Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) is their annual developer-y celebration of all things Apple. Opening the event with their keynote, Apple has a captive audience to share the new gadgets and software that devs will be able to build on in the coming years, pitching hard to get the creative juices flowing from their attendees – and to build hype amongst their customers. They make an effort to pitch new powerhouse hardware to give developers more grunt for building their apps, while mixing in new tools and features to try and lead by example. Being aimed at developers, WWDC focuses on the computing side of things, leaving new iPads and iPhones for other slots later in the year. But even with that focus, there’s plenty to dig into from the big reveal.
Starting with their software, we see a full new suite of operating systems – with a new iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and even tvOS. All of these are now hitting double digits, and the feeling of the reveals reflect the maturity of the various platforms. Features being brought from one OS to another is a lot of the focus on software, with some minor cringe-worthy moments courtesy of being able to track multiple timers on the iPad being pitched as “truly living in an age of wonders”. Being a developer conference, it makes sense that not much here is focused on the consumer experience. Much of the possibilities of these devices are in the apps they offer in the App Store, after all. But things like better notification options and AirDrop functionality give programmers new avenues to explore via extra API tools, as well as them being new features for users. Most updates here are iterative, with closer integration, UI consistency, and refinements at the fore.
For gamers, however, the big focus has got to be on macOS. Apple is pushing Metal 3 and new porting tools for their desktop/laptop OS, inviting more developers to get on board by bringing their games across to the Mac platform. Historically, Macs have been held back by poor GPU support in the gaming space, amongst a number of other things, leaving many popular Apple machines underpowered for gaming compared to their Windows equivalents. With the M-chip platform, pure grunt is seemingly becoming less of an issue for the hardware, but I still can’t shake the feeling that the overall goals of Macs will leave gaming out in the cold. Even with improved tools and more raw power, Macs with the right hardware are still designed (and priced) towards prosumer or professional audiences rather than core gamers.
Part of the Apple gaming pitch here was to reveal Death Stranding arriving on Mac, much akin to the No Man’s Sky announcement last year. When your flagship titles are over three years old, and indeed games that have previously been offered free on PC, it’s not the impressive sell that I think Apple was hoping to make. A lack of clarity around traditional GPU support is unlikely to help matters too, as next-gen features like ray tracing are hardly featured anywhere in the Apple gaming lexicon. RT isn’t the be-all and end-all, but the library of games offering it is growing on the PC and even console side of things, so it seems if Apple wants to be seen taking gaming seriously, this should be in their active vocabulary at the very least, to give confidence that they see gaming as part of their long-term roadmap and not just a footnote for their conferences. At the moment, they seem pretty happy with improving how existing games CAN run on macOS, without putting too much into how the next generation of games SHOULD run on a bleeding-edge platform. And that, to me, shows they’re quite willing to stick to their guns and stay behind the curve in this space.
With updated software comes upgraded hardware. Refreshes for the Macbook Air (more of an expanded offer than a refresh), Mac Pro, and Mac Studio Pro bring new Apple silicon and huge productivity power. At the high end with their M2 Max and Ultra chips, Apple are talking about 8K video editing, running multiple monitors and multiple streams of ProRes for the editors amongst us. Artists should benefit from improved live rendering of 3D projects, and other intensive workloads should get faster as we move further into the second generation of Apple’s M silicon stack.
For folks looking for upgrades, there’s a lot to like here if you’re in the Mac ecosystem, but only if you’re an earlier adopter. The super-thin Macbook Air gets a new 15″ screen, marrying the power of M2 to bigger screen estate. It could be a perfect fit for photographers who need the screen, but want to travel lighter than the Macbook Pro would allow them to, and starts at £1,399/$1,299. In desktops, the Studio gets a bump up to the new M2 silicon, for a fair whack of additional power – but coming only a year after the original launch, I can imagine some existing Studio owners might be a bit miffed at their expensive purchase seeming old hat so soon after buying. However, with the pricing remaining static from last year at £2,099/$1,999, it’s a great bonus for folks who were looking to take the plunge in the near future.
The Mac Pro refresh is probably biggest of all, given it’s last revision was in 2019 now, with folks upgrading potentially seeing huge improvements in their processing speeds as the move from Intel to Apple silicon completes. Not only that, but the Mac Pro will offer expansion ports for days – with huge numbers of PCIe lanes for maximum customisability for different workloads, although as noted above, GPU support is conspicuously absent in their coverage. Even for professionals, GPUs are a huge part of a workstation so it’ll be interesting to see how well a Pro performs in the wild with real workloads, particularly those which would be traditionally GPU heavy. The M1 Ultra wasn’t competitive with a decent graphics card last year, despite some lofty claims on Apple’s part, and it’s hard to see the M2 bucking that trend. And at £7,199/$6,999, it’s priced for pros who may or may not care about those sorts of compromises.
Probably the biggest reveal overall – classic “one more thing” – is the worst-kept secret in Apple’s keynote. the Apple Vision Pro is their much-rumoured AR/VR headset, and has created much of the buzz post-keynote as influencers, tech blogs and more rush to offer their first impressions. The Vision Pro is Apple’s AR/VR headset, which they’re calling a spacial computer. Equipped with bleeding-edge tech like mini-OLED, a M2 processor and the brand-new R1 chip, 3D cameras, the new visionOS… There’s so much packed into this headset, it’s hard to know where to begin and we’ll be dedicating a separate article to this new product in the Apple ecosystem.
The pitch for the Vision Pro is for it not just to be the place where you enjoy VR experiences, but to make it a fundamental part of your work or home life. Much like the original iPhone was pitched as a way to roll multiple devices into one and replace your reliance on many of them, the Vision Pro looks to do the same – replacing your TV, your monitors, even your peripherals amongst other things. As a proof of concept for what the future of AR/VR could look like, it certainly looks interesting. Although with the bleeding edge, comes bleeding edge pricing. At $3,499, you’re paying an early adopter tax, a Pro device tax, an Apple tax and the general VR headset tax all in one lump sum. Time will tell whether the experiences offered – and the developer support to make them happen – will make that high entry cost worth it.
It is worth caveating with the Vision Pro – like much of the rest of the hardware revealed this week – carries the “Pro” tag that Apple uses for devices aimed at just that community. There’s a good chance that this one is for Apple diehards and the developer communities first, with later Vision Air or similar devices to come at a consumer level, although again, none of this has been announced yet.
What Would Developers Choose?
So that’s the WWDC keynote! There’s plenty more to unpick if you’re interested in specific areas, like the new OS features, and as WWDC goes on there’ll no doubt be other interesting tidbits that make it into tech coverage. Want to discuss what Apple are up to, or keep up with the tech-minded amongst our community and share their insights? Pop over to the Gaming.Buzz Community Discord where we’re always happy to engage in all things tech and gaming! See you there!