It’s been easy to overlook Apple’s big foray into streaming, but honest, even as Apple was getting developers jazzed up today at WWDC about a historic shift in its Mac universe, the company still found time to tout a new TV+ show with impeccable geek cred.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told the audience for this year’s World Wide Developers Conference, completely virtual and pre-recorded for the first time, that, “Today is going to be a truly historic day, showing how we’re going to take the Mac to a truly new level. This is a huge leap forward for the Mac. When we make big changes, it’s for one simple reason, to make the best products.”
The “historic” news was the company’s decision to shift the processors that run its Mac family of laptops and desktop computers from Intel chips to its own Apple Silicon. It represents a tectonic shift in the company’s original product line that will change every bit of software that runs on its future computers.
And yes, it’s a big deal, big enough that Apple even used a little flourish to later announce the number for its next version of the Mac operating system, jumping from Catalina, numbered version 10.15, to Big Sur, numbered 11.0, leaving behind Mac OSX as the company moves toward a more unified future.
By the company’s counting, the shift to home-brew silicon marks only the fourth major shift in Apple’s 44-year history. Apple executives said, among much else, that it opens up the millions of iPad and iPhone apps on the iOS App Store to run easily and simply for the first time on Macs, where few of them typically ventured in the past.
Apple has been slowly evolving for years in this direction, which will simplify software development, reduce costs, and also improve power management, graphics capabilities, security and other functions, according to Apple executives.
Not completely lost in the Big Sur announcement and the company’s typical shotgun blast of other WWDC announcements was a screening of a new trailer for one of its most anticipated upcoming TV+ shows, Foundation.
The series is based on Isaac Asimov’s beloved Foundation series of books. The original trilogy is among the most feted in science-fiction history, even winning a Hugo Award in the 1960s as the best science-fiction series of all time, though the astonishingly prolific Asimov later pumped out four more rather less necessary additional volumes.
The 10-part series stars Cassian Bilton, Laura Birn and Jared Harris, along with Terrence Mann and Lee Pace. Executive producers include heavyweights David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel) and David Ellison (Star Trek Beyond, Annhilation). The sleek and dystopian series is slated to arrive in “2021,” according to the trailer.
Apple also has begun advertising on TV for Greyhound, the WWII naval thriller starring and directed by Tom Hanks. Apple picked up the film from Sony for $70 million in a reputedly hot bidding war a few weeks ago.
Sony, which had pushed most of its theater-bound film slate into 2021 because of COVID-19 and the virtual shutdown of the exhibition business, chose to sell Greyhound (which in ads also looked pretty interesting). For Apple, it was another prestige pickup for TV+, to go with a sparse lineup that still features only a few dozen original series, documentaries, non-fiction projects, and films.
Apple also has been pushing Emmy voters to consider backing what has been TV+’s biggest pop-culture breakout so far: The Morning Show, featuring Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carrell, Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup.
The expensive series, set in a morning news show undergoing a Matt Lauer-like #MeToo scandal, already picked up a SAG Award amid a few other bits of iron and nominations early in the year. Now, it has a modest chance but much stouter competition as it tries to grab more love during Emmy season.
There’s also a modest FYC campaign for Dickinson, a coming-of-age story starring Halee Steinfeld as the young poet-to-be Emily Dickinson. It too grabbed a bit of pop cultural and critical love, though it’s been long superseded in that audience sector’s collective mind by shows such as Hulu’s Normal People and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and Outer Banks.
Finally, alongside the Greyhound acquisition, Apple reportedly is licensing other catalog content from third-party providers, apparent recognition amid the pandemic’s viewing demands and growing competition that TV+ needed more stuff, especially if it wants to compete against Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and a soon-to-be Viacom-enhanced CBS All Access.
So, Apple is tossing around bread crumbs suggesting TV+ isn’t going anywhere, and might actually get better. That said, using the WWDC to debut a TV+ trailer was slightly surprising.
The WWDC focuses on developers, who are learning about the company’s next generation of operating systems and other software and hardware.
Spotlighting consumer programming, especially for a show that won’t arrive until long after the first Apple Silicon Macs hit stores, seems an ill fit for WWDC. Perhaps they were just trying to hit a prime consumer target for the show: Foundation’s hero, the mathematician and “psychohistorian” Hari Seldon, is definitely a geek uber god from a different era.
More to the point, running the trailer in WWDC suggests Apple still likes its streaming service enough to talk about it, however briefly, in a two-hour tech-fest.
The company also announced that the iOS-based operating system for Apple TV – the pricy streaming device that runs TV+, other video services, games, music and some other kinds of apps – will be upgraded with picture-in-picture video playback (watch the news while following along on your exercise routine!), full 4K resolution for videos played through Airplay, and multi-user support for Apple Arcade games.
The shift to Apple Silicon represents the first time in 14 years that Apple has moved to a new family of chips for its laptops and desktops. Apple has been making its own, highly regarded chips based on ARM designs for its iPhones, iPads and other devices for a decade, experience that Cook and other Apple executives said during the two-hour recorded presentation had prepared them well for transition.
Indeed, as Apple executives pointed out during the presentation, its current family of chips make its iPad Pro devices faster than many laptops in the market. That same graphics capability and raw power will be of use on Macs too.
The new A12Z Bionic chips are already running in special developer-only versions of the Mac Mini that will be available this week to the company’s millions of third-party developers. Consumer versions of new Apple Silicon machines will begin arriving by the end of the year, Cook said.
Some of the other big announcements of the morning include:
- Sleeker, airier desktop design with more consistent icons and logos;
- Translation capabilities between 11 different languages;
- An overhauled Widgets, providing easy, customizable mini-programs that provide simple access to information such as the weather, stock prices and more.
- App Clips, similar to QR codes, that can be scanned to quickly call up apps in stores and other locations and also simplify touch-less payments through Apple Pay and the Apple Card.
- Scribble, handwriting-recognition software designed to turn handwriting on touchscreens into editable, even formatted text that can also be shared to other devices and apps;
- Maps improvements that now include cycling information and city guides;
- Sleep Tracking and Handwashing apps for the watch and iPhone;
- Adaptive lighting for HomeKit;
- Movie-theater-style spatial audio for the AirPods Pro earbuds.
That Apple still found time after all that for even the briefest of spotlights for TV+ amid all that suggests the company still has some plans for the slow-starting service. If it ever gets fully engaged, TV+ might actually turn into something.