At WWDC23, Apple Releases New Macs, Previews New OS Features, and Unveils Vision Pro

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote is primarily an opportunity for Apple to give developers a first look at new features coming in its operating systems, and this year was no exception. However, Apple sandwiched those feature reveals between announcements of new Macs and the unveiling of its mixed-reality Vision Pro headset, due next year. Watch the video below for the full two-hour show, or read on for my summary.

New Macs Complete the Transition to Apple Silicon

Apple introduced three new Macs: the 15-inch MacBook Air, Mac Studio models with faster chips, and the first Apple silicon Mac Pro, all of which are available now.

15-inch M2 MacBook Air

$1,299 starting, available now

This new consumer-level laptop is nearly identical to the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air, apart from its 15.3-inch screen and improved sound system. It’s an excellent machine for anyone who wants a highly capable laptop with a larger screen for less than the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro. Additionally, the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air was reduced from $1,199 to $1,099.

Mac Studio

$1,999 starting for M2 Max / $3,999 starting for M2 Ultra, available now

The new Mac Studio is unchanged other than swapping last year’s M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips for the higher-performance M2 Max and new M2 Ultra. The M2 Ultra boasts a 24-core CPU, lets you choose between 60-core and 76-core GPU models, offers a higher unified memory ceiling of 192 GB, and can drive up to eight displays. The improvements may not be worth replacing an M1-based Mac Studio, but the gains over an Intel-based iMac or Mac Pro are significant.

Mac Pro

$6,999 starting, available now

The long-awaited Mac Pro retains the form factor of the last Intel-based Mac Pro but differs radically inside. It relies on the same M2 Ultra chip as in the Mac Studio but has open slots for six full-length PCI Express gen 4 cards and provides eight built-in Thunderbolt 4 ports. Apple claims it is 3–7 times faster than the Intel-based Mac Pro, but the details will likely vary by situation. For instance, the M2 Ultra reportedly provides the performance of seven of Apple’s $2000 Afterburner cards for accelerating ProRes and ProRes RAW video codecs. But the M2 Ultra maxes out at 192 GB of unified memory that’s faster and more efficiently used, whereas the Intel-based Mac Pro could accept up to 1.5 TB of traditional RAM. Pricing starts at $6999 for a tower enclosure and $7499 for a rack enclosure. Considering that the processing power is identical to the Mac Studio Ultra, unless you need the PCIe expandability you are probably better off with the Studio.

With the release of the Mac Pro, Apple dropped the last Intel-based Mac from its lineup. That doesn’t mean the company will stop supporting recent Intel-based iMacs in the next version or two of macOS, but that will happen sometime in the next few years. Plan to replace Intel-based Macs eventually—you’ll appreciate the significant performance and power savings from Apple’s M-series Macs.

Upcoming Apple software

As always, Apple previewed oodles of new features while covering many more on its website. Apple released the unfinished (beta) software for developers already so that they can start taking advantage of new features. The final public release is “this fall” which typically means October for Mac and September for the others. Frankly, I’m pretty impressed with the new features this year.

Will my device be compatible?

Sadly, because Apple is focused so much on the new (admittedly amazing) Apple Silicon Macs, a lot of older Intel Macs are on the chopping block this year. Don’t worry too much if your Mac doesn’t make the list. It’s not immediately obsolete. macOS Ventura will continue to receive security patches until the end of 2025 and macOS Monterey will continue to the end of 2024. To find out what devices you have, go on your iPhone or iPad go to the Settings app > tap your name > scroll to the bottom to see a list of devices connected to your account. Here are the compatible devices:

  • macOS Sonoma: All 2018 Macs and later as well as iMac Pro.
  • iOS 17: Second-generation iPhone SE, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone 11 and later
  • iPadOS 17:
    • iPad 6 and later
    • iPad mini 5 and later
    • iPad Air 3 and later
    • iPad Pro 12.9-inch 2nd gen and later
    • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
    • iPad Pro 11-inch (all generations)
  • tvOS 17: Any Apple TV HD or 4K
  • watchOS 10: Apple Watch Series 4 and later, including Apple Watch SE

What are the new features?

These updates have hundreds of little features sprinkled throughout. Here are the features I think are the most useful or fun. Not all features will be available on all devices.

