HomePod, iOS 11, iMac Pro: All the news from Apple WWDC 2017
Plus, updates to MacOS -- newly dubbed High Sierra -- a new iPad Pro and WatchOS improvements.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
For WWDC 2017, Apple headed south to San Jose, dogged by damning comparisons with Google, Facebook and Microsoft over its lack of attention to mixed reality (VR and AR), Siri's absence from your smart home in comparison with smart home hubs like the Google Home and Amazon Echo and other ways in which Apple seems to have fallen behind. Folks were eager to hear about Apple's plans to catch up in these leading-edge markets.
Even before the conference opening, we began to hear the numbers: iOS app developers earned $20 billion in 2016 (and given Apple's 30 percent cut, that means it made a not-so-paltry $6 billion) and downloads are growing at a nice pace. The company updated its Swift Playgrounds, a teach-kids-to-code-Swift (its proprietary programming language) app, to support control over robots and drones.
Watch this: Apple's HomePod is a smart speaker for your home
Interestingly, Apple positioned its new home speaker as a music experience rather than just the rumored a smart-home hub, ostensibly to "reinvent home music." You can't get it until later in 2017, though. Dubbed the HomePod, it has better audio specs than other hub speakers -- pretty good audio specs in general for its size -- and an A8 chip for processing (the same chip that's in the iPhone). It uses a wide-array mic that supposedly can hear you over the music, and naturally integrates with Apple Music and can control HomeKit devices. It will ship in December for $350.
Siri: She's got a more natural-sounding voice and can translate for you and suggest tasks. Plus there's a new more visual interface. And she knows you across your devices. But she'll respect your privacy.
Camera: New H.265 video encoding for more efficient storage and a new High Efficiency Image Format based on H.265 to replace JPEG. Threre's a new depth API (needed for AR). It will enable the faux defocus mode for portraits, too.
Photos: Welcome editable Live Photos with GIF-like tools like looping and reversing, and a long-exposure effect. Memories now recognizes pets and supports vertical video.
The iMacs get better displays, better storage options, an improved display and 2 Thunderbolt/USB-C connectors. Also, an update to Intel 7th-generation and the new integrated graphics, plus the Retina 4K incorporates the discrete RX500 series and the 5K model gives you Radeon RX500 series options. That puts them on par with Windows 10 all-in-ones. The 21.5-inch starts at $1,100 and the 5K 27-inch starts at $1,800. A 4K 21.5 inch starts at $1,300.
Both iPad Pros will get new displays, with True Tone, DCI-P3 gamut, 600-nit brightness and ultralow reflectivity. A new feature, Pro Motion, bumps the refresh rate to 120Hz. Latency drops to 20ms with the Apple Pencil. They're also faster, thanks to the 12-core GPU and six-core CPU Fusion A10X chip. A better camera with 4K and wide-gamut capture is another hardware highlight, along with USB-C fast charging. They both come with 64GB memory and start at $650 for the smaller and $800 for the larger model. They'll be available next week.
There are more iPad-specific features in iOS 11. Swipe up to bring up the dock to switch apps or bring one up and drag-and-drop anything. A new Files app brings a more desktoplike file system operation that supports third-party storage providers. There's a special markup mode for use with the Pencil and it does handwriting recognition in Notes.
MacOS High Sierra
The MacOS desktop operating system didn't get a major update, as you can tell from the name, just some refinements. But a lot of the High Sierra refinements are performance-focused, which is always welcome.
The big enhancements:
Safari: It "helps give you a serene browsing experience." Whut? But now it's faster, with autoplay blocking, intelligent tracking prevention to filter cross-site scripting and so on.
Mail: Split view for the compose window, smaller storage footprint.
Photos: New organization and editing tools, filter by keywords and file types, better face recognition, synchronization across devices. The editing tools can now synchronize with other editing tools. And there are new photo book partnerships.
The file system: This has needed an update for a long time, and now the much more modern APFS is the default.
Video: Support for hardware acceleration and a software encoder for H.265 video.
Graphics: An update to its acceleration architecture, Metal 2, with a lot of performance increases. It also supports a new external enclosure for MacBooks, with Thunderbolt 3 and A Radeon RX 580. Metal 2 also adds hooks for VR.