As always, the new software we see on Monday won’t roll out to the broader public until later this year, though software developers and eager beta testers can expect to get access to it sooner.
The newest version of macOS will be numeral 12. Its name is still a mystery, though Apple is likely to keep consistent with its current naming convention, which means it will be named after some stunning California locale. By all accounts, this year will be a “refinement” year for macOS, not a major overhaul for the desktop operating system.
Still, there are two key elements of any modern macOS update to keep an eye out for. The first is any sort of merging or enabling of compatibility between iPadOS and macOS. In macOS Catalina, Apple rolled out Mac Catalyst, which was a way for app makers to more easily port their mobile apps over to the Mac desktop. In recent years Apple has also made some of its mobile apps Mac-compatible—think Podcasts, News, Stocks. Of course, the iPad and Mac are still distinctly different physical devices because of the touchscreen (or lack thereof on Macs). But now, with Apple’s M1 chip powering both new Macs and new iPads, the hardware chasm between the two is closing.
And, then there’s the M1—that’s the other keyword or phrase to listen for. This year’s macOS update might not be a massive revamp, but you can bet that Apple will want to showcase how app makers can continue to optimize their apps for this custom silicon, especially since some apps still require an emulator to run properly on an M1 Mac.
There have also been persistent rumors that new Mac laptops could be announced at WWDC next week, which would be a real plot twist at such a software-focused event. If these were to be announced, these would likely be beefed-up MacBook Pro models—machines that appease the serious multimedia professionals looking for even more power.
“I think Apple really needs to get back to their roots with the MacBook Pros,” says Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “There are rumors about the Touch Bar going away, and there’s still the opportunity to improve security on the MacBook. But I think they could go the iPad route and build an ‘X’ version of the M1 chip, or an M2 chip, into the MacBook Pro and make it a beefier model.”
Personally, I would be surprised if Apple announces new machines so soon after releasing its inaugural M1 MacBook laptops, which arrived in November 2020. But if the rumors prove correct, it only goes to show how serious Apple is about its custom silicon—and how rapidly it is developing these new chips in parallel with current versions.
Here’s the first remarkable thing about Apple’s wrist computers: By some accounts, the Apple Watch is the best-selling watch in the world. Not just among smartwatches, though that is true also, but all watches. Here’s the second remarkable thing, which is not necessarily a good thing: There’s not a whole lot of smartwatch competition out there. Huawei is Apple’s closest competitor in the smartwatch market, but the Chinese device maker has been hamstrung by US software sanctions. Samsung’s share of the market has shrunk slightly over the past year. Google is expected to launch a Pixel watch sometime this year, and its acquisition of Fitbit might help boost Google’s wearable offerings, but we’re still waiting to see both of those possibilities come to fruition.
So, like many of these software updates, a small tweak is revealed, a new placement of a complication or some beta version of a health app, and you think—Pffft, big deal! Except when you fundamentally own millions of wrists, even tiny software updates can have a big impact.