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Apple at WWDC 2016: What's rumored, what we expect, what we'd like to see

CNET logo CNET 09-06-2016 Scott Stein

Josh Miller/CNET© Provided by CNET Josh Miller/CNET "Hey Siri: What's up with Apple?"

Apple's annual weeklong Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) kicks off June 13 in San Francisco with the standard big press conference. But don't expect any new hardware: Apple already released a smaller iPhone and iPad Pro in March, and the new iPhone 7 and Apple Watch won't hit until September at the earliest - possibly with new redesigned MacBook laptops in tow.

Instead, WWDC is all about the software that powers those devices. New features coming to iOS, OS X for Macs, as well as the underlying operating systems for Apple Watch and Apple TV. And the one thing that will tie everything together: Siri.

Siri

If it feels like Apple needs to play catchup on artificial intelligence, that's because it does. This is the Year of Smart Voice-Activated Assistants, and Cupertino's rivals are going all-in: Google, Facebook and Microsoft focused squarely on bots and AI during their developers conferences earlier this year, even as Amazon's Echo is the poster child for voice-activated assistants and smart-home automation.

Expect Apple to follow suit with Siri in a major revamp of the assistant's services. Apple will likely make a major push to show much Siri has grown, or will continue to grow, across all devices: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch...even a rumored belated debut on Mac.

What we expect: Reports have said Apple will debut its own Echo-competitor, a speaker that could be Beats-branded and might even have a face-recognizing camera. But it would be a shock to see an actual product at WWDC. Instead, expect a lot of discussion on how developers will tap into Siri with improved tools, including the possibility of a Siri SDK (software development kit). That would enable Siri to hook into third-party apps and services seamlessly, much like Amazon's Alexa already does.

What we want: Siri should always be listening across devices, and be better able to respond and do everything via voice. But, yes, we'd love to see an Apple Siri speaker-hub that hooks into everything in the home and connects seamlessly. And Apple devices should have greater awareness: if there are several devices nearby, they shouldn't all start speaking at once when we yell out "Hey, Siri."

iOS 10: iPhones, iPads

What we expect: There isn't a lot of wild speculating around the latest version of iOS. Besides Siri (see above), most improvements reported so far point to iCloud, Apple Music and Apple Pay. A long-overdue revamp of Apple Music's design and functions seems to be in the works. The same might be true for the App Store and Photos, which are both in need of functional improvements. iCloud security will likely be addressed, too. There could and should be extra, tablet-only added functions for the iPads, especially iPad Pro.

What we want: iPads should finally be allowed to feel like full computers. Let iOS for iPads keep blossoming into its own environment, and let iPhones be iPhones. It would also be nice if iOS gained some features from Android: the ability to pop up app-like experiences without downloading apps, or have an always-on display with more advanced notifications and widgets.

OS X: Macs

What we expect: Not a ton beyond Siri. Touch ID has been rumored for Macs for years, and while new MacBooks later this year could end up with Touch ID, Apple could instead make iPhones work as Touch ID enablers for Macs. Also, expect a name change. OS X is an outdated name for the operating system, and Apple will likely shift to Mac OS.

What we want: An iPad-meets-Mac hybrid computer, but that's obviously not going to be happening anytime soon. With newer Macs probably coming in the fall, and new accessories that work with USB-C, this show might not be all that Mac-intensive.

Watch OS: Apple Watch 

What to expect: The Apple Watch hasn't seen any formal Version 2 hardware yet after a year and a few months on the market, and a sequel probably won't arrive until the fall. But a new version of Watch OS should be previewed during the keynote, much like last year's WWDC. Watch OS third-party apps now need to function as native on-watch apps, but the next version of Watch OS could see further revamps in design and speed.

What we want: There's a lot that the Apple Watch could do better via software. Looking to Google's Android Wear 2.0 updates, a few good ideas come to mind: automatic activity tracking, improved message-response options, added watch faces. Apple never opened the Watch up to third-party watch faces, and it feels like an obvious and long-overdue idea. Also, while Apple Watch can be a semi-phone-free device over Wi-Fi, most apps still aren't as fully independent as they could be.

TV OS

What we expect: Maybe the magic door to the smart home is through Apple's little black box. Rumors indicated that the new Apple TV would be a HomeKit hub last year, and maybe now it's time for an unveiling of more of those functions. The Apple TV should finally get a deeper collection of functions that connect with iCloud and HomeKit. With HomeKit still lacking some partners and any sort of hub, Apple TV could be a centerpiece.

What we want: With an always-listening mike attached, Apple TV could be an Amazon Echo alternative. Or, Apple could incorporate more ways for the mike in the Apple TV remote to be used for a greater range of apps and services...and smarter on-TV Siri. At WWDC, at least, expect Apple TV to expand its reach a little more. Oh, and maybe Apple and Amazon could make peace and finally get the Amazon Prime video app on the box, too.

Many platforms to juggle

There could always be other surprises - maybe a mention of VR support in iOS 10, or new CarPlay features, or maybe a sneak peek at something coming in the fall. But Apple has two clear goals to set: proving that Apple's cloud and AI services can be as good as the competition, and getting multiple platforms to work well together. Last year saw the debut of many new app platforms and products; this year is about consolidation.

Apple's unique position as a hardware/software company has meant that its products already work better together than most (think iMessage, AirDrop, AirPlay and Continuity). But there's a lot more that can be done to make those inter-device relationships even more seamless, and to broaden their reach with a wider universe of accessories and third-party devices (CarPlay for cars; HomeKit for the smart home; ResearchKit for health). And making all of those voice-controlled through Siri may well be Apple's best short-term answer.

We'll be at WWDC covering it all live on Monday, June 13.

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