WWDC - aka Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference - always takes place in June, and this year is no different. But in other respects, WWDC 2020 was a whole new experience.
With social distancing and quarantine measures still in effect as a result of the global pandemic - Apple took WWDC online-only.
The stream (which you can rewatch below) lasts around one hour and 45 minutes, flinging you around Apple Park, from product unveiling to product demo, presented by Apple's various departmental heads.
Many will be relieved that Apple didn't decide to cancel WWDC entirely, and there are advantages to this new format: all 23 million Apple developers are able to attend (instead of competing for tickets via a ballot) and it's free for registered developers instead of costing $1,599. But going online-only has negative consequences too: think, for example, of the losses faced by local businesses. (In recognition of this, Apple has committed $1m "to offset associated revenue loss".)
Now, on to everything that WWDC actually brought to the table this year. (If you'd like to know what will be announced at the next event, read What will Apple announce at WWDC 2021?)
What did Apple launch at WWDC 2020?
At WWDC 2020 Apple told us about the software updates coming to its various operating systems. That's the meat and potatoes of any WWDC, and these are extremely important announcements, upgrading the features of the company's most important products, for free.
While no new iPhones, iPads or Macs materialised, there was one small hardware announcement that has pretty significant implications for the future of the Mac family - more on that in a bit.
But before we get into it, let's briefly recap the announcements at WWDC over the past few years:
- WWDC 2019: Apple told us about iOS 13 and macOS Catalina. It also unveiled the new Mac Pro and a new display.
- WWDC 2018: Apple revealed details of iOS 12 and macOS Mojave. There were no hardware updates.
- WWDC 2017: Apple talked about iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. We also got our first look at the new iMac Pro, announced alongside new iMacs and an updated MacBook Pro and MacBook.
Unsurprisingly, Apple kicked things off with a look at iOS 14 - coming to iPhones in the form of a public beta in July (and developers from 22 June).
Improvements range from the introduction of widgets (finally) to a new native translation app, picture-in-picture and an enhanced Siri experience.
There are a wealth of new Memoji customisation options on the way, Maps has a number of new features - including cycling and EV route planning - and Apple has even worked with the likes of BMW to bring keyless entry to supported cars.
The full list of additions can be found in our dedicated iOS 14 feature - it's definitely worth a look if you're curious about how much better your iPhone is about to get.
As always, like all of Apple's OS updates, iOS 14 will be free to install once it's released later this year.
The current list of supported devices is as follows: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, iPhone X, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE (1st generation), iPhone SE (2nd generation) and iPod touch (7th generation).
Many of the new features introduced in iOS 14 (like widgets and App Library) carry across to iPadOS 14. In addition, Apple has improved the look and feel of experiences like Universal Search and expanded Apple Pencil functionality.
Features like Scribble will let users input natural handwriting directly into text-entry fields, as well as the ability to highlight and manipulate hand-written text in a similar fashion to conventional typed text.
Our full iPadOS 14 explainer has the full low-down on everything coming to Apple's signature slates this year.
The next update coming to your wrist is watchOS 7. One of the smaller updates within the bigger makeup of WWDC 2020, highlights include new watch faces, the ability to add multiple complications from the same app on a single watch face and the ability to share and download watch faces from your contacts, as well as third-parties.
Sleep tracking across both Apple Watch and iPhone is also on the cards, while automatic handwash detection is one of the most timely additions, leveraging visual, audio and haptic feedback to let you know when you've done a good job or you need to keep scrubbing a few moments longer.
The Activity app on iPhone will now be called 'Fitness' while the watch will be able to track new activities including dancing, core training and functional strength training.
macOS 11 Big Sur
macOS is headed back to the mainland this year, with the reveal of Big Sur.
For a start, existing Mac apps have been reworked and refined, with an updated visual language designed to convey greater context to the user. Widgets carry over from iOS and iPad OS 14, as does Control Center.
Apple's tuned its Safari web browser and now claims that it's up to 50% faster than Chrome, while also benefitting from better tab management, improved security and privacy transparency, and start page personalisation.
Apple's Big Sur preview page should offer greater insight into the breadth of the newest additions.
tvOS 14 (& Apple TV+)
There are some small but handy improvements coming to tvOS 14, like multi-user support, which will allow cross-device save-state pick-up-and-play across Apple Arcade title. Support for the Xbox Elite 2 and Xbox Adaptive controller greatly expand the platform's accessibility profile, while picture-in-picture will let uses AirPlay content atop other media.
Apple TV+ is coming to Sony and Vizio TVs in the near future and the company showcased its next flagship sci-fi series, Foundation.
We detail how to update to tvOS 14 in our dedicated tvOS 14 feature roundup.
As expected, after a 15-year relationship Apple is going to be making the switch away from Intel to ARM-based processors under its own stewardship for future Mac hardware. This will allow the company to better optimise macOS and its Mac app experiences going forward.
The first Macs with Apple silicon are slated to arrive before the end of 2020, but the company expects a complete transition to its own chips to take about two years.
The company also assured customers that while building apps and developer tools for this new hardware, it will continue to support Intel-based Macs and related software for years to come. Adobe and Microsoft are said to already have working iterations of apps like Photoshop and entries in the Office suite, running on this new Apple silicon.
