2020 has been weird for about a thousand different reasons, but some of tech's biggest players are doing their best to stick to business as usual. In Apple's case, that means ensuring its Worldwide Developer Conference -- a fixture on the company's calendar since 1987 -- went on as usual. (Or at least, as "usual" as things can be right now.)
Like Microsoft did with its software showcase last month, Apple's once-massive conference has gone online-only this year, beginning with a live-streamed keynote starting at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern on Monday, June 22. We'll be covering the biggest news live like we always do, but this year's event already seems especially loaded. In fact, for reasons having nothing to do with COVID-19, we could be looking at one of the most impactful WWDCs ever. Since we're expecting so many high-profile announcements, we've put together this guide to help prep you in advance.
Big changes for iPhones and iPads
Apple always devotes a big chunk of its WWDC keynote to new iOS news, and with good reason: It powers the vast majority of the company's 1.5 billion active devices. And for the first time in years, it appears that Apple is getting ready to change some of the most basic facets of the iOS experience.
Take the way iOS looks, to start. The classic grid of apps isn't going anywhere, but 9to5Mac reports you'll also be able to view an Apple Watch-inspired list of all your installed apps. Even better, you'll apparently be able to sort them too, making it easier and faster to get to apps that, say, have unread notifications. And proper, movable widgets -- which Android users have been using since the beginning -- could be part of iOS 14 as well.
Apple experimented with adding widgets to the home screen starting with the first iPadOS release last year, but the most you could do with these was pin them to the side of the screen. If the rumors hold, iOS 14 may let you place those widgets wherever you want. This might sound minor, but trust us -- it's a big deal. Apple's approach to laying out installed software on your home screen hasn't changed since the early days of iPhone OS, after all.
There's at least one other sign that Apple is rethinking its old conventions. Mark Gurman at Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the company is considering letting people set third-party apps as the default for actions like writing emails and web-browsing, rather than Mail and Safari. The move would be great news for Apple's power users, but make no mistake: If this happens, it would likely be because of the heightened antitrust scrutiny the company faces from US lawmakers and the European Union. (Just don't expect Tim Cook to dwell on that too much that onstage.) Curiously, the conversation around this move has died down since Bloomberg broke the news in February, so we'll just have to see how things play out.
Beyond all that, Apple has been working on several updates to its slew of preloaded iOS apps. According to MacRumors, Apple is working on a "mention" system for iMessage so you can nudge specific people in your group chat, as well as the ability to retract your messages after you've sent them. Safari may automatically translate websites in other languages, much like Chrome does now.
Some reports also suggest we're getting new first-party apps this year, like an augmented reality project code-named "Gobi" that displays information when pointed at an Apple-made QR code. Apple has reportedly between working with brands like Starbucks on early demos, one of which signs people up for the coffee chain’s loyalty program. The details are pretty thin at this point, and we probably shouldn't be spending too much time in stores with strangers anyway, but thankfully Apple’s AR push doesn’t end there. Remember the revamped "Find My" app that debuted in iOS 13? A crucial update this year should allow you to use augmented reality to help track down lost devices.
Apple might also reveal a new Fitness app that allows people to download guided workout videos, which seems like a handy way to help users work out while sheltering at home and potentially siphon revenue away from services like Peloton and Nike Training Club. (You know, since services are so important and all.)
And just to top it all off, 2020 might also be the year you start unlocking your car with your iPhone or Apple Watch. The code for this "CarKey" feature has already been spotted in recent builds of iOS 13, which suggest it'll be introduced well before iOS 14 ships later this year. That said, 9to5Mac spotted other references in a leaked version of iOS 14 that suggest BMW will be the first carmaker to embrace this feature.
Apple's iOS serves as the foundation for iPadOS, so the additions we just went over will make their way to the company's tablets, too. That said, a few oft-rumored changes could be particularly important to iPad users. References to new Mac-style cursors spotted by 9to5Mac in leaked iOS 14 code mean people who want to use their iPads with mice or trackpads may be in for a more desktop-like experience. That push to capture a more "traditional" kind of computing feel also explains iPadOS's support for new trackpad gestures, like a two-finger tap to right-click.
Thanks to a new framework called PencilKit, Apple's smart stylus may soon become much more flexible as well. Rumors suggest that come iPadOS 14, you'll be able to physically write in any text field with the Apple Pencil -- from there, iPadOS will recognize your handwriting and convert it into traditional text, much like Samsung's Galaxy Note already does.
If Apple sticks to its usual plans, developers — or people who just pay for developer accounts — will be able to install previews of both new updates shortly after the keynote ends. Just a friendly reminder to those of you thinking of taking the plunge: Be sure to backup everything and resist the urge to install it on your daily driver if you can.