Apple WWDC preview: What to expect

Apple's annual developer conference starts Monday. At the widely watched event, the tech giant is expected to show off new versions of its operating systems and give a glimpse of where the company is headed in the future.

At its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple will host thousands of developers, journalists and industry analysts in San Jose, Calif. as it takes the wraps off the latest versions of its iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS operating systems.

"As Steve Jobs so eloquently described the Apple ecosystem at his last WWDC in 2011, 'If the hardware is the brain and sinew of our products, the software in them is their soul'," Monness Crespi Hardt analyst Brian White in a research note ahead of the event.


White expects much of the keynote, delivered by Apple's key executives including CEO Tim Cook, to focus on iOS and perhaps privacy, in light of the wake of recent scandals plaguing the tech industry, including Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal.

"Given the importance of the iPhone to the Apple product family, new iOS innovations tend to get a fair amount of airtime at WWDC and we expect this will be true with iOS 12 next week," White added. "In light of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, we wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Cook spends a couple of minutes reinforcing Apple’s commitment to protect customer privacy."

Bloomberg recently reported that Apple would incorporate a feature known as Digital Health into its iOS 12 software that lets them see how much time users are spending on their devices and inside certain apps.

The Digital Health feature would come after Google, maker of the Android operating system, unveiled a similar feature at its developer conference last month.

The iPhone maker has come under some fire from some of its investors, as well as members of academia who have claimed Apple's products are too addictive.

Earlier this week, Apple released the latest update to its iOS operating system, iOS 11.4, which includes features like AirPlay 2 multi-room audio, support for HomePod stereo pairs, messages in iCloud and other bug fixes.

Apple's popular line-up of Mac computers may also see a refresh at the event, with some expecting to hear about new laptops, though that is not a certainty.

Monness Crespi Hardt's White does expect to hear about updates to the macOS platform after Apple added virtual reality support last year.


Augmented Reality push

In addition to updates to its operating systems, many are expecting to hear an update on what Apple is doing with augmented reality after showing off ARKit, a feature that lets developers build AR-based apps, at its 2017 developer conference.

"We remain optimistic regarding AR’s potential," Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research note ahead of the event. "That said, the use cases of AR to date have lagged our expectations, due to a lack of reliable hardware and software to enable developers to build compelling AR experiences. We expect Apple to announce subtle new developer tools to improve the AR development process and ultimately yield more compelling AR applications."

Apple's Cook has previously expressed his abundant optimism for AR, which places virtual objects on top of physical objects (instructions for building furniture on top of the wood, for example) and its potential impact on humanity.

"Simply put, we believe augmented reality is going to change the way we use technology forever, Cook said on Apple's fiscal fourth-quarter earnings call, held last November. "We're already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect and learn."


Smarter Siri, AI

Apple has received intense amounts of criticism for falling behind its tech brethren when it comes to its usage of artificial intelligence and specifically, its virtual assistant Siri. Critics have said that Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana are smarter, more reliable and able to handle more tasks, despite Siri having been incorporated into iPhones since the iPhone 4s, which was released in 2011.

Analysts expect to hear significant updates on Siri, which could include anything from pulling in additional data sets to handling more tasks.

"In our testing of Siri over the past two years, we found the product lags measurably behind Google Home and marginally behind Alexa and Cortana," Munster wrote in his note. He added that Siri was able to answer questions correctly 75 percent of the time, behind the 85 percent seen in Google Assistant. As such, he expects updates to Siri, especially on HomePod, Apple's smart speaker designed to compete with the Google Home and Amazon Echo lineup of products.

"Siri on HomePod is more limited in the number of domains, so adding support for things like navigation and email would quickly improve the experience," Munster added.

Experts also expect to hear Apple give new use cases for artificial intelligence, such as improved text predicition, music tagging or face prediction, after hiring John Giannandrea in April as its SVP of Artificial Intelligence. Giannandrea's hiring was seen as a big coup for Apple after he left Google, where he was previously the company's chief of search and AI.


Hardware up in the air

At previous WWDC's, Apple has taken the time to introduce new Mac computers, including last year when it refreshed nearly its entire lineup of Macs. This year is likely to be more muted when it comes to new hardware announcements, though.

Bloomberg reported that Apple is working on updates to its MacBook Pro, 12-inch MacBook and a replacement for its MacBok Air computers, as well as an overhaul of the look of the Apple Watch. However, it's not expected that either the new-look Apple Watch or the new MacBook's will be ready in time for Monday.

But that hasn't stopped analysts from expecting new hardware products, with White writing he "would not be surprised if the Mac portfolio gets some sort of refresh" at the event.

Loup Ventures' Munster believes Apple may unveil a new, cheaper smart speaker with the Beats branding for $250.

Apple bought Beats, which makes headphones and has been integrated into Apple Music, for $3 billion in 2014.

Fox News' Jennifer Earl contributed to this story. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia