The week ahead: What to expect from Apple’s WWDC

8 Jun 201514 Shares

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Our preview of what to expect at WWDC 2015

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We look ahead to this week’s Apple WWDC, where a software-centric Apple will reveal its approach to the internet of things, entertainment, operating systems and, of course, the Apple Watch.

This week will be Apple’s. Apple will bask in the approving glow of developers – not just software developers, but hardware developers too. Why? Because it will be all about the things – the internet of things — with a special emphasis on how Apple’s ecosystem can be harnessed to power technology in the home via HomeKit and health via HealthKit. This is just the start.

So what can we expect?

Music

Thanks to the CEO of Sony Music, we all know that tonight Apple’s much-anticipated streaming platform – think of it as the future of iTunes – will be launched. The streaming platform follows on the heels of Apple’s acquisition of Beats for US$3bn last year.

However, it hasn’t gone as smoothly as Apple would like, and it is understood that even towards the end of last week Apple was negotiating to secure royalty terms with the record labels. Sony’s disclosure indicates that this has been alleviated. A close run thing, so.

But so was iTunes if you think about how Steve Jobs back in 2001 convinced the labels to go digital.

How Beats will integrate with iTunes Radio is anyone’s guess. Also what can Apple do that others like Spotify aren’t already doing is another key question. The hint may lie in the poaching of DJs and music tastemakers to bring a more “editorial” bent to music discovery.

Tonight it will be all about the music, front and centre.

iOS 9

Despite all the talk of ‘things’, the lynchpin of any IoT strategy will most likely be mobile operating systems like iOS, and tonight expect Apple to show off a shiny new iOS 9, developed under the code-name “Monarch”. It’s a good name, because the emphasis will be on stability and a lot of “under the hood” fixes and not just design. That said, there will be some changes to colours and typefaces and much anticipated new features include a split-screen view for iPad apps, a contextually aware update tool like Google Now, which will be called Proactive, and transit directions for Apple Maps. Proactive will be baked into Apple’s Spotlight search function, suggesting greater cross-pollination between iOS and the OS X platform for Mac.

In fact, expect Apple Maps to be a lot smarter and have a lot more business listings and other useful information. The appearance of mysterious vehicles around San Francisco last year registered to Apple led to speculation that Apple was getting into self-driving vehicles – but now it seems that Apple was using them to take pictures of storefronts across the US under a project code-named “Gardar”.

Other new features that may or may launch at WWDC this year include Trusted WiFi, which would allow iOS devices to connect to authorised wireless routers and iPad multi-user mode so various people could use the same device only keep their content and settings apart.

iOS 9 will also come with a new Force Touch API, which suggests that this year’s new iPhone models will come with the capability.

OS X

You would have to admit that the changes Apple has made to OS X in the last two iterations with Mavericks and Yosemite have been breath-taking and transformative, particularly with new features like Continuity.

Word on the street is that the new iteration of OS X this year will be very similar to iOS 9 in that the changes will be under the hood to fix bugs and add stability and will be less discernible up top. Code-named “Gala”, Apple is likely to finish off much of the design changes that began with Yosemite.

Apple is expected to reveal a new Control Center for the Mac that will include quick options for brightness and sound and that will have a transparent overlay. A new “Rootless” iCloud Drive is anticipated to bring the Mac platform closer to the cloud for the storage of files, but the standard Finder system we’ve grown up with for decades will remain.

IoT Kits

Developers’ launch of the first HomeKit compatible devices at this year’s WWDC will coincide with the launch of a new app called Home that will allow users to basically map out their digital home as well as control their devices while away from home.

The app is understood to be compatible with the Apple TV, which will function as the hub for the digital nervous system that will be your home.

Expect further movement and case studies on how Apple’s HealthKit platform has been embraced by bodies like the Mayo Institute and various hospitals and no doubt hardware developers will have a range of sensors and wearables that will complement the HealthKit ecosystem.

Apple Watch

This brings us nicely on to the Apple Watch, Apple’s newest hardware form factor. No new device – especially the first generation – is perfect, so expect Apple to try and fix some of the earliest complaints users have, such as apparent sluggishness.

Apple will release the first beta of the native Apple Watch SDK to developers to encourage them to make apps that utilise the full power of the new device.

At present, WatchKit runs on your iPhone and facilitates the transfer of data between the iPhone and the Watch via Bluetooth. The first generation of apps to be showcased at WWDC this year will demonstrate how people who use Watch are less likely to be staring at their phones, but it will be interesting to see just how granular these apps are and where it is all headed next.

Great expectations

At every WWDC, people are wondering what new wonder device Apple will reveal but, aside from the Mac Pro’s unveiling in 2006, WWDC has been all about the software. In fact, Apple’s depths as a software house have been increasing in recent years, with the tech giant launching its own Swift programming language and ensuring that advances in software are in step with advances in hardware, such as the onset of 64-bit computing on mobile devices.

This year’s WWDC will be all about ecosystems – how clouds of devices interact with the internet cloud or home cloud.

It will be about layers of technology, but ultimately how these layers interact with each other to make a useful contribution to our lives.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com