Top predictions for this year’s Apple WWDC

11 Jun 2012

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The innovation engine that is Apple is set to roar this evening (Irish time) with the start of its WWDC and the big cat in the room will no doubt be the new OS X Mountain Lion – but will we see new iPhones, a new Apple TV, new Macs?

To begin with, we can likely stave off any suggestion of a new iPhone until September or October this year, when the next-generation device (iPhone 5?) will be unveiled, possibly along with a 7-inch iPad the rumour mills keep suggesting.

But many of the potential products that could be revealed at WWDC centre on Mac and iOS software innovation. And expect to see new features and services for iCloud to be unveiled.

All will no doubt be revealed in the coming hours and days, but these are the headline expectations that may or may not be met this year.

OS X Mountain Lion

Just because devices like the iPhone and iPod wowed crowds at WWDC in the past, it is important to remember that WWDC is predominantly a software event.

Expected out in the late summer, Mountain Lion for Mac computers will introduce iOS apps such as Messages to the Mac, along with Twitter integration.

OS X Mountain Lion will include iPad apps, such as Messages, Notes, Reminders and Game Centre. Messages will replace iChat and will allow users to send messages, images and videos from a Mac to another Mac or iOS device. It will also support AIM, Jabber, Yahoo! Messenger and Google Talk. OS X Lion users can download a beta of the Messages app from Apple’s website.

The Game Centre will let users find new games and play multiplayer games with players across the Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

OS X Mountain Lion’s Notification Centre will provide quick access to alerts from Mail, Calendar Messages, Reminders, system updates and third-party apps. There will also be Share Sheets to help users share links, photos and videos from Apple and third-party apps.

Twitter is integrated in the new version of the OS, letting users tweet directly from the Safari browser, Quick Look, Photo Booth, Preview and other third-party apps. It will also include AirPlay Mirroring, letting a user wirelessly send a 720p video stream of what’s on his or her Mac to a HDTV with Apple TV.

The OS will let users set up iCloud more easily and use their Apple IDs to set up apps such as Contacts, Mail, Messages, Calendar, FaceTime and Find My Mac. iCloud Documents will push any changes to all devices, keeping documents up to date. There will also be a new API to help developers make their document-based apps work with iCloud.

There will be a new security feature called Gatekeeper, which gives users control over which apps are downloaded and installed on their Macs, whether it’s directly from the Mac App Store or from any source.

iOS 6

In tandem with what Mountain Lion will do for Macs, the other star of the show will be iOS 6, the latest version of Apple’s mobile software for iPad and iPhone devices.

Expected this year will be Siri integration and new mapping functionality. It has also been rumoured that this year will see closer ties with Facebook, so expect to see similar integration of Facebook apps as we’ve seen with Twitter since the iPhone 4S was launched last October.

In terms of the iPad, Siri will manifest itself on the new iPad only. It will occupy only a segment of the 9.7-inch screen rather than the full screen on the iPad, reports suggest.

Just like on the iPhone 4S, Siri will activate by pressing down on the home button.

Also on the way are Mountain Lion features, such as the innovative ‘Do Not Disturb’ function which allows you to silence notifications such as tweets, calendar updates, social media updates and more and peruse them later at your convenience.

According to 9to5Mac, Apple has been testing Siri for iOS on both the current-generation iPad and last year’s iPad 2 but the new iPad is likely to be the only tablet environment it will run on due to architecture design.

iOS 6 is also expected to include a new in-house Maps application with 3D mode, a revamped iTunes Store, App Store and iBookstore. The 3D mapping feature is expected to be unveiled this week at a pre-WWDC event.

iOS 6 is expected to debut in September along with a new iPhone and potentially a mini iPad with a 7-inch screen, according to the rumour mill.

All may be revealed at Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco. Apple’s iOS is also expected to herald a greater understanding between Apple and like-minded social network Facebook.

iOS 6 is rumoured to include greater Facebook integration just as the iPhone 4S debut with iOS 5 saw considerable Twitter integration.

Apple TV and an actual Apple television

Anyone who has used the Apple TV set-top box will no doubt sing its praises and to