Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) just kicked off its WWDC 2017 developer conference, and as usual there were a few product announcements during the opening keynote. Being a developer conference, updates to Apple's major software platforms were table stakes as the company outlined the next iterations of macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. There were also a handful of notable hardware announcements, the details of which had mostly leaked ahead of time.
Here are the six biggest announcements from this morning.
In terms of spec bumps, Apple refreshed the iMac, MacBook Pro, and 12-inch MacBook. All of these Macs are getting bumped up to the latest seventh-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel Core chips. The iMac got more than just processor updates though, receiving better displays. The 21.5-inch 4K model is also getting discrete AMD graphics instead of integrated Intel graphics. Apple is now adding USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3 to the 27-inch iMac.
The new iMac Pro
A couple months back, Apple made a rare admission that the Mac Pro suffered from some design flaws, specifically around the thermal management system. At the time, Apple suggested that it would create a much more powerful version of the iMac, since many creative professionals were increasingly turning to high-end iMacs.
Apple provided a sneak peek of the forthcoming iMac Pro, which will ship in Space Gray alongside a new set of accessories bearing the same color. In line with prior reports, the new iMac Pro uses a powerful Intel Xeon processor, and comes in eight-core, 10-core, or 18-core configurations. Despite using the same overall design, the new iMac Pro will use a new thermal architecture that can handle an 80% increase in cooling capacity. These desktops use AMD Radeon Pro Vega graphics, and also have four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports to connect professional peripherals.
iMac Pro will set you back quite a bit, as it starts at $4,999 and ships in December.
10.5-inch iPad Pro
The company updated the iPad Pro lineup, which now includes a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro. By slimming down the bezels, Apple is squeezing a larger display into a chassis comparable to the outgoing 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The new model is modestly taller and thicker, but still weighs just 1 pound.
Both the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch model are getting upgraded displays that are brighter, featuring a wider color gamut and a higher refresh rate (120 Hz) that can dynamically adjust based on the task at hand in order to improve energy efficiency and battery life. Inside, you'll find a new A10X Fusion chip that includes a six-core CPU (three high-power and three high-efficiency) and a 12-core GPU.
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro starts at $649 (compared to the $599 that the outgoing 9.7-inch iPad Pro started at) and ships immediately.
Peer-to-peer Apple Pay
Apple has been reportedly working on a version of Apple Pay that would allow you to pay your friends. The company had initially skipped peer-to-peer (P2P) payments due to regulatory considerations, but it was an obvious opportunity for expansion. Apple Pay is getting a P2P option in iOS 11, which will be integrated into Messages. That's pretty similar to the approach that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has taken with P2P payments, integrating the service into Messenger.
In line with rumors, the new P2P version will come with a type of digital debit card that stores funds, which Apple calls an Apple Pay cash card. Users can store funds in the Apple Pay cash card, send and receive funds, pay for purchases, or transfer funds to external bank accounts. Of course, all payments must be securely authenticated with Touch ID. Jumping into P2P payments is a pretty clear shot at Facebook, as well as PayPal and its subsidiary Venmo.
Building a foundation for augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) is here to stay, and Apple has now officially unveiled its developer tools to build an AR platform. Apple's new ARKit is similar to what Microsoft is doing with HoloLens, starting with the ability to project virtual objects onto real environments using the camera.
In April, Facebook said it was "making the camera the first augmented reality platform" at its own F8 developer conference. That title is arguable, but Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that once iOS 11 is released later this year onto hundreds of millions of iOS devices, Apple will have the largest AR platform following a simple software update. Cook has been talking up AR for over a year, so this should come as no surprise. Importantly, this can give Apple a content foundation for its inevitable introduction of an AR headset or AR glasses.
The Siri-powered speaker is called HomePod
Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo has been a huge hit, and the e-commerce giant continues to enjoy a first-mover advantage in virtual-assistant-powered stationary speakers. That success naturally provokes a competitive response, and Apple's answer is the awkwardly named HomePod, which it hopes will "reinvent" home audio. The overall design is fairly uninspiring -- it looks like a nondescript marshmallow:
The HomePod is powered by an Apple A8 chip and uses a seven-tweeter array and six-microphone array. It expectedly integrates with Apple Music, which is an advantage since Apple has a stronger position than Amazon in music streaming. Siri is the main voice-driven interface, and can do pretty much all the basic tasks you expect. What HomePod lacks are meaningful third-party integrations, which is largely what Echo has to thank for its success; Alexa now has over 10,000 third-party Skills. HomePod will support HomeKit-enabled devices, but Apple's smart home ecosystem is a bit lacking at the moment overall.
HomePod will start at $349 (a notable premium compared to Amazon) and also ship in December.
That's it for now
There was plenty of other news, too. watchOS 4 will include a few new watch faces, included a predictive one powered by Siri. tvOS is finally getting Amazon Prime video after a yearslong standoff between the companies. iOS 11 focuses very heavily on improving productivity on the iPad, including new ways to multitask and a new file management system. The Mac maker continues to push forward with its Metal graphics technology, adding features specifically targeting virtual reality (VR) capabilities.
Overall, there were a slew of announcements to hold consumers and investors over until the iPhone event later this year.
Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and Facebook. Evan Niu, CFA has the following options: long January 2018 $120 calls on Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and PYPL. The Motley Fool recommends INTC. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.