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Apple WWDC 2019: Mac Pro, iOS 13, Marzipan, and what else to expect

Plotting out the future of big-screen computers

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Apple’s big Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote is happening on Monday, June 3rd, and this year looks to be more consequential than most. The thing that will probably steal the show will be a long-expected — and very long-awaited — Mac Pro. That’s the way things go at software events that just happen to have a hardware announcement.

The Mac Pro is a vitally important tool for some of Apple’s most important customers. But the vast majority of Apple customers don’t buy expensive pro machines. They buy iPhones. For them, next week’s iOS 13 preview will have a few neat new features but probably not a huge overhaul.

I think the biggest thing to happen this year will be Apple laying out a vision for how its big-screen computers will work. Both macOS 10.15 and iOS 13 on the iPad could potentially bring major changes to how we think about and use the devices that use them. Despite Apple’s protestations to the contrary, there really has been a sense that the iPad Pro is encroaching on Mac territory, and the macOS platform needs to get a clearer future.

The stakes are higher than usual — especially for the future of the Mac and iPad

Apple should provide more clarity on how it thinks about those trends this year. Although it has strenuously and repeatedly emphasized that macOS and iOS will never “merge,” we do know that iPad apps are coming to the Mac in a more serious way, potentially becoming the de facto way most new Mac apps are made. At the same time, the iPad Pro needs to finally break out of its past and have a software platform that doesn’t constantly feel like it has one hand tied behind its back when you’re trying to do real work.

In both cases, developers and users deserve a better picture of what the future of these platforms is going to be. If that wasn’t enough, Apple will also need to provide some updates on tvOS and watchOS. We may even see more augmented reality features, find out pricing on its Apple Arcade service, and more.

That’s a lot to lay on one single keynote, but Apple does so much now that a single annual software keynote is going to need to cover a lot of ground. As always, a lot has leaked, thanks to reporting from Mark Gurman and 9to5Mac. Here’s everything we’re expecting Apple to do this year.

Apple iPad Pro
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

iOS 13 on the iPhone and iPad

It might seem silly, but the headline feature for iPhone owners is probably going to be Dark Mode. Software is like fashion: it follows trends, and the biggest trend right now is making app and UI backgrounds black. It helps with battery life on OLED screens, helps people believe they’re getting less sleep-killing light blasted into their eyes, and it just looks cool.

9to5Mac got a leaked screenshot of Dark Mode running in a few apps, and the TL;DR is that they look like iOS apps, only with dark, glassy interface elements instead of frosted white, glassy interface elements.

After that, the big question is whether we’ll see a revamped home screen. Rumors are mixed on this one in several ways. Maybe it will be pushed off again. Maybe we’ll get it, but it will be really minor. Maybe it will be changed for the big-screened iPads but not much different on iPhones. Apple has stuck to the basic idea of a grid of apps for more than a decade. (As early as 2012, I started griping that it felt restrictive.) At this point, I’d settle for Apple letting me place icons anywhere on the screen so that I can actually see my wallpaper.

What does seem clear is that we’re going to get a bunch of app updates. For whatever reason, Apple only updates its apps on a yearly (or, lately, even bi-annual) cadence, whereas Google updates its Android apps throughout the year. That means a few of Apple’s core apps are feeling long in the tooth. Expect updates to Mail, Messages, Health, and Reminders at least.

One app we’re expecting to be revamped is rumored to have an awkward name: Find My. Find my... what? Well, your friends and your Apple devices all in one single app. Whether you think this is a metaphorical commoditization of your friends and family is up to you. Oh, and there’s also a rumor that Apple will make its own little hardware location trackers, sort of like Tile. If that pans out, it probably won’t make Tile happy.

We are also getting really close to Apple’s self-imposed deadline for releasing its Apple Arcade subscription service. It’s launching this “fall,” which means that the company still has its annual iPhone event if it wants to wait to reveal pricing, but here’s hoping it won’t. If nothing else, expect the company to remind you that it’s coming and hype it up a bit.

The biggest changes to iOS 13 could be for the iPad

As I said up top, I think the biggest changes in iOS 13 could come to the iPad. Alongside what we hope is a more capable Files app, there might also be a new way to multitask on the device. The current split screen / slideover setup is useful but limiting. Some kind of way to allow apps (besides Safari) to have multiple windows should be in the offing, though I wouldn’t expect something like what you have on a regular mouse-enabled computer. Then again, there is a rumor that there will finally be some kind of mouse support, though it’s likely to be buried in the accessibility settings.

One thing that hasn’t been rumored for the iPad is support for multiple accounts on a single device. I think it’s unconscionable that Apple hasn’t found a way to do this yet (outside the limited education market) since it limits the iPad’s ability to be a truly shared family device. Maybe the company will pleasantly surprise me.

Finally, a bunch of little things: maybe we’ll get an undo gesture that’s better than literally shaking your phone, maybe 3D Touch will be deprecated, and maybe Siri will open up to working more with third-party apps like Spotify. Since we started with the fan-favorite Dark Mode, let’s end with another fan-favorite rumor: Apple might finally change the volume pop-up interface so it doesn’t cover the center the of the screen.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

macOS 10.15

This is the one I’m excited about. The huge change that Apple teased last year should begin to roll out to developers this year: an easier way to get iOS apps on the Mac. The project is codenamed “Marzipan,” but Apple hasn’t used that word publicly, and I have no idea what it’ll call these news kinds of Mac apps going forward. My guess: just “apps.”

