On Apple Fitting a Headset Announcement Into the Always-Packed WWDC Keynote

Ben Bajarin on Twitter:

If Apple is releasing a VR/AR headset this year, it makes more sense for a dedicated event or bundle it with a Mac event in the fall.

There is too much ground to cover at WWDC, and 30 min is not enough to tell the full product story.

I’ve been thinking about this too. The WWDC keynote is always packed. And in recent years, Federighi has gotten Apple’s software factory into such disciplined shape that there are always major updates to every single platform. There are going to be major new features to announce and demo for iOS/iPadOS 17, MacOS 14, and WatchOS 10. I suspect we’re going to see new Mac hardware announced. If it’s just the 15-inch MacBook Air, that’s an easy announcement: it’s a MacBook Air with a bigger display. But if it’s the M-series Mac Pro (finally), that’s going to demand some presentation time. Last year’s keynote ran 1h:48m; here’s a rundown from The Verge of the major announcements.

But I do think the headset is going to be announced at WWDC. There’s just too much smoke for there not to be a fire. And, seemingly, Apple isn’t quietly trying to dampen expectations for the headset behind the scenes. The same thing happened with the iPhone before Macworld Expo 2007 — there were rampant rumors that the Apple phone was finally coming, and no one hearing from sources that it wouldn’t. They might have ideally wanted to announce it before this year’s WWDC at a special event, but if they want developers to start creating software for the platform, this is the time. (And why wouldn’t they want developers to start working on ideas?)

Apple does not like for keynotes to run longer than two hours. The glaring exception that springs to mind was the WWDC 2015 keynote, which ran a grueling 2h:25m. That was the one with a long section on Apple Music with Jimmy Iovine on stage. Probably the worst WWDC keynote ever, and the only one that ever felt under-rehearsed.

Here’s the thing though: post-COVID keynotes aren’t just pre-recorded, they’re very tightly edited. I suspect we’ll get a keynote that still comes in under 2 hours even with an entire 40-minute-ish segment announcing both the headset and xrOS. It’ll just go fast. Fitting the headset and xrOS developer frameworks into the old-style on-stage WWDC keynote would have posed a problem. I don’t think it’s a problem with the new “keynote movie” format.1 We won’t come out of the keynote thinking it was too long; we’ll come out of it with our heads spinning because it’s going to cover so much, so fast.

  1. And if I’m right, I bet this is one of those years where after the keynote is over, and people start poring over everything Apple puts on the web, we discover a surprising number of very cool iOS and MacOS features that didn’t make it into the keynote. Anything and everything from the OSes might get cut to make time for the headset, xrOS, and Mac hardware announcements. There’s a whole second State of the Union technical keynote in the afternoon where features cut from the main morning keynote can go. ↩︎