For more details visit Apple’s information for macOS Sonoma, iOS 17, iPadOS 17, watchOS 10, tvOS 17.

Contact Posters

Although you can share your preferred photo with others for use in Messages, Contacts, and Photos, when you call someone, all they see is your name unless they have saved your photo to their address book. In iOS 17, Apple is introducing Contact Posters, which let you pick a photo or Memoji, along your preferred font. Then the Contact Poster will appear whenever you call someone, making it easier for them to identify who’s calling at a glance.

FaceTime Support on Apple TV

You will soon be able to use your iPhone or iPad camera and microphone to bring FaceTime conversations to the biggest screen in the house. Center Stage will let you move around the room while staying framed onscreen, and gesture-based reactions let callers create onscreen effects. These capabilities will also arrive later this year for other videoconferencing systems like Zoom or Webex, creating another reason to put an Apple TV in the conference room. I’ve found conflicting information about which Apple TV 4K model is required for this feature, but it’s clear that Apple TV HD (the oldest still-supported model) won’t be getting camera support.

Desktop Widgets on the Mac

Widgets have become commonplace on iPhone and iPad Home screens, but on the Mac, they’ve been relegated to Notification Center. With macOS Sonoma, widgets can now migrate to the desktop, where you can position them anywhere. They’re also interactive, enabling you to control music, toggle the lights, and mark reminders as done without opening their apps. Thanks to Continuity, you can add your iPhone widgets to the Mac desktop, even when there’s no Mac app. Your iPhone has to remain nearby or on the same Wi-Fi network. Remember that you can use a hotkey or hot corner to slide all your windows aside to reveal your desktop anytime. And now with macOS Sonoma, the desktop will be revealed by clicking any blank space on your desktop.

NameDrop for Sharing Phone Numbers

Sharing phone numbers has never been easier with the new NameDrop feature. Just hold your iPhone near someone else’s iPhone or Apple Watch (Series 6 or later, with a later release of watchOS 10) to exchange contact information—which you select—along with your Contact Poster.

Web Apps in Safari

We all have websites that we use heavily, just like a native Mac app. If there’s no Mac version of the app, Safari in macOS Sonoma will let you add the website to your Dock, where it will look and work like a standalone app with its own window, toolbar, and notifications.

More Welcome Features

For more reasons to upgrade once these new operating systems are out and stable, consider the following additional features:

  • Live Voicemail: While someone is leaving you a message, Live Voicemail transcribes it and displays it onscreen so you can decide if you want to pick up or not. Just like screening your answering machine in the 90s.
  • AirTag sharing: share location information of any AirTag (and third-party Find My trackers) with up to five other people.
  • No more “Hey” with Siri: We can hope Siri becomes better at listening, but at least Apple’s letting us invoke Siri with a single word now.
  • Simultaneous dictation and keyboard use in macOS: Being able to dictate and edit text with the keyboard simultaneously has been great in iOS 16, and with macOS Sonoma, you’ll be able to enter text on your Mac just as fluidly.
  • PDF form filling: It will get easier to fill forms in PDFs, with iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma automatically filling in your contact information. It even works with scanned PDFs.
  • Offline Maps: Download maps on iPhone that can be used for browsing and navigation when cell service is unavailable.
  • AirDrop Improvements: continue transfers over the internet if you leave range before completion.
  • Customizable Lock Screen on iPad: a great feature from iPhone finally comes to iPad.
  • Multiple Timer Support: “Siri, set a 60-minute potato timer” “Siri, set a 10-minute pasta timer”
  • StandBy: when charging horizontally, iPhone becomes a dashboard panel much like Amazon Echo Show.
  • FaceTime Voicemail: when you can’t answer a FaceTime call, the caller has an option to leave a video or audio voicemail message.
  • Journal app (coming after the initial iOS 17 release): a new app to organize your photos, thoughts, and activities.
  • Safari Profiles: keep separate bookmarks, settings, and extensions for different uses such as school, personal, and work.
  • iCloud Keychain Sharing: share saved passwords and passkeys with others.
  • Passkeys in third-party browsers: Passkeys saved in iCloud Keychain can be accessed by other browsers such as Firefox or Chrome.
  • SharePlay for CarPlay: anyone can be DJ in your car and take control of the music from their own iPhone.
  • Apple Music playlist collaboration: share a playlist with friends and they can also add music like a virtual jukebox.
  • AirPlay for Hotels: Scan a QR code on the TV in your hotel room to AirPlay to the TV. Support begins with some IHG hotels later this year, possibly other hotels with Samsung TVs.
  • Adaptive Audio for AirPods Pro 2: blends Transparency and Noise Cancellation modes, blocking out background noise while allowing distinct noises like voices through.
  • Real-time charging station data in Apple Maps: see where you can charge your car along your route
  • Back-to-back requests for Siri: “Siri, text John I just left work. Start my weekend playlist.”
  • Visual Lookup gets smarter: Photos can look up standard symbols (auto, laundry) and can find recipes that look like the photos of food you took
  • Health App improvements: now syncs to iPad, mental health and vision health features.
  • Apple ID gets passcode support
  • Photos ‘faces’ can now recognize pets

