WWDC 2012: What to expect

This year's conference, the first post-Steve Jobs, could be the biggest yet

On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook will kick off Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. At its most basic, WWDC gives developers a rare chance to speak directly with Apple engineers about their coding efforts and learn about new features presented during the opening keynote.

But WWDC has become so much more than that, and this year's conference looks to be a bigger deal than usual. Not only does it allow Cook to highlight Apple's direction for the next year, but also lets him showcase new hardware, talk up OS X Mountain Lion and the next version of iOS and get developers enthused about the company's development platform.

Fueled by the increasing popularity of the iPhone, the iPad and Apple's laptop line-up, WWDC has become a hot ticket. Every year, the limited-capacity event fills even faster. Two years ago, it sold out in eight days. Last year, it sold out within twelve hours and scalpers pushed ticket prices to $4,600. This year, WWDC tickets were gone in two hours.

That shouldn't be a surprise: Apple's enormous user base continues to expand and those customers are eager to get their hands on the next great app -- and the hardware on which it runs. Apps like Angry Birds, Instagram and Instapaper all originated on Apple's platform. In fact, Flurry Analytics reports that seven out of every 10 mobile apps are designed for iOS. Developers follow the money, and, as of January, Apple had paid out a cool $4 billion to iOS developers. So it's no wonder there's strong demand for the chance to work with Apple engineers on developer issues.

This year's event, of course, is also the first without Apple's co-founder and longtime CEO Steve Jobs, who died in October, not long after relinquishing the title of CEO. While not the first Apple event run by Cook -- he most recently unveiled the new iPad on March 7 -- this year's WWDC has expectations running high, given how long it's been since Apple updated a number of its hardware products.

Here's a rundown of what Cook's expected to roll out and what it means for Apple.

Welcome iOS 6

Let's start with the obvious: We'll get a first look at iOS 6, the next version of the mobile OS that powers the iPhone/iPod touch and the iPad. iOS has been the focus of the last several WWDCs, and will be again this year. As polished as iOS 5 is, there's still room for new features and improvements. Most notably, I hope to see enhancements to Siri, the voice-activated "personal assistant" that arrived with the iPhone 4S last fall. In particular, it's time for third-party application support and the addition of Siri to the iPad. (The dictation feature on the iPad, limited as it is, certainly looks like a baby step in this direction. Time now for a bigger leap.)

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