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Seven months, two weeks and six days: that’s how much time will have elapsed — a painfully long stretch for Apple in the iOS era — since it last held one of its signature product events and the kickoff of WWDC on Monday. Since October 2012 Apple(s AAPL) has issued some public statements, but they’ve either lacked anything concrete in terms of future products, or been of little interest to the vast majority of fans and users: dividends, corporate taxes, etc. But on Monday we should finally get to the good stuff: new products.
To be clear, the new stuff announced is going to appeal heavily to developers, and there will be very little — if any — emphasis on shiny new hardware. There will be new products, but this is going to be a software and services show, anchored by glimpses of the next versions of OS X and iOS.
Here’s what we’ll be looking for during the keynote event on Monday morning, expected to be led as usual by CEO Tim Cook and a parade of Apple executives.
From 2007 to 2010, WWDC was the big coming out party for the new iPhone. Those days are over. The most we’re likely to see in the hardware department is some new Macs. Apple almost always uses this event to push out some new laptops, and this year is said to be no different. The company will probably introduce new Macs with Intel’s brand-new Haswell chips. Some are predicting new Retina MacBook Pros, updated MacBook Airs and possibly even the updated Mac Pro update promised last year.
This is the most anticipated aspect of WWDC this year: how different will iOS 7 look and feel compared to the current version? In reality, probably not much. Apple made a huge personnel change after iOS 6 was pushed out the door last year, and the result is going to be a revamped iOS that leans less heavily on unnecessary real-world metaphors — less shadowing, glossiness and textures — and evokes a “flatter” and more simplified look. Default iOS apps are also expected to get simplified, uniform looks.
In general, with Jony Ive in charge of Human Interfaces at Apple, we can expect him to do what he does best: make software that best represents Apple’s hardware capabilities. Think of the MacBook Air: its design is incredibly appealing visually, but it’s really a very simple package without being flashy or overly stylized. I think we’ll see iOS start to very subtly turn in this direction.
If Apple is able to nail down the appropriate deals in time, it sounds like it’ll be ready to talk about its first big development in its music business in years: a streaming, radio-like service. This won’t replace its very successful paid iTunes download business, but is intended to catch up with the latest consumer music discovery and listening behaviors: streaming over owning. iRadio, as it has been dubbed, is reportedly going to be ad-supported rather than a paid monthly service, though it will probably allow people to buy iTunes versions of the songs and albums they discover via streaming.
With a new version of iOS, Apple typically adds new APIs (application programming interfaces) for developers to access features. But this year could see a more dramatic loosening of what parts of the iPhone and iPad apps will have access to. It’s not quite clear how open Apple intends to be. But I find it unlikely that Tim Cook casually dropped a reference to opening up access to its software and devices through APIs two weeks before its annual developer confab without actually having something to offer in this area.
The last big new service Apple launched was a pretty big initial embarrassment for the company. But as Cook has repeated many times over since Maps’ September launch, Apple has been working on improvements. I’d expect Apple will devote some time to explain what those improvements are to developers on Monday.
Cloud, payments, cars
These areas may or may not be addressed, but it’s a good time for Apple to give updates on them. The “centerpiece” of Apple’s strategy is still not as reliable or as complete a solution as it could be. I expect Apple will trumpet new, impressive numbers of users, but it’s also a good opportunity to talk about improvements or ways Apple has made it easier for developers to work with in their apps.
Passbook and Siri’s interface for cars, EyesFree, were two other services introduced at WWDC last year. Passbook is a really interesting idea that brands and businesses took to right away. Apple has the makings of a powerful payments tool in this app, but the initial effort behind it seemed a bit half-hearted. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple has worked on any substantial improvements to the service in the last year.
The same goes for Siri EyesFree: Apple talked big at WWDC last year about almost all the major car companies signing on for this, but to date only General Motors has actually implemented the app in two of its cars. There are also reports that Apple wants to go even further than an eyes-free mode for Siri: the company could also announce hardware that allows iPhones to integrate more easily in cars and a voice-controlled Maps app that can be mirrored on a car’s dash.
Apple is now at the point where it is releasing a new version of its desktop operating system at the same rate as it releases a new mobile one: once a year. The company has already said it will preview the future of OS X at WWDC. But whether there will be a beta ready right away for developers to get their hands on is a bit iffy.
Apple had the final release version of last year’s desktop OS, Mountain Lion, ready by summer 2012. And developers had already been playing with it for five months by then since it released a beta version of Mountain Lion in February.
We didn’t see that happen this year. There are a variety of possible explanations for this. The 2013 release could be a lot more complex. But there have also been reports that the revamp of iOS was such a large task that Apple was bringing OS X engineers over to make sure it was done on time. So the preview version may or may not be ready on Monday.
Either way, Apple is likely to follow the same pattern we’ve seen from the last couple of years: more iOS features coming to OS X.
Be sure to come back here Monday morning. The show starts at 10 a.m. PT, and I’ll be live blogging the event.