Second only to the new iPhone reveal in the autumn, WWDC is a huge event in Apple’s yearly calendar. In this article we round up everything you need to know about WWDC 2021, from the likely dates and how to watch the presentation live to the range of products and software updates that will be revealed on the night.
What is WWDC?
WWDC stands for Worldwide Developers Conference. It’s an event Apple holds once a year for the benefit of its developer partners – the people who create the software that runs on the Mac, iPhone and other Apple platforms.
WWDC lasts for a week, but on the first morning (or evening in the UK) Tim Cook and other Apple staff will appear in a keynote presentation announcing the major software updates for the year: the new features and other changes coming in the next versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV respectively.
These are obviously of great importance for the developers, but owners of Apple devices will be watching the presentation with great interest too, since the new features will be available for existing devices as well as the new ones launching later in the year.
The rest of the week is occupied with workshops and networking events for developers, although these sections of the event were very different in 2020 because it was held entirely online.
Dates: When will WWDC 2021 happen?
We expect WWDC 2021 to run from 7-11 June 2021.
WWDC takes place in early summer, with June by far the most likely timing. Usually it’s the first week of June, in fact, even though timings were slightly different in 2020 for obvious reasons.
Here’s when the past 11 WWDC events have begun:
- 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
Will WWDC 2021 be online-only?
Based on the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, it looks likely that WWDC will be an online-only event for the second year in a row.
With a new (and seemingly proactive) administration in place it’s possible that the US will turn things around quickly, and that public gatherings will be permitted in time for June. But President Biden has warned: “It’s going to take months for us to turn things around.”
Another thing to bear in mind is that Apple’s video presentations in 2020 seemed, at least from the outside, to be a triumph. The slick, pre-edited video presentations were far more enjoyable and efficient than the usual sprawling live events, and while local businesses will have taken a hit, a lot of money was saved on catering, accommodation and air travel.
If there’s any doubt at all about the health implications, it would make sense for Apple to keep things online-only.
How to watch WWDC 2021
The keynote presentation will start at 10am local time (PDT) on the first day of the event. That translates to 6pm UK time.
In the past Apple has also sometimes held viewing events in certain Apple stores, although we doubt that will happen this year. (It didn’t happen in 2020.)
You can find out more in our dedicated article on the subject, How to watch Apple’s WWDC keynote live.
What new software will Apple announce at WWDC 2021?
We can split this fairly neatly into two sections: the software updates that will definitely happen, and the hardware products that might happen.
Let’s discuss the five big software updates first.
The new operating system for iPhones will bring a raft of new features, tweaks to the interface and all-important security fixes. It will be unveiled at WWDC and immediately released as a pre-release beta for developers only; a few weeks later the first public beta will follow.
We discuss this update in more detail in our iOS 15 news hub.
Not much is currently known about Apple’s next OS for the iPad, but we’ll find out what’s in store when Tim Cook takes to the virtual stage in June.
iPadOS is in an interesting point of development, having split off from iOS relatively recently (in 2019). The two platforms still have much in common, but we expect that to change for the iPadOS 15 update as Apple works to define separate aesthetics and user experiences to suit the small and medium-size screen.
It should be said that we found iPadOS 14 considerably buggier than its iOS equivalent, and it continues to be far less user-friendly; a ‘stabilisation’ update would be unpopular – everyone always wants a big headline feature – but we’d take it.
We know Apple has been testing macOS 12 since at least 11 January, so the version that’s unveiled in June ought to be pretty slick.
In terms of features, we hope to be able to customise what appears in the Control Centre, and for the arrival of the Shortcuts and Health apps on Mac.
Note that while macOS 12 will be announced alongside the other four OS updates at WWDC, it may be released to the public a little later. In 2020 macOS Big Sur wasn’t released until 12 November.
Get the latest info in our macOS 12 news hub.
What new features will arrive on the Apple Watch this year? More Health and less internet (by which we mean less requirement to be online for features like Siri), was the verdict of Halyna Kubiv in our Apple Watch trends article for 2021. There is likely to be a standalone Health app, and 9to5Mac thinks Apple will come up with Battery and Hiking apps too.
In terms of compatible devices, we think Apple will be kind this year. After slashing the Series 1 and 2 from the list in 2020, it’s likely to allow Series 3 and later to install watchOS 8 – but we’ll find out for sure in June.
Keep up to date with all the features coming to an Apple Watch near you with our watchOS 8 news hub.
There’s a lot of focus on the Apple TV at the moment; in fact, we expect a new Apple TV to launch before WWDC 2021, which may change expectations of tvOS 15.
Regardless of the new hardware, however, you can expect Apple to continue its focus on gaming and home security.
New hardware products at WWDC 2021
The five software updates are nailed-on certainties – or as close to that as we ever come with Apple. WWDC’s hardware launches are harder to predict.
As you can read in our history of WWDC article, some of the company’s biggest products have been announced or unveiled at WWDC, such as the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4, various iPads, the HomePod, numerous MacBook Pro and Air models, and the iMac Pro and Mac Pro. But other WWDC events, including two out of the last three, have had no consumer hardware launches whatsoever. It can go either way.
If Apple does decide to honour us with hardware news, expect the company to focus on pro rather than consumer devices. This could be a good moment to discuss the new iPad Pro, for example, and we hope to hear about the next iteration of the Mac Pro.
WWDC 2020 may have lacked consumer hardware launches but it did include the momentous announcement of Apple Silicon. Given the success Apple’s M1 Macs met with towards the end of last year we wouldn’t be surprised to hear the company discuss the next Apple processors at WWDC 2021: perhaps an M1X or M2 chip, which is likely to appear in the new iMac.
Finally, will Apple talk audio at all? It’s odd that the hugely popular core AirPods line-up received no updates at all in 2020 – although the super-expensive AirPods Max were added at the top end – and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear about new AirPods at WWDC 2021.
Bear in mind, however, that almost all of the hardware discussed above is slated for imminent launch. Before we get to WWDC we expect Apple to host an event in spring – most likely March – and some of them may be announced then.
New subscription services
Last but not least, let’s discuss Apple’s range of paid subscription services. Apple is working to pivot from being primarily a seller of premium hardware to being a seller of services – TV+, News+, Apple Music, Apple Arcade – to owners of that hardware, and the launch of any new services is likely to happen at WWDC.
One analyst has argued that Apple will launch a raft of new Plus services in the near future, and suggests that Podcasts+, Stocks+, Mail+, Maps+ and Health+ are all plausible additions to the portfolio. Such services would also, of course, make it easier to shift subscriptions to Apple One.
And that’s it for WWDC rumours – for now. More info about Apple’s upcoming plans can be found in our guide to New Apple products coming in 2021.
If you’d rather make savings on the products available right now, visit our roundup of the best Apple deals.