OCT 21, 2021 / Apple

Apple’s WWDC ’21 brings software updates, but no new hardware

Apple recently held its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, where it details new hardware and software that it wants software developers to work around for new apps and experiences.

Although in 2021, there were a few key differences. Owing to the pandemic, everything was virtual rather than in-person, and unlike years past, Apple showed off no new hardware, just updates to its operating systems for iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch and its Mac computers.

There’s some interesting convergence of features coming later this year across the board, with a focus on shared experiences, such as SharePlay, which will allow you to group watch content on streaming services with a single shared pause/play set of controls. Apple’s also going to open up its FaceTime video calling app somewhat, with the ability to join FaceTime calls from Android handsets or Windows PCs, although only those in the Apple walled garden of devices will actually be able to start up encrypted FaceTime calls.

Still, Apple’s keeping its product lines separate, so while the new iPad Pro models share the exact same M1 processor as its new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, the underlying iPad OS 15 and upcoming macOS Monterey will still have differing feature sets. Apple says it’ll make multitasking on iPad Pro easier to access and configure in the upcoming updates, but it’s still not leaning fully into making iPadOS and macOS the same thing. One neat new feature if you do have an iPad Pro and a Mac running the newest operating systems is what Apple’s calling Universal Control, where you’ll be able to run multiple Macs and iPads from the one keyboard and mouse set, sharing files and details between them as though they were simply extra monitors for a single shared experience.

Apple’s also doubling down on its commitment to privacy, especially if you use its paid iCloud storage service. That’s technically going to be “iCloud+”, and one of the plus features will be a VPN-style relay service to obscure your overall IP address from easy tracking. It’s not quite the full encryption stack that you’d get with a full VPN, but it will make it harder for online marketers to track all of your activity across the web.

As with most things Apple, the price of admission here is more tied to the hardware than anything else. If you’ve got an iPhone, anything at least as new as an iPhone 6s will technically be iOS 15 compatible, although predictably the newer phones will get more features and run a little more snappily than the older ones. If you’re an iPad user, you’ll need a 5th Generation iPad or newer to get iPadOS 15, and again your feature set will vary a little depending on the underlying power of your particular tablet.

Apple has a much wider array of macOS devices, so the mix of compatible devices is a touch more complicated. The oldest Macs that will run Monterey are 2013 Mac Pros, followed by 2014 Mac Minis. If you’re using an iMac, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro of the 2015 vintage or newer, it’ll be Monterey Compatible, as will 2016 MacBooks, and anything newer than that as well.

Apple’s already making its new operating systems available for developers, with public beta offerings expected in July. Final code is more likely to go live around the October to November timeframe, most likely at the same time as 2021’s crop of iPhones is revealed.

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Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist