What to expect from Apple's WWDC next week (updated)

By Jonny Evans

WWDC 2011 begins June 6, as we move toward the opening of Apple's [AAPL] annual developer event, Apple has confirmed it will offer a glance at new iCloud services, iOS 5, Mac OS X Lion. Meanwhile speculation of a MacBook Air refresh remains. And Apple this morning told us CEO Steve Jobs and his team of executives shall present the annual keynote speech...

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Apple's release states:

"At the keynote, Apple will unveil its next generation software - Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch; and iCloud, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering."

The sixth--gen iPhone

There's been speculation the iPhone 5 will make an appearance at the show, though Apple itself has focused attention at software and service, not hardware, at this year's show. Interestingly, most recent reports peg the sixth-generation (**) iPhone as 'iPhone 4S', saying it will have an 8-megapixel camera and will be compatible with both CDMA and GSM networks,  but will essentially just be an upgraded iPhone 4, though it will likely deploy the new A5 processor. The iPhone 5 -- with NFC support, and dual processor, soothsayers say, won't debut until September 2011 or spring 2012.

** Sixth-generation? Yes. Apple has introduced five generations of iPhone already: the iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4, which was itself followed by the iPhone 4 (Verizon edition). That's five separate phone iterations. Count the white models as additional releases and there's been even more.

Mac OS X 'Lion'

This is going to be exciting. I'm expecting so much (probably too much) from the next OS. I'm interested to see just how closely integrated it is with Apple's mobile products.

For example, will we see the introduction of support for Wi-Fi Direct, conceivably opening the door for cable-free iTunes sync? Will we see a user's Home folder made available via the cloud?

Lion will deliver some great features: Reading List, Mission Control, Finder and Mail improvements (including a unified in-box and full-screen view). AirDrop, iCal improvements, and much broader support for Microsoft Office improvements will also feature in this release, which Apple has said will implement those features which most make sense taken from its iPad systems.

Right now we know Apple is heading to the release of a Mac software update for Snow Leopard. We know this update will eradicate the various-named iterations of the MacDefender malware, and we also learned it will prepare supported Mac systems for the installation and download of Lion as sold via the Mac App Store.

Lending credence to the notion of a Mac App Store release, bear in mind preview versions of the OS are presently shipped to developers via Mac App Store downloads -- and with Apple focused on ensuring its Mac App Store becomes the place to download Mac software, it's a fait accompli.

(I'm expecting some form or retail boxed version, too, as you sometimes need an optical device to boot from in the event of a computer emergency. Will we see Lion installs supported from mobile devices, such as iPhone? I can see it as possible.)

The big question is: will Lion ship next week? Apple is reportedly testing the OS internally among its staff at this stage, so it is close, with the aforementioned Snow Leopard update not yet available and under a week until WWDC, it is probably a good time to polish your credit card while also preparing to wait on the release.

iOS 5

I'm anticipating Apple will use WWDC to show us some of the features it has been working on for iOS 5.

This OS will provide even deeper integration with Lion-based systems, and will introduce popular concepts such as 'widgets' (weather or other information on your iPhone's home screen) and other improvements.

iOS 5 will also introduce improved notification systems, much enhanced voice control systems using Nuance's world-class voice recognition technology, and better support for location-based consumer focused and augmented reality services.

I'm not expecting the new OS to show before autumn, most likely around the time of Apple's customary iPod refresh event, customarily held in September. Apple will want to get its developers on side for the release, however, and no better place for that than the already sold out WWDC.

MacBook Air

Get ready because here it comes -- maybe (but perhaps not at WWDC). This week begins with news that MacBook Air supplies and shipments constrained in advance of a refresh of the range in the next few weeks.

Apple's focus on its lightweight notebooks is completely understandable, not least given their status as Google Chrome-class computers that have actually been created correctly ("done right", some might say):

  • These are the systems Apple sees as the future of mobile computers.
  • They are likely to emerge as 'best in class' citizens of the more compatible iOS and Lion systems.
  • Competitors at Computex this week are already targeting the form factor, with Intel introducing a new 'Ultrabook' design to compete with iPads and the MacBook Air.
  • Apple has already admitted that MacBook Air notebooks are among its most popular Macs, and that these computers contributed to Apple's 28 percent year-on-year increase in marketshare.

There's also been some speculation Apple will move to deploy its A5 processor inside future MacBooks. ARM is ready for the action, ARM President Tudor Brown expects its market share to grow to half of all mobile devices by 2015. Meanwhile Apple is said to have been testing MacBook Air models equipped with A5 processors internally, as an "experiment".

iTunes/iCloud

Apple has signed three of the four majors to its exciting new iTunes/iCloud services. A deal with Universal is said to be 'close'.

Apple's service will let subscribers stream their songs and albums directly to Macs, PCs, iPhones, iPads, iPod touch devices and Apple TV.

Apple's iCloud should deliver a wide range of services, including syncing and storing of personal data, potentially including your Home folder.

"Armed with licenses from the music labels and publishers, Apple will be able to scan customers' digital music libraries in iTunes and quickly mirror their collections on its own servers, say three people briefed on the talks. If the sound quality of a particular song on a user's hard drive isn't good enough, Apple will be able to replace it with a higher-quality version. Users of the service will then be able to stream, whenever they want, their songs and albums directly to PCs, iPhones, iPads, and perhaps one day even cars," wrote Business Week last week.

However, problems of internationalization mean Apple will be unlikely to offer its iCloud services to international markets from the get-go. This hasn't stopped the company from inviting some key journalists from among the European tech press to San Francisco for next week's event.

The press at WWDC traditionally don't get access to too much of the show. They get to visit the keynote. That Apple wants European media attenting the keynote underlines just how important the annual WWDC chat is. Apple CEO Steve Jobs  and other executives  will present this year's keynote, Apple today confirmed.

What are you expecting next week? Will Apple talk a little more about its iAds platform and explain how it intends further building out its ecosystem for developers? If so what will it tell us? Let us know in comments below. I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld.

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