WWDC preview: For Apple, it's all about platforms now

Integration is the key and developers are the glue

Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is one of the company's most important events -- for two good reasons.

First, Monday's keynote is the closest Apple CEO Tim Cook and other execs ever get to showing a public roadmap for the company's hardware, operating systems and services. That makes this a much more important event than any of the Apple product announcements, including the release of new iPhones and iPads each fall, because it delivers a peek at Apple's vision for the future. The WWDC keynote showcases the breadth of Apple and, increasingly, that of its increasingly integrated platforms.

I use the word platforms rather than OSes or products because Apple has become less a hardware company, less an operating system developer, and less of a digital app and content vendor over the past couple of years. It has instead become a platform company that integrates a diverse set of technologies into a choreographed digital experience that extends across its mobile devices, desktop and notebook Macs, Apple TVs, and third-party hardware to meet the needs of its users.

Second, WWDC is the annual event at which Apple delivers guidance and training to developers about how to make apps and accessories that work with any and all new technologies the company plans to release. The audience includes those lucky enough to be among the 5,000 attendees as well as those that can view all the WWDC from home or office, almost in real time.

It's easy to make the case that Apple's continued success flows from its fanatical pursuit of simplicity, its premium hardware, its aesthetic or even its incredibly impressive supply chain. There is truth to each of those arguments. But there's another ingredient in Apple's secret sauce -- its incredibly passionate, devoted and very talented developer community. Most of Apple's successes, including the iPhone and iPad, are in large parts due to its developers. Engaging, inspiring, and training them is a very big deal for Apple, particularly if it is going to launch or compete in whole new product categories.

These two points are key to what I expect Apple will talk about on Monday and bring to market in the months ahead: an integration of devices, data and apps in a coherent form and on a scale of which we haven't seen in the mainstream electronics and technology markets. It will be Apple's first play to the Internet of Things and it will rely on pieces that Apple has been putting in place, for the most part right under everyone's nose, for the past few years.

There are several announcements expected (or hoped for) during the Monday keynote (which begins at 1 p.m. ET):

  • An Apple-designed smart home or home automation system.
  • An iOS 8 app designed to aggregate fitness and medical data across a broad range of categories, including metrics for tracking and managing chronic diseases.
  • A potential expansion of the capabilities of Apple's in-dash CarPlay system that could include wireless rather than wired connectivity and may clarify how Apple will choose apps available through the CarPlay interface as well as expand the list of allowed apps.
  • Advances in Apple's location and navigation services that will likely include mass transit data as well as indoor positioning technologies, perhaps leveraging Apple's iBeacon platform.
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