Apple WWDC 2023 Recap: Bigs Bets on AR/VR, Brand New iOS 17, And More

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Apple‘s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) event is usually where the company unveils first looks and software updates for existing Apple products, the public responds with so many memes, and we never heard the end of how Steve Jobs would feel about Apple releases these days. If you too are fatigued with another minor camera update to the iPhone, then this year’s keynote address at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters pulled out all the stops, namely their next moon shot product — the Vision Pro mixed reality headset.

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This is a big gamble for Apple (Tim Cook even called it a “new kind of computer” in his presentation), but a huge vindication for those betting on the XR (Extended Reality) ecosystem going mainstream. But amidst the conversations about how the Vision Pro might or might not live up to the likes of more ubiquitous models like Meta’s Quest Pro or the Playstation VR2, we got updates on everything from software upgrades, to new Mac hardware announcements, and more.

Here are the the top five best things we saw and Apple WWDC 2023 and what to look out for in the coming months.

Apple Vision Pro Headset

Apple Vision Pro Mixed-Reality Headset

The Apple Vision Pro is an ambitious and long-awaited contender in the AR/VR headset race, and by far the biggest announcement of WWDC 2023. While social media made visual comparisons to Ready Player One (a novel/film about a dystopia where most people spend their lives in a virtual reality universe), the Vision Pro is technically a computer, with the same M2 chip found in Apple’s best computers.

But it won’t come cheap — Apple Vision Pro will retail for $3,499, and will start shipping early next year. This is a big ask when we’ve gotten to the point where you can get a really solid VR helmet for under $300. That being said, the biggest draw here is the connection to Apple’s entire ecosystem of widgets and apps, a play that angles the Vision Pro as more of a Swiss Army Knife for everything from work from home, to travel, and less about targeting hardcore gamers.

The headset itself still looks similar to devices like the Quest Pro, with a curved OLED display on the outside, a glass that obscures the cameras, and a wide band around the back (there’s also rumors there might be an external battery pack involved). The Vision Pro has 4K resolution enabled through three-element lenses (which can be swapped out for different visual purposes). The audio pods are inside the band that fits over your ears, and you’ll get that spatial audio quality through “ray tracing” maps that track your position. And there are no chunky control handles here, since the headset is controlled through hand and body motion and voice commands alone (though that might be a bit of a learning curve.).

The Vision Pro runs on Apple’s new VisionOS, a new iOS framework designed just for the headset, and the personal display on your face is very reminiscent of the widgets you’d see on your iPhone or Apple Watch. But with 12 cameras, six microphones, and five sensors, there’s a lot more it can do — including take spatial pictures with Apple’s first 3D camera. It also has the particularly unique ability to track your facial motions and project them to others as a full model when you’re on FaceTime, Zoom, or other video chatting apps.

Disney is one of the Vision Pro’s biggest partners, and a teaser during the keynote showed the ability to watch courtside replays of NBA games and interact with exclusive 3D experiences. Disney Plus will also launch on the Vision Pro when it’s released, according to Disney CEO Bob Iger.

But if you’re not convinced that the Vision Pro is the next breakthrough in AR/VR, or simply can’t wait for the release, check out our Sony VR2 review, or these other four top-rated VR headsets.

MacBook Air 15

Macbook Air 15

Apple announced the shiny new Macbook Air 15 too, the first laptop in the Air series that runs on Apple’s M2 chipset, and a much larger version of the MacBook Air 13 that dropped last year.

The MacBook Air 15 gets up to 18 hours of battery life, and comes with up to 24GB of memory and up to 2TB of storage. Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Air is available to order today starting at $1,299 (or $1,199 with a student discount), and will be more widely available on sites like Amazon on June 13.

