Apple used the keynote address at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in early June to unveil new versions of macOS, iOS, and watchOS, new iMacs and faster notebooks, and new iPad Pros. In a “one last thing” announcement that hearkened back to the days of Steve Jobs, the company also gave a sneak peek at its first major new product since the Apple Watch: the HomePod smart speaker. Some of the new hardware is available now, the new operating systems are due this fall, and the HomePod and the workstation-class iMac Pro are scheduled for December 2017. Here’s what you should know.
The much-rumored HomePod is Apple’s answer to the popular Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. In classic Apple fashion, however, the wireless HomePod speaker is focused first on delivering amazing audio quality that competes with the top Wi-Fi speakers available on the market. Setup will be as simple as setting up AirPods; just hold your iPhone next to a HomePod to configure it.
Physically, the HomePod is a 7-inch high cylinder covered in a 3-D acoustic mesh and available in black or white. Inside, it features a 4-inch Apple-designed woofer for deep, clean bass, and an array of seven beamforming tweeters that provides pure high-frequency acoustics.
The smarts in Apple’s smart speaker come from Apple’s A8 chip, which powered the iPhone 6. Thanks to the A8 chip and a six-microphone array, the HomePod can optimize its audio quality for its position in a room. If you put a pair of HomePods in the same room, they detect each other automatically and balance the audio to deliver an immersive listening experience.
For those who value portability over all else, the MacBook has become more attractive due to improvements that address its previously underwhelming performance. Along with sprightlier CPUs, it has a new SSD that Apple claims is up to 50% faster, and you can now buy it with 16 GB of RAM, up from the previous limit of 8 GB. It’s still a bit pricey for its performance, with two models priced starting at $1299 and $1599.
If you don’t have much to spend, consider the $999 13-inch MacBook Air. Apple gave it a minor speed bump, replacing the stock 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor with a 1.8 GHz version. It remains upgradeable to an Intel Core i7 running at 2.2 GHz.
By the way, if you’ve been jonesing for a full-size wireless keyboard, you’ll be pleased to learn that Apple also just released the new wireless Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. It’s $129.
New iPad Pros
Although these days Apple is putting more emphasis on the Mac, particularly for professional use, the company certainly isn’t ignoring pro iPad users. If you’ve been holding off on an iPad Pro purchase, there’s no reason to wait any longer. Apple introduced a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro that’s just a hair taller and wider than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro it replaces, despite having a larger screen that’s 20% larger. The company also enhanced the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a variety of new hardware capabilities.
All motion on the screens of both iPad Pros will be smoother and more responsive, thanks to a previously unheard of 120 Hz refresh rate. It will make drawing with the Apple Pencil even more fluid. The screens are also brighter, can display more colors, and have low reflectivity. Both models get new cameras that match those in the iPhone 7: a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera with optical image stabilization and True Tone flash, plus a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera on the front.
Since professionals care about performance, the new iPad Pros rely on Apple’s new processor, the A10X Fusion chip. Apple claims that the A10X is 30% faster than the A9X used by the previous generation of iPad Pros, and it also delivers 40% faster graphics rendering.
You can buy an iPad Pro with 64 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB of storage, significantly more than last year’s models. The 64 GB 10.5-inch iPad Pro with Wi-Fi costs $649; jumping to 256 GB increases the price to $749, and going to 512 GB raises it to $949. For the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a 64 GB configuration starts at $799, with 256 GB at $899 and 512 GB at $1099. Add $130 to any configuration to get cellular connectivity as well.
Although the iPad Pros are available starting this month, you can look forward to them becoming significantly more useful when Apple releases iOS 11 in the fall. That’s because iOS 11 promises to bring a number of iPad-specific features, including:
- A customizable Dock that holds more than six apps
- A new App Switcher that includes split-screen app combinations
- A new Files app for managing documents
- Drag-and-drop capability for moving data between apps
- Instant Notes, which opens the Notes app with an Apple Pencil tap on the Lock screen
- Inline drawing with the Apple Pencil in Notes and Mail
- Handwritten text recognition so you can search what you write
At WWDC, Apple gave us a peek at iOS 11, due as a free update this fall (which likely means September). Although it offers numerous changes, iOS 11 won’t seem like a huge revision, since most of the changes are refinements rather than new apps or wholesale rewrites.
Perhaps the most noticeable change is Control Center, the panel that appears when you drag up from the bottom of the Lock screen or Home screen. Apple has redesigned it so that the audio and HomeKit controls fit on one screen, even on the iPhone. In iOS 10, you may have to scroll sideways to see all the controls, which is awkward. The new design also takes advantage of 3D Touch to let you do more than toggle settings on and off.
We’re looking forward to the new Messages, which takes advantage of iCloud to sync messages (including deletions!) between your devices. What’s most important about this is that older messages will be stored only in iCloud so they won’t occupy precious storage space on your device.
Siri will receive new voices that sound more natural, and it will also sync what it knows about you between devices to personalize responses better. Siri is also getting smarter, or at least more observant. Thanks to a technology called Siri Intelligence, Siri will better understand your interests and the context in which you’re speaking. So, if you search for information about Paris, the News app may start recommending articles about France, and if you type “bor” in an app, the iOS keyboard may suggest “Bordeaux” as an auto-completion.
Apple will introduce new formats to the Camera app in iOS 11, which should result in photos and videos that take up much less space. iPhone 7 Plus users will also appreciate improvements in the two-camera Portrait mode. If you like Live Photos, don’t miss new features in Photos for trimming and editing the underlying movies — you can even apply looping and reversing effects.
Although Maps may always be playing catch-up with more established mapping companies, we’re still pleased to see Apple adding features like indoor maps of malls and airports in major cities. It will also inform you of speed limits and offer lane guidance on large roads.
If splitting a restaurant bill is awkward, you’ll be able to use Apple Pay in iOS 11 to send money directly to another person. It goes into an Apple Cash Card found in the Wallet app, and money stored there can be transferred to a bank account or used to pay for Apple Pay purchases.
Last, but certainly least, is a potentially life-saving feature: Do No Disturb While Driving. When enabled, it will detect that you’re riding in a car and shut off all notifications to your iPhone. You’ll be able to set an auto-reply text message in case anyone messages you, which the sender can break through by stating that the message is urgent. You can also turn off Do Not Disturb While Driving if you’re a passenger.