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Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is a four-day event where programmers socialize and learn to write better iOS and OS X apps. For Apple, however, the WWDC is also a media event, a stage for unveiling new products and services. For instance, the iPhone 4, iOS 6 and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display all debuted at the WWDC.
This year's event, which takes place June 10-14 in San Francisco, will feature new products too. So what can we expect? Probably new and improved Apple software and services -- WWDC is a developer show, after all -- but don't be surprised if there's a last-minute surprise (hint: see the next page).
What not to expect: New versions of Cupertino's cash cows: the iPhone and iPad, both of which are expected to arrive later this year, according to the Apple rumor mill.
Whatever Apple unveils at WWDC 2013, it'll do so under the watchful eye of financial analysts and tech pundits, many of whom are wondering if Apple's creative engine is running on fumes. It's been seven months since Apple started shipping the iPad Mini, and nearly nine months since the iPhone 5's debut. In tech years -- like dog years -- that's an eternity or two.
Adding fuel to the funeral pyre is the fact that Apple's fiercest competitors -- most notably Google, Samsung and Microsoft -- have been very active during Cupertino's quiet spell. Google, in particular, has been buzzing with activity, capturing the public's imagination with gee-whiz projects like Google Glass, and delivering solid, pragmatic services such as its Google Now personal assistant.
Samsung, meanwhile, continues to roll out mobile devices at a blistering pace, including the Galaxy S4, the iPhone's chief rival at the moment. And Microsoft, despite its woes with Windows 8, has been putting its tech foot forward by announcing its ambitious Xbox One entertainment console, shipping the Surface Pro tablet/laptop hybrid and deftly switching into damage-control mode by promising end-of-year delivery of Windows 8.1, which it hopes will silence (or at least muffle) critics of Windows 8's clumsy, dual-screen UI.
Apple's legendary secrecy has served it well in the past, but you've got to wonder: Is it time for Cupertino to open up a bit? Maybe give the public a taste of what it's working on -- a TV set, a larger-screen iPhone, a watch, a levitating iPad? Even a small degree of openness might appease those pesky critics who claim that Apple is past its tech prime.
Well, if you want openness, don't hold your breath.
"We release products when they're ready. We believe very much in the element of surprise. We think customers love surprises. I have no plan on changing that," Apple CEO Tim Cook said during a Q&A session at last week's D11 Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
So what will Apple announce at WWDC? Here are our predictions.
The debut of Apple's long-rumored music-streaming service may be the WWDC's big reveal. The New York Times reports that Apple is trying to finalize licensing deals with major music labels in time for a WWDC announcement. Apple reportedly: signed a deal over the first weekend in June with Warner Music Group for its recorded music and publishing rights, has inked a partial deal with Universal Music Group, and is still in talks with Sony's separate music and publishing arms. With the growing popularity of music-streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify and the just-announced Google Play Music All Access, an Internet radio service is crucial to Apple's long-term music strategy.
The buzz earlier this year was that iOS 7, the next major release of Apple's mobile operating system, would debut alongside the new iPhone 5S. That hasn't happened, obviously, but Apple is expected to unveil iOS 7 at WWDC.
The changes may be visually dramatic, if largely cosmetic. Jony Ive, Apple's chief of industrial design, will reportedly replace iOS's traditional 3-D appearance with a flatter look (think Windows Phone 8). In addition, skeuomorphic elements -- meaning digital features that resemble their real-world counterparts -- of the iOS interface may be history as well. If true, the gaming table on the Game Center screen (seen here) is a prime candidate for Ives' iOS makeover.
Other iOS 7 upgrades may include improved Maps and Siri integration with cars, and better hooks into social networks, including Flickr and Vimeo, said 9to5Mac.
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, a reliable source of Apple rumors, said in April that Apple was planning to roll out updated MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models at WWDC, both featuring Intel's new Haswell processors. But rather than kill off MacBook Pro models without Retina displays, Apple will keep them around because they're selling well. (In fact, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the bestselling product in the MacBook line, according to Kuo.)
The Haswell family of chips has a low-power design that promises better battery life and modest performance increases. Intel is officially unveiling its new chips this week -- perfect timing for Apple's launch of the Haswell-equipped line of MacBooks.
The MacBook Air is also getting the Haswell chip, which is ideal for a mainstream, slim-and-light laptop that demands long battery life. But what about the Air's display resolution? It's nice enough: 1440 x 900 pixels on the 13.3-inch model; and 1366 x 768 on the 11.6-inch unit. But the Air has premium pricing ($999 to $1,399), and its display pales by comparison to the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display ($1,499).
WWDC is a good time to announce a MacBook Air with Retina Display, right? Well, no. According to KGI Securities' Kuo, cost, production and thickness issues with the Retina screens make them impractical for the ultra-thin Air at this time, MacRumors reports.
Apple is expected to show OS X 10.9 at WWDC. The latest version of the venerable Mac operating system will further Apple's efforts to migrate iOS features to OS X. Last year's OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion update, for instance, brought over a bunch of iOS tools, including Dictation, Notification Center and iCloud document syncing.
Rumors suggest OS X 10.9 will add Siri and Maps too. The addition of iOS's poorly received (but improving) mapping app would be an intriguing choice, particularly when Google Maps or Bing Maps inside a browser window work quite well on a Mac. Apple's main motivation may be to keep Google and Microsoft at bay.
Siri on the Mac (via OS X 10.9) would be yet another indication of the coming collision course between mobile and desktop devices. Voice assistant software arguably has less value on a laptop/desktop with a full-size keyboard and mouse/trackpad than on a smartphone or tablet. But since Mac users will soon be able to do hands-free, natural-language searches via Google Chrome, it behooves Apple to bring Siri -- warts and all -- to the Mac as quickly as possible and (once again) limit Google's encroachment.
A related thought: If Siri comes to the Mac, can touchscreens be far behind? Apple is almost certainly studying Microsoft's blunders with the touch-oriented Windows 8 Modern UI -- and probably looking for better ways to meld touch input with a traditional desktop OS.
Apple has grown insanely profitable by building apps and services that run exclusively (with a few notable exceptions) on its own hardware. But as Google and Microsoft release a flurry of cross-platform services, Apple's hold on its customers weakens. Example: an iPad user who lives inside Google Apps, or one who uses Microsoft SkyDrive rather than iCloud, may be easily swayed by a non-Apple tablet when it's time to upgrade.
At last week's D11 Conference, Tim Cook hinted that Apple would be open to porting its apps to other platforms -- yes, including archenemy Android. "If it made sense to do it, we would do it. There's not a religious issue with it," Cook said during an audience Q&A session. This doesn't mean, of course, that Apple is planning to announce a spate of Android apps at WWDC. But Cook did crack open that cross-platform door -- if only a bit.
Apple's iCloud storage-and-sync service has had a rocky history since its October 2011 launch. Developers continue to gripe about the problematic iCloud API and the service's sketchy syncing skills. In addition, critics are questioning the Apple-centric nature of iCloud, particularly when strong competitors such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive are better options for cross-platform computing.
Lest we forget, WWDC is a developer's show. It's the ideal platform for Apple to announce improvements to its iCloud API. As for expanding iCloud's cross-platform capabilities, Tim Cook put the kibosh on that idea at the D11 conference, saying it doesn't make sense for Apple to do so now.