One thing still sacrificed for a slim profile is a lack of ports — the 15-inch MacBook Air has only two Thunderbolt ports, a MagSafe charging port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the other side. That being said, it’ll be a dream to commute with at 11.5mm thick and just 3.3 pounds. The new laptop also has a 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display with a 1080p camera above the notch for video calls (along with three mics and a six-speaker sound system with force-canceling subwoofers).

If you’re looking for a good alternative with most of the same functionality, the Macbook 13 is still sold on Amazon here.

WatchOS 10

WatchOS 10

A huge number of quality-of-life updates are coming with the next operating system update for Apple Watches with WatchOS10. Most front-facing, widgets are now stacked on your home screen, and you can just the digital crown to scroll down and switch between them.

But Apple mainly focused on upgrades that’ll satisfy those who love to get their sweat on, especially cyclists and hikers. As a beefed up fitness trackers, workouts now show useful threshold data, and you can connect your watch over Bluetooth to any bike sensors to track your ride. If you’re a hiking enthusiast and don’t want to spend up to $1,000 for a smart sports watch, WatchOS 10 has also upgraded the Apple Watch compass with cellular connection waypoints.

What does that entail? If you’re on the trail that’s off the grid, you’ll know which direction to walk and how far until you can get cell reception again (it also gives you SOS waypoint spots). The topographical view of the watch’s map is also extremely helpful, and you can even see elevation in 3D.

Fitness is not the only focus though — on Apple’s Mindfulness app, you can now log and track your emotional state with color-coded options in the State of Mind section. Vision health is also another new function, measuring daylight time spent outside to look out for potential myopia. All in all, it makes even newer models like the Apple Watch 8 even more appealing for those who are invested in biometric data tracking.

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AirPods Audio Upgrades

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)

Apple will roll out a firmware update in the fall that should elevate some key features on the AiPods and AirPods Pro (although they’re already pretty solid earbuds). First off, second generation AirPods Pro are getting Adaptive Audio, which is a staple of some of the best noise-cancelling headphones — it’s a listening mode that intelligently blends Transparency mode and Active Noise Cancellation together to drown out ambient background noise while letting all the important sounds through (think traffic or a train horn).

The second generation AirPods are also getting Conversation Awareness, a version of Speak-to-Chat that I love on my Sony WH-1000XM5s. Apple says that you can now just start speaking and your AirPods will automatically lower the volume and enhance the voices of the person talking to you, all while still reducing distracting sounds in your environment.

AirPods Pro are also getting Personalized Volume, which uses machine learning to understand your environment (like the subway, or your busy office space) and listening preferences over time so it can automatically fine-tune your audio. These are already mainstays in plenty of audiophile earbuds like Sony’s, but we’re happy to Apple finally jumping on the bandwagon.

iOS 17

There’s a lot we can say about iOS 17, which brings a lot of small updates to the table that add up to a big boost in user-friendliness. We won’t go through all of them here, but we will dive into some of our favorites (and functions we’ll probably be using the most).

Let’s start with Messages and calls — you can now search within your messages (finally), swipe to reply to messages, and get transcriptions of voice notes. Speaking of which, voicemails can now be transcribed in real time so you can screen calls faster if you don’t recognize the caller. When you do get a call, you can now set full-screen photos or Memoji to pop up instead of a full gray screen. For photos and videos, you can the subjects and paste them as sticker, essentially home-brewing your own GIFs and memes.

Apple Maps has been majorly behind the times on this one, but you can finally use Maps offline, which is super helpful for traveling abroad, when you’re out of cell signal range, or trying to conserve your battery life.

You can now can share your contacts over AirDrop with the Name Drop (perfect for meet-cutes at the bar or colleagues at a networking event). Filtering who you want to receive AirDrops has also expanded to email addresses and phone numbers.

Let’s talk safety for a second — similar to features on most ride share apes, the Check In feature now lets you send a notification to a contact when you reach your destination, like coming back late from a party. You can also extend the timer if it’s taking longer to reach a location, and it also shares your battery signal and status (no more angry calls about curfew if your phone dies before you can get home).

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