Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference runs from June 2-6, and The Globe and Mail will be there. While the event is primarily designed as an opportunity for Apple's engineers hold court with the thousands of developers that design software Apple's computers and mobile devices run, WWDC has also earned a reputation as a launch pad for new Apple software, operating systems and on occasion, the odd piece of new hardware. Apple never confirms rumours, but here's what we think you expect to see this year:
WWDC's primary focus is on software for all those developers who pay a lot of money to attend the conference, so it's a safe bet that Apple will reveal the next iteration of its mobile operating system, likely called iOS 8.
We can expect to see further tweaking of the operating system's graphical user interface, with more of the same flat design elements that Jony Ive and his team introduced to iPhone and iPad users last year with iOS 7. It's also possible that we might see improvements to iTunes Radio (Apple's in-house streaming music service which isn't available in Canada as of yet,) or a complete retooling of the service in light of Apple's recently announced acquisition of Beats Audio and the Beats Music service (also, as of yet unavailable in Canada. We can't have nice things).
It's a given that Apple's software engineers will have poured a considerable amount of effort into their much maligned Maps app. Hopefully, this will be the year that they get it right and provide iOS users with a free, safe and viable alternative to Google's excellent Google Maps app.
According to 9to5Mac, iOS users, developers and after-market accessory manufactures may also be given a first look at something called HealthBook, Apple's first crack at producing an in-house fitness tracking solution. According to images and information secured by 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman, HealthBook could include facilities for tracking an iPhone user's diet, sleep patterns, hydration level and activity rate. There's also indications Apple wants to give customers access to deeper-dive personal health information such as blood oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, heart rate and blood sugar levels. All of this information would be logged in a single, easy-to-use application that could be synced with a computer, or iCloud, for long-term tracking or monitoring by a healthcare professional. Much of this information such as diet, hydration and activity could be either be entered by a user or monitored by the iPhone's motion co-processor. Other data, such as heart rate, blood sugar and respiration rate would require the use of third-party sensors designed to work with iOS under Apple's MFi Program.
Unless of course Apple were to develop their own wearable device that incorporates a number of health tracking technologies, which brings us to…
Apple's mythical wrist-worn iOS companion device may not be called an iWatch at all. But that's what everyone else is calling it, so let's roll with it.
The iWatch will purportedly be designed to provide iOS users with the ability to read and compose messages from a wide number of social media applications, e-mail and text messages, control music apps or see who's calling their iPhone without ever pulling their handsets out of their pocket. Information will be served up on the iWatch wearer's wrist – it's all very Dick Tracey and similar in nature to the Pebble Smartwatch, or in the case of Android users, Samsung's Galaxy Gear Smartwatch or the Qualcomm Toq. It's also widely expected that the iWatch will incorporate fitness tracking technology similar to that seen in the FitBit Force or Nike FuelBand. That HealthBook is in development leads credence to this theory.
But here's the thing: Most news outlets agree that it exists. But no one can agree on when it will launch.
Some feel that the hardware won't see the light of day until the the latter half of this year, which would put it in line to be unleashed at the same time as Apple typical launches new iPhone hardware –just in time for the holidays. Other pundits and online rumour mongers are convinced that Apple needs to release the hardware sooner rather than later to keep other companies from eating up their potential share of the wearable marketplace. My opinion, if anything about the watch is revealed, it'll be minimal, and likely only referenced for the sake of Apple's development partners.
But man, would I ever love to be wrong about that.
Do you own an iOS device? Want to control your home from your couch, on the drive home or while you're still schlepping away at the office? According to a recent report from the Financial Times, Apple's ripe (sorry) to announce hardware interface standards for controlling elements like your home's security system, lighting, coffee maker or temperature from your iPhone or iPad.
One version of how this could work is for Apple to build controls standards directly into their devices and then, license the right to interface with these standards to home appliance manufacturers. From a business standpoint, this could make a whole lot of sense: by providing hardware manufactures with an interface standard that would allow them to create iOS controllable household fixtures and appliances. Apple stands to stymy Google, which surged into the home automation market with its recent purchase of Web-connected thermostat and smoke detector maker Nest.
And then there's the less exciting possibility recently outlined by Gigaom. According to an anonymous source, Apple's home automation solution may not have anything to do with a unified standard at all. Instead, it would focus on a control system for home automation compatible hardware via an app interface and voice control via bluetooth and WiFi. Again, this is smart business. By going this route, Apple could create a whole new revenue stream through the licensing of a whole new class of MFi hardware designed to work with their tablets and smartphones.
