Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) next week, beginning with a big keynote speech at 10 a.m. PDT on the morning of June 4. This event, a five-day conference at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California, focuses on developers and the changes in Apple's software that will affect their work. Apple's other big annual event typically occurs in September and focuses on the unveiling of new iPhones and Apple Watches.
Often Apple executives also take time during WWDC to update people on certain new services and products outside of smartphones and smartwatches. For example, last year Apple unveiled its HomePod smart speaker, the iPad Pro 10.5, updates to the MacBook line, updates to the iMac line, and an all-new iMac Pro.
If you attend or tune in to the conference starting Monday, here are three things to look for.
1. New software: iOS 12, MacOS, and WatchOS 5
Apple's upcoming releases of iOS and MacOS are usually front and center at the WWDC. After the conference, Apple will typically release beta versions for developers to start looking at so they can prepare for the software's wide release later in the year.
This year's software updates are expected to focus more on perfecting certain old features rather than releasing all-new features. However, one exciting thing is that Apple may finally start letting developers control the near-field communication (NFC) chip inside the iPhone for uses outside of Apple Pay, according to a recent report from The Information. This could be huge for developers, who could use it to make public-transit payments or to unlock smart locks, CNBC reports.
Apple is expected to announce improvements on its ARKit software, such as allowing for multiplayer mode in augmented reality games. The 3D shapes on this year's WWDC invitation were a clever hint that Apple was hoping to give ARKit some special attention this year.
As for WatchOS 5, Apple is expected to push its Apple Watches more into the realm of health and fitness trackers. This could be done by adding more activities for them to track, like yoga. Apple might also announce some sleep-tracking features, considering it purchased sleep-tracking hardware company Beddit in May 2017.
2. Updates on Siri improvements
It's no secret that Siri's capabilities have fallen noticeably behind those of Google Assistant, from Alphabet's Google, and the Alexa voice assistant, from Amazon. At this point, the lag has become the elephant in the room, and Apple is under pressure to address how it will remedy the issue.
Siri has a harder time understanding and following commands, or answering follow-up questions, than Alexa or Google Assistant. Siri is also more limited in terms of the third-party apps that it can work with.
For example, Apple's HomePod doesn't work well with Spotify. If you want to use voice commands to ask the HomePod to play music, you must have a $9.99-per-month Apple Music subscription. Otherwise, you can use AirPlay to manually stream Spotify from an Apple device to the HomePod, but then you might as well have a normal Bluetooth speaker rather than a smart speaker. This is important because Spotify has over 75 million paying subscribers who are currently better off using an Amazon Echo or Google Home, both of which work seamlessly with third-party apps.
Apple gave a sign that it was taking the criticism of Siri seriously in April when it hired John Giannandrea, former head of artificial intelligence at Google, to run its own machine-learning and AI efforts. It's also been beefing up Siri's team, considering that 161 of Apple's open job descriptions in late March contained the word "Siri." So developers will be looking for Apple to speak on any improvements it has already made or is in the process of making to Siri.
3. New product announcements
While WWDC is focused on software, Apple tends to slip in some hardware announcements too. The big iPhone-unveiling event won't come until September, but Apple has plenty of other products it could provide some information about.
This year, the MacBook Pro could get another update. Some likely updates include the use of Intel's eighth-generation Core processors and a fix for the frustrating butterfly-style keys. The MacBook Air is also long overdue for an update, but most experts don't expect it to be ready until later in the year.
Apple is also under pressure to talk about its promised release of AirPower, a wireless charging mat that it first announced last fall along with the new range of iPhone models. The mat will let users wirelessly charge the Apple Watch, an iPhone, and a pair of AirPods at the same time.
A tradition has also been developing for Apple to announce one product that's a bit unexpected. Last year, that was the HomePod; another year it was Apple Music. This year, it could be a less expensive HomePod, which would be significant considering the original device is a whopping $349. It could also be an updated iPhone SE, although that might make more sense to announce in September. In any case, most developers will be hoping the tech giant has a little surprise in store for them, and Apple hates to disappoint.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Natalie Walters has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GOOGL, GOOG, AMZN, and Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.