Read about the Apple Silicon plans here.
What Apple didn't launch at WWDC 2020
For everything Apple did squeeze into its near-two-hour opening keynote, there were a wealth of expected announcements that didn't materialise. Here's everything else we were hoping to see but didn't.
Do you use any of Apple's subscriber services? If so, you may have noticed that they're not cheap. Subscribing to Apple Music, TV+, Arcade and News+ will set you back roughly £30/$30 a month.
It looks like Apple is about to unveil a cut-price bundle for those who want to use more than one of its services. The idea of an Apple Premium deal has been buzzing through the blogs for at least a year, but there's real evidence this time: code in the iOS 13.5.5 beta which refers to a "bundle offer" and "bundle subscription".
Apple is understood to be gearing up to launch a set of over-ear headphones, and these will appear under the company's popular AirPods branding. Find out more about the rumours surrounding the AirPods Studio.
Tag object tracker
There's been evidence for this new product popping up for some time. It seems you will be able to attach the disc to keys, wallets and other important items and track it using the Find My app. Read more about these rumours here: Apple to unveil 'Tag' object tracker.
New HomePod or HomePod mini
We're really hoping that Apple will launch a cheaper HomePod to help the company gain market share in the smart speaker space, which is dominated by Amazon and it's lower-priced Echo speakers, such as the £49.99 Echo Dot. Read more about the Mini HomePod and HomePod 2.
Updated Apple TV
There are reports that Apple is ready to launch updated Apple TV hardware and timing-wise it would have made sense to reveal it at WWDC. We're still left waiting, however.
What we'd really like to see is a smaller, cheaper Apple TV that could help Apple reach the masses with its TV-streaming service. Read more about the new Apple TV. Plus read about how Apple could improve Apple TV+, which may soon have an extended catalogue of content.
With a design that dates back more than a decade, a change is well overdue for the iMac. We'd hoped WWDC 2020 would bring a new iMac with a bigger display (made possible by smaller bezels and a thinner 'chin'), however, that wasn't the case.
The leaker Sonny Dickson has given us grounds for optimism, and further evidence was added when it was noticed that shipping estimates for the current 27in iMac have started to slip alarmingly - often a giveaway that a product is about to be discontinued or replaced.
Apple discontinued the MacBook in 2019, but we don't think it's the last we'll see of the consumer Mac laptop. We believe that Apple has plans for a new Mac that will potentially combine some of the benefits of the iPad - and maybe even a touch screen.
We really hope Apple has something up its sleeve. Read all the latest rumours about the new MacBook.
What is WWDC?
WWDC is the yearly Apple get-together for the software developers and companies that create apps for its various platforms. Tim Cook opens proceedings by announcing changes and new features in the major operating systems (iOS, macOS, iPadOS, watchOS and tvOS); the rest of the week consists of networking events and workshops... which will be a little different this year, since they will all take place entirely online.
The whole thing is theoretically for developers, then, but the opening keynote speech is big news for Apple fans around the globe and is covered by all the mainstream news sites. Everyone wants to get a teaser of the new features that will soon be added to their iPhones, Macs and other devices.
Software is the main focus, but in the past, we've seen some major hardware announcements too. These tend to be high-end, professional machines rather than consumer-oriented products.
At WWDC 2017 Apple launched the iMac Pro, new MacBooks and iPads and the HomePod, for example. If you go further back Apple used to unveil new iPhones at WWDC - such as in 2010 when it revealed the iPhone 4 - no such revelations tooks place this year, but that didn't make the event any less exciting.
When was WWDC 2020?
WWDC ran from 22-26 June 2020. The event kicked off with a keynote speech, which again, you can rewatch at the top of this article.
The event wass a fortnight later than usual - based on previous years (see below) we had predicted that WWDC would run from 8-12 June. It's not clear if there's any reason for the event happening slightly later in the month than usual, other than the obvious COVID-19 factor.
- WWDC 2020: Monday 22 June
- WWDC 2019: Monday 3 June
- WWDC 2018: Monday 4 June
- WWDC 2017: Monday 5 June
- WWDC 2016: Monday 13 June
- WWDC 2015: Monday 8 June
- WWDC 2014: Monday 2 June
- WWDC 2013: Monday 10 June
- WWDC 2012: Monday 11 June
- WWDC 2011: Monday 6 June
- WWDC 2010: Monday 7 June
Why did Apple change the format for WWDC 2020?
Although Apple doesn't mention it by name - it refers only to the "current health situation" - COVID-19 or coronavirus is the reason for WWDC going online-only this year.
Apple isn't the only company to make changes in response to coronavirus; lots of conferences have been cancelled (or made online-only) for the same reason. Fellow tech giants Microsoft, Facebook and Google have taken this step with various gatherings, and the E3 gaming event, which was scheduled for 9-11 June, has been axed too.
Beginning on 11 March, Santa Clara County Public Health, which is Apple's local body, issued a mandatory order banning public gatherings of 1,000 or more people, which would have made WWDC impossible in its traditional form.
How do I watch WWDC 2020?
Apple will be sharing other sessions but these are only for registered developers. These include the Platforms State of the Union on Monday 22 June, more than 100 engineering sessions and 1-on-1 Developer Labs. We have a separate article where you can read about the WWDC developer sessions.