Apple next week holds its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, to be conducted virtually for the second year in a row due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The WWDC kicks off Monday with a two-hour keynote presentation by CEO Tim Cook and other executives. WWDC is generally used to unveil updates to the company’s various operating systems—MacOS for Macs, iOS for the iPhone, WatchOS for Apple Watch, tvOS for Apple TV set-top boxes, and iPadOS, a variation of iOS for iPads.
New hardware announcements are possible, but the exception to the rule. This is, after all, an event for software developers.
Last year, Apple (ticker: AAPL) also used the event to unveil the M1 processor, a chip designed by the company that has replaced Intel parts in some MacBooks and iPads. By the time the announcement came, the launch had been widely anticipated by analysts and media.
There’s not nearly as much buzz heading into this year’s event, but Apple still manages to provide surprises. Expect a few this year.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives expects the focus to be on the usual range of operating-system updates, including iOS 15, which he thinks will include new privacy protections, notification and lock-screen updates, and some new features in iMessage. As Ives noted, the most recent update to the iPhone software, iOS 14.5, includes an opt-in feature for tracking consumer behavior that has infuriated Facebook (FB) and other companies that rely on that data to target advertising.
Ives also thinks Apple will unveil new MacBook Pros at both 14-inch and 16-inch screen sizes, both driven by the M1 chip. He thinks Apple will wait until next summer to launch Apple Glasses, an expected augmented-reality product. He foresees a 2024 arrival for Apple Car.
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty pointed out in a research note that WWDC historically hasn’t given a boost to Apple shares. Over the past 10 years, she wrote, the stock on average has underperformed the S&P 500 by a little over a percentage point in both the week and two weeks immediately following the event.
Over the past year, though, the stock has responded more strongly to WWDC, Huberty said. She sees some potential for a positive response by investors this time, in particular if there are significant hardware announcements.
“While we expect the majority of software/operating system upgrades to be more evolutionary than last year, we do believe Apple will highlight efforts to broaden the use of in-house designed silicon, and potentially launch a new MacBook with the Apple silicon, making this year’s WWDC a potentially more significant catalyst than years past,” Huberty wrote.
As Huberty noted, Nikkei Asia reported in April that Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) has been in mass production on the successor to the M1, which seems to be called the M2. She sees a possibility that Apple will unveil the first M2-powered Macs at the event.
Huberty remains bullish on the Mac business, which grew 70% in the March quarter amid widespread demand for laptops during the pandemic. She estimates that Apple had 7.7% of the PC market in calendar 2020 and sees potential for Apple’s slice of the pie to expand to be comparable to the company’s 16% share in the smartphone market. If that happens, she said, Macs alone could be a $68 billion run-rate business by 2025, more than double its current size.
As for updates to the various Apple operating systems, Huberty pointed to a Bloomberg story in April that said the company was planning to update how iOS handles notifications, a new iPad home screen, an updated lock screen, and various privacy updates.
On Friday, Apple shares rallied about 1%, to $124.81. The stock is down about 6% year to date but up about 43% since last year’s WWDC.