Apple usually releases its new operating systems in September or October, and I’ll be writing more about them as I have a chance to test them. Generally speaking, it’s OK to upgrade to everything but macOS shortly after release; with macOS, I recommend caution to ensure all your existing apps and workflows won’t be impacted. For most people it’s safe to upgrade near the end of the calendar year.

Apple Unveils Vision Pro “Spatial Computer”

And now for something completely different. Apple devoted the final third of its keynote to unveiling a mixed-reality headset it calls Vision Pro. It’s a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality.

Vision Pro will ship in early 2024, starting at $3,499. The high price accurately reflects the impressive amounts of technology Apple has put into the device but puts it out of reach for all but the most inquisitive and flush early adopters. What will Vision Pro make possible for that money?

Vision Pro blends digital content with the physical world, providing a three-dimensional interface controlled by the user’s eyes, hands, and voice. Users can display apps as floating windows or bring a Mac’s screen into Vision Pro as an enormous 4K display. Along with controls triggered by eye tracking and hand gestures, plus a virtual keyboard, users can use the Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard for faster and possibly more accurate interaction.

FaceTime on Vision Pro takes advantage of the space, putting other callers in life-size tiles and providing a shared screen. Speakers in the headset provide spatial audio, so it sounds like people are speaking from where their tiles are positioned. Vision Pro users don’t show up looking like they’re wearing the headset; instead, they’re represented by a digital avatar Apple calls a Persona. Will it escape the uncanny valley?

Vision Pro is an easier sell for entertainment, where many people prefer immersive experiences, whether watching a movie on what seems like a 100-foot screen or playing a game where you see nothing but its virtual world. A Digital Crown lets the user control how much of the physical world seeps through around the edges.

If you’re thinking it would be unsettling to be in the same room with someone wearing a Vision Pro, you’re not alone. In an attempt to reduce that sense, a technology called EyeSight makes the device seem transparent—it shows an image of the user’s eyes on a front-facing display for others to see. How effective this will be remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine Vision Pro becoming a fashion accessory. Perhaps in a few years if it is reduced to the size of standard glasses.

There’s a great deal more to Vision Pro, such as its ability to record and play 3D movies with spatial audio, wrap panorama photos around the user, and run existing iPhone and iPad apps. Despite the incredible hardware and software that Apple has invented to bring Vision Pro to fruition, it feels like a technology demo. And it does demo well, judging from reports from reviewers.

It certainly is pricy. But remember, the first MacBook Air was $1,788 in 2008 ($2,592 in 2023 dollars). And as underpowered as it was, it was still well-loved. And when you factor in the idea that Vision Pro is a 4K monitor for your computer, a multi-monitor setup for iPad apps, and a virtual office you can take anywhere, it’s suddenly not so outrageous.

My hot take? I think this is the future of computing judging by the reviews, but just like the first iPhone, the first iPad, the first MacBook Air, and the first Apple Watch (all of which critics called stupid, expensive, and a solution looking for a problem), it is an amazing shift in our relationship with technology, but as soon as the second-gen is out it will be obsolete. So I’m holding out for Vision Pro 2. Only time will tell if Apple’s vision of the future is correct.

(Featured image by Apple)