I'd rather see the former than the latter: a single, hardware and software-based Apple-branded solution designed to "just work" would make home automation more accessible than the fragmented, multi-standard mess that we're stuck with today. Whether or not Apple provides us with a glimpse of this technology at WWDC, or if it exists at all, is an open question.
Until you see hardware on stage in Tim Cook's hand it's best to take any iPhone rumours with a significant amount of salt. That said, the trend in smartphones for the last few years has been towards larger handsets with expansive displays that are ideal for media consumption and gaming. Currently, there are rumblings that in addition to the plus-sized phablet that could come packing a display up to 5.5" in size, the iPhone 6 could also come with a larger display than we've seen with Apple's past handsets.
Previewing a new mobile device that boasts a new display size at WWDC makes sense: developers will need time to adjust their existing software applications to take advantage of the new hardware's larger display and internal specifications. But don't expect any hardware announced next week to be available in the near future. It's one thing to let developers in on what's coming down the pike so that they can code accordingly. It's quite another to manufacture the parts required to bring a new product to market. The earliest we might have the chance to get our hands on the iPhone 6 or a gigantic sibling will most likely be this fall.
Retina MacBook Air
File this one under "Maybe." When you consider the fact that Apple updated the MacBook Air line with a new chipset this spring, it seems unlikely that it would buff up its ultra-thin line of laptops again so soon. It makes sense to show off a smartphone with a new display size to developers: they need lead up time to get their act together. Apps need to be tinkered with to operate on off-sized displays.
The same can't be said for a new Retina notebook: There's simply no reason to show it off at a conference that's primarily devoted to software. Apple already has Retina display notebooks out there. applications in OS X run in windowed or fullscreen mode, as opposed to being set up to run on a particular device like iOS apps are. So existing applications like Pages, Omnifocus 2 or World of Warcraft won't have to be tweaked too much, if at all, in order to work on a new laptop like a MacBook Air with Retina display.
There's a very good chance that Apple could have a Retina MacBook Air ready to release, but I see no reason to introduce it at WWDC this year. Doing so would steal stage time and the spotlight from other efforts the company wants to draw attention to.
OS X 10.10
The last OS X update, Mavericks, primarily focused on providing providing the company's desktop and laptop computer hardware more efficient processor use and improved power management. I suspect that the big noise about the OS this year will be its graphical realignment at the hands of Jony Ive. At the same time he was given reign to correct the skeuomorphic hot mess that iOS had become in recent years, he and his team were also tasked with refining the look of OS X's GUI. I think it's a safe bet to assume that we'll see more of the same flat design, pastels and smoked glass overlays that iPhone and iPad users have been subjected to since the release of iOS 7. Mac and iOS users: a single unified design language is upon you.
A Cheap iMac or iPhone 5s?
Apple recently updated their all-in-one iMac desktop computers with Intel Haswell processors, optional flash-based storage and zippy new WiFi capabilities. All of this costs a lot of money: The entry price for Apple's basic iMac, the 21" 2.7GHz model, is $1,349. In order to capture more of the desktop market, a number of pundits have voiced their belief that Apple will most likely provide consumers with a less powerful iMac system at a lower price. The Loop's Jim Dalrymple has an understanding of Apple's culture and plans that borders on the occult. His feelings on whether we'll see a cheap iMac: Nope. (Full disclosure: I occasionally work for The Loop Magazine on a freelance basis.) But that doesn't mean no new iMacs at all. A number of developers have reported new model iMac references in the latest beta version of OS X 10.9.4. This has traditionally meant that new hardware is on the way.
And as for a low-cost iteration of the iPhone 5s, double nope according to Jim. For this year, at the very least, it's not going to happen.
While its been blessed by the occasional software update and the addition of a few subscription channels over the past few years, the Apple TV hasn't undergone a major rehash since 2012. This hasn't stopped it from being the best streaming media set top box option for most people in Canada.
Reports from around the Web would have the next iteration of the Apple TV functioning as a cable box, maybe adding the capability to play games, run iOS apps or even be operated by voice control through the use of Siri. It makes sense to try and keep up with the increasingly complex functionality of such competing streaming hardware solutions as Google Chromecast, Roku's offerings or Amazon's Fire TV. However, as is often the case with Apple products prior to their announcement, details on which, if any of these features might show up in the next version of the hardware, are non-existent.
We only have to wait a few more days to find out. Be sure to check back with us on Monday as we'll be in San Francisco covering what Apple has in store.