The WWDC21 opening speech wasn’t about technology – not really. It may seem odd when describing the opening salvo of a week-long conference dedicated to app and game developers. But at every protest, Apple executives have presented technology as a means to an end. It was always designed as part of a larger strategy to keep people in the Apple ecosystem – and laid the foundation for the company’s future.
Nowhere was this more apparent than with audio. Apple has always cared about music, but the announcements at WWDC21 went far beyond that, showing a deeper understanding of what we hear – and how. They found that Apple viewed audio holistically: how it underpins everything we do and how it can improve lives, while simultaneously increasing the value of Apple hardware, software and its services ever more. lucrative.
In short, there is a broader audio strategy at play here, a strategy in which Apple wants to own the audio market – all of it. And while it’s not obvious when approaching each ad individually, it does make sense when viewed together.
Take, for example, the concept of clarity. It was a major theme throughout the speech, in the sense of using technology to focus. Yet in audio clarity is mostly thought of in terms of quality – and we already knew Apple was bringing free lossless and spatial audio upgrades to the Apple Music catalog. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, but what impressed the most was Apple’s ability to take into account the wider impact of audio.
A demo showcased an instant and effective way to remove background noise from FaceTime calls to help a listener focus on your voice. Yes, you’ve heard this statement elsewhere before. But that technique then found a counterpart in a new AirPods Pro feature that removes background distractions from real-world conversations. The hearing of many people is just a little bad – they need occasional assistance similar to reading glasses for the ears. Here is Apple, through a simple software update, creating stylish pseudo-hearing aids for specific contexts, all from existing kits, while also legitimizing a whole new product market.
For some companies, this would have been a quickly forgotten gimmick, a headline for a day. But for Apple, this aligns with far-reaching strategies on inclusion, health, wellness, and ecosystem integration. This is what happens when you expand beyond the narrower applications of audio technology, such as “Let’s make this Beatles album sound a little better,” and instead are guided by the larger experiences. and transformative.
The strength of Apple’s ecosystem was all over the other WWDC21 announcements. HomePod minis will become speakers for Apple TV. Lost AirPods can be found using Find My. SharePlay will allow you to effortlessly share your synced Apple Music favorites with your friends via FaceTime. Apple’s Speech Advances Will Find Siri Speech Recognition Processed On Device For Faster Response Times and Siri on third-party devices for the first time. Even the new machine translation capabilities of the iPhone and iPad are fueling this overarching strategy for dubbing everything audio.
Not that other people don’t do similar things, because they do. Apple doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and a number of individual features discussed so far have existing equivalents elsewhere. But rivals normally exist in a much more specific and confined space. Apple, on the other hand, is laying the groundwork for audio all over it can, by keeping you in its ecosystem (or amusement park, if you prefer) not entirely through the friction of change, but also with a broader value proposition.
This audio craze is also a refreshing change in a world systematically obsessed with what you see rather than what you hear. We are so often informed about innovations in AR and VR, dazzling environments and visual immersion. But the voice UI and audio are just as important – and, in some ways, even more so when you consider Apple’s reasoning about focus and clarity.