developers to use. Apple could begin to do the same.
- The moon shots. Self-driving cars? Apple has been spotted testing a sensor-laden Lexus around Silicon Valley. Satellites? Apple snapped up a few big-name satellite industry executives earlier this year, who had previously worked on delivering broadband satellite internet. Augmented reality? There have been rumours that Apple is working on its own pair of digital glasses — Tim Cook has called AR "a big idea, like the smartphone" — and the company also hired multiple industry experts in recent months. Will we actually hear about any of these at the keynote? Probably not. These efforts are probably too far from production for a WWDC reveal. But you never know.