The idea is that developers will have an easy way to take apps that they’ve developed for the iPad and “port” them to the Mac (though porting has a technical meaning Apple would argue doesn’t quite apply here). I said iPad apps with intention; we expect iPhone apps to come later, if only because it would maybe feel weird to have strictly rectangular apps on the Mac.

If Marzipan is the future of the Mac, it has to be great

Actually, there is a lot that currently feels weird about Marzipan apps. Thus far, we’ve only seen four of them — all are from Apple, and all of them are pretty terrible. The problem right now is that these apps feel like iPad apps slapped on the Mac, not like native Mac apps. This year, Apple really needs to show that these apps can feel native to the Mac, with better mouse support, keyboard support, and menu support — the whole suite of guidelines for what makes a good desktop app. We should also see support for multiple windows and note how that dovetails nicely with the rumors about multiple windows on the iPad.

I’m on record saying that Apple needs to do as much as possible with Marzipan. If it’s really the future of Mac apps, it has to be great. If Apple duffs this, it will make an already nervous Mac community become downright (and rightfully) terrified about Apple’s commitment to macOS.

To kick it all off, we will see more apps built this way from Apple. That’s the real story, but the headline will be that Apple will finally break up the iTunes app. If there’s ever been an example of a program that grew and grew until it did too many things and became a bloated monster, it is iTunes. So we should have new Music, Podcasts, TV, and Books apps. iMessage might also be built this way so that all of those wacky iMessage effects will work on the desktop.

One rumor I’m super excited about is that there will be official support to use your iPad as a second monitor for your Mac. I love the apps that currently do this and will be sad to see them obviated by Apple, but platform-level support will be nice. It’s hard to compete with the platform maker when it decides to enter your space, unfortunately.

Finally, there should be some new plumbing and new quality-of-life features. Apple is expected to bring Siri shortcuts to the Mac, but whether that means that it will become the future way to do stuff that Automator and AppleScript are meant for is an open question. We should also see Screen Time and Family Sharing on the Mac as well.

Mac Pro and 6K Pro Display

Whatever this new Mac Pro desktop looks like, it won’t look like the picture you see above. That, of course, is the infamous “trash can” Mac Pro, which Phil Schiller introduced way back in 2013 with the even more infamous line: “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.”

Schiller was right that it was a wonder of engineering, but he was also completely wrong about what the trends in pro computing would be. Pro users like video editors and scientists wanted something bigger, more modular, and less constrained by thermals. In 2017, Apple finally admitted that the trash can Mac Pro was a mess and that “we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner.” It promised to release a new Mac Pro someday, and in the meantime, pro users have had to buy iMac Pros or — worse for Apple — just switch to Windows.

Well, the time has finally come, and although it’s possible that Apple won’t show us the new design for the Mac Pro this year, most people expect it will. It certainly has to come this year, and WWDC is as good a time as any to announce it.

We don’t know much about what it will look like, how it will work, how powerful it will be, or what components it will use. All we know is that Apple is promising something that is “inherently a modular system.” If Apple were to just rerelease its old “cheese grater” tower design and call it a day, I don’t know anybody who would complain that much. However, given how many years Apple has spent developing this thing, you should expect something more ambitious.

Apple is also widely expected to announce a 31.6-inch, 6K pro display, though whether it’ll bring back the much-loved “Cinema Display” brand for it remains to be seen. Since the rumors are pointing to it being so high-end, you should probably expect it to cost a lot and be targeted just at pro users. MacBook owners will likely still want to buy much less expensive, non-Apple monitors for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

watchOS 6 and tvOS 13

Given that Apple has already had a huge TV-focused event this year and has already released its new TV app, you probably shouldn’t expect too much new stuff on tvOS 13. The most we’ll see are probably some teasers and hype for Apple’s upcoming TV Plus service. It would be nice of Apple to finally reveal pricing and maybe even unveil a bundle for Apple services, but I doubt it will.

Similarly, watchOS 6 hasn’t had a ton of rumor action. It’s likely that Apple will continue the theme of focusing on health, and it will probably talk about updates to its Health app alongside updates to watchOS. There will be a new Dose feature to help you remember to take your pills, but the most important feature is Cycles, which will help track menstrual cycles. It’s something you could do before, but I am very glad to see Apple pay more attention to reproductive health.

There should be a new Voice Memo app, so expect freak-outs about surreptitious recordings from anybody wearing a Watch later this year. We also expect a new Calculator app, and I dearly hope Apple licenses the look and feel of the classic Casio calculator watch because that would be dope. I’m sure there will also be new watchfaces, but, unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Apple will open that up to third-party developers.

That’s just about everything we hope to see at WWDC this year. Some of it is a lock, and some of it is just starry-eyed hopes and dreams, but that’s how anticipation works. The important thing to remember is that the stakes are actually pretty high — especially for the Mac.

We’ll know whether Apple can rise to the occasion on Monday at 10AM PT / 1PM ET. And you can be sure that The Verge will be there live to bring you all the news.