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Why was there no new hardware at Apple’s WWDC 2018?

Recode’s Dan Frommer explains why the company is focusing on software updates, including ARKit and Siri.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Back in the day, Apple would preview the next iteration of the iPhone or other new gadgets at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. But at this year’s event, as has been the case for most of the past decade, the company was only talking about software.

“The smartphone has hit maturity,” Recode’s Editor in Chief Dan Frommer said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. “There’s not going to be a new thing that radically changes the way we use phones overnight, that radically changes Apple’s business or their trajectory in the market against Android. That’s just not going to happen.”

Last year was the exception that proved the rule: Apple gave WWDC attendees a preview of the HomePod, its smart speaker aimed at competing with Amazon’s Echo product line and the Google Home speakers. The speaker’s release was eventually delayed into 2018, but even before that setback, the HomePod was slated for a far-off date.

“It’s always great when Apple says, ‘Here’s something you didn’t know you needed, and we’ve made it, and it’s awesome, and you can use it today,’” Frommer said. “Or, ‘You can go out and buy it right now.’ It’s harder to do now, especially with phones, where they have to get FCC approval. The HomePod last year was super disappointing because [they said] ‘Here it is! Oh, and you can buy it in … six months.’”

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On the new podcast, Frommer also talked about the two products at WWDC 2018 that most interested him: Apple’s virtual assistant Siri and its augmented reality platform ARKit. Both are Apple-y versions of emerging technologies that many tech companies are experimenting with, but Frommer said Siri is getting much-needed upgrades now after being “not much of a priority” for the company for the past seven years.

“I think they’re the clear leader in AR, among the major platforms, and I think it would be foolish to count Siri out,” he said, referring to Amazon’s assistant Alexa and the Google Assistant. “I don’t think there’s a 90 percent market-share winner here.”

“I think you’re going to use Alexa, Google and Apple for different things,” Frommer added. “You may use two or three of them. Apple absolutely needs to get better, and I think the stuff they announced suggests they’re aware of that. So, we’ll see.”

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