From HomePod to new iMacs: Highlights from Apple WWDC 2017


San Jose: The annual Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is underway in the city of San Jose, California, and will run till Friday. Every year, the focus is on the developer community, developer tools and platforms with a generous helping of sneak peaks at forthcoming iOS and macOS operating systems. This year though, partly to perhaps freshen things up and partly because of the pressure to upgrade certain products, Apple gave us a look at the new MacBook refresh, an all-new iPad Pro, an iMac that you can buy over the next few weeks, an iMac Pro that will wow us all later in the year and the rather exciting HomePod smart speaker. Here is everything that you need to know about the new hardware and software that will be heading your way soon.

iOS 11: Truly the biggest iOS release yet

Every year, Apple gives us a preview of what to expect with the next iteration of the iOS operating system, and this year was no different. The iOS 11 will be all about subtle changes, some artificial intelligence and a very clear advantage for iPad Pro devices. Apple’s own apps including Siri, Apple Music, Photos and Mail will get significant updates, while deep learning technology will understand a user’s preferences over time for better Siri responses, text suggestions, content to read and more. We don’t have a date yet, but iOS 11 will release with the new iPhones later this year.

AI: Apple throws its hat into the ring

Tech and artificial intelligence seem inseparable these days. And Apple, which hasn’t been as vocal about AI as perhaps Google, Amazon and Microsoft, is making up for lost time. Be it the Apple Watch-Siri integration, in the Photos app for face recognition and Live photo magic or even the HomePod smart speaker, Apple is now using machine learning more than ever before. Developers will also be given greater access to the AI magic, to make their apps smarter on iOS.

HomePod: Audio first, and then smartness

Apple took its own sweet time to introduce a rival to Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Music aficionados will appreciate the fact that Apple has treated this as a speaker first—it packs in a serious amount of power. It is just 7-inches tall, packs in seven tweeters and a 4-inch woofer, while offering a 360-degree sound experience. The HomePod will also have positional awareness, in terms of where it is placed in the house, and direct the sounds accordingly. It runs the A8 chip, also seen in iPhones. The Siri integration means it will answer queries, get you news and weather and set calendar entries too. The Apple Music integration will allow it to suggest music that you’ll like, from over 40 million tracks. This will arrive with a price tag of $349 (around Rs22,475).

MacBooks: There was no option, really

Apple was forced to do something unconventional—that is a mid-term refresh of the MacBook Pro line-up, to bring its laptops up to spec with the Intel 7th-generation processors. After all, it couldn’t stay behind the curve, with the Windows 10-powered rivals sporting the latest chips. Apple has also given the laptops faster storage (it is up to 50% faster than the previous generation), and this would mean a significant performance boost. There is no change in the overall design of the MacBook Pro 13 or the MacBook Pro 15 variants. The best news perhaps is that the much-loved MacBook Air now gets a newer and more powerful processor too, which makes it even better value at the more affordable price points. Pricing and India availability details are awaited.

iMac: The desktop acquires more power

The iMac desktop computing devices have been given more powerful innards, with the latest generation Intel Kaby Lake processors. The displays will be brighter, and rated at 500nits, which makes them 53% more powerful than before. Apple will now let you configure your iMac with as much as 64GB RAM, while the solid-state storage options now stretch up to 2TB.

The entry spec 21.5-inch iMac gets the new Intel Iris graphics, and is 80% faster than before, while the 21.5-inch 4K iMac and the 27-inch iMac get Radeon Pro graphics, the latter configuration being powerful enough to create virtual reality content. India-specific pricing details are awaited.

iMac Pro: The benchmark is coming

Apple gave a preview of what we can expect from the iMac Pro, which arrives in stores in December. They will be powered by Intel Xeon processors with up to 18 cores, run the very advanced Radeon Pro Vega graphics, up to 128GB of RAM and as much as 4TB of storage. There will be four Thunderbolt ports, which can be used to connect, for instance, two 5K displays, simultaneously, along with a pair of high performance RAID arrays. The prices will start at $4,999 (around Rs3.22 lakh).

Apple Watch: Same watch, new straps

The Apple Watch hardware was updated late last year, and isn’t due for any changes just yet. However, Apple has made the already very vibrant Watch straps range even bigger. The latest additions include new sport bands, a bright yellow Classic Buckle, more Nike Sport Band options and a Pride Edition Woven Nylon rainbow strip.

watchOS 4: Fitter than ever before

The watchOS 4 software for the Apple Watch will get deeper Siri integration, and there is also a new Siri watch face which will contextualize and give dynamic nuggets of information which it believes will be relevant for you at some point in the very near future—traffic updates, meetings lined up, data from apps such as Activity and Breathe and news updates. Apple yet again enhances what the Watch can do in terms of fitness tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch.

There are daily fitness tracking features, and monthly challenges too.

The Workout app has been given a new interface, and critically, the heart rate sensor algorithms will be updated too for high intensity interval training workouts.

macOS High Sierra: Optimized for peak performance

The next operating system for your MacBook and iMac is all about under-the-hood improvements. The biggest change is the shift to the Apple File System , which significantly improves performance, reduces chances of data loss and is also more in tune with security requirements. The macOS will also support the High-Efficiency Video Coding video standard, which will be able to save 40% storage space as compared to the earlier H.264 standard. Safari, Photos and Mail apps have also been improved. The OS will roll out later in the year, as a free update for existing users.

iPad Pro: The future of the MacBook?

If the iPad range wasn’t already complicated enough, Apple has now added the 10.5-inch iPad Pro to the mix. In largely the same footprint as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro chassis, because Apple could reduce the bezels to fit the larger display. The larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as well as the 10.5-inch iPad Pro also get the new and more powerful Apple A10X Fusion chips. The highlight, perhaps, is the enhanced display. The iPad Pro displays will have a new feature called ProMotion, and will dynamically switch the display refresh rate between 60Hz to 120Hz—this means that all fast-moving video and gaming content will look more fluid.

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