5 questions for Apple to answer at WWDC

The Apple Watch, Cortana and HomeKit could all use updates

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is coming to San Francisco next week, giving CEO Tim Cook a chance to get developers fired up over the latest that Apple has to offer.

Don’t expect a new iPhone. WWDC is all about software and services, but we'll also get a general update on the state of Apple. Here are some questions Apple needs to answer at the event.

How will Siri compete with Cortana and the Google Assistant?

When Siri launched in 2011, it was one of the first virtual assistants of its kind, but it now has competitors from Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google. Apple needs to show how Siri is better than — or can at least keep pace with — its rivals.

There’s some serious low-hanging fruit, like the ability to maintain context across several queries. Right now, if you ask Siri about something, then ask it a follow-up question without specifying the subject, Siri won’t know what you’re talking about. That’s an important thing to fix.

There’s also the broader question of the general vision for Siri. Apple has purposefully tried to keep itself out of mining users’ data for advertising or personalization purposes, but competitors are doing that with useful results: Google’s assistant, for example, can remind you of upcoming flights because it saw an email from your airline.

Apple’s focus on privacy might hurt Siri’s ability to build a personalized experience for users, but loosening that could drive some users away.

Will the Apple Watch get more useful with an OS update?

While the Apple Watch remains one of the most popular wearables, its software could use some work. One of the Watch’s marquee features is its ability to run apps, but they can be slow to start, and the finicky launcher, which puts every app in a honeycomb grid, can be hard to manipulate.

Popular developers like Slack have let their apps languish and, despite a few highlights, apps are a pretty minor part of the overall Watch experience. That could change with enhancements in a software update expected Monday.

Apple could also address the Friends button. It’s rarified real estate – one of just two buttons on the watch – but it’s primarily used to access a list of friends and contact them. That’s a feature people just don’t use that much.

Apple could offer users the chance to customize how that button works. But overall, any changes there ought to be a part of a broader push to make the Watch’s software focus more on features people actually use.

How is Apple going to make the Mac App Store thrive?

Apple has already announced major changes to the way that it operates the iOS App Store, but there’s a question mark hanging over the store that it operates on its computers.

The Mac App Store (MAS) was supposed to duplicate the success of the phone app store on the desktop, but instead, it has languished. Some developers who initially built and deployed apps on the store have pulled them, while others have stopped updating them.

An easy fix could be to alleviate some of the sandboxing restrictions that prevent developers from releasing applications through the store. Another option would be to start enabling upgrade discounts — something that developers often rely on outside of the Mac App Store, but which Apple has been reluctant to officially allow through either of its digital stores.

What’s HomeKit’s role in the smart home ecosystem?

Two years ago, Apple unveiled HomeKit, a set of developer tools for connecting smart home devices with iOS devices, so people can do things like tell Siri to turn off their lights.

But not much has happened since. The number of HomeKit enabled devices is woefully small, with a number of leading smart home brands absent from Apple’s platform. WWDC would be a great time to outline how the company is thinking about its place in the growing smart home ecosystem, especially as Google and Amazon make big plays to be a part of that world.

Where does the road lead for CarPlay?

A big question for Apple’s connected car initiative is greater compatibility for CarPlay. As it stands, consumers have to either buy a car that’s CarPlay ready, or buy an aftermarket console and get it installed into their vehicle.

Google announced last month that the next version of its mobile operating system will let people run Android Auto on their phones, no dedicated hardware required. WWDC could see Apple make a similar announcement.

Apple’s keynote kicks off at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday morning. Stay tuned to see what the company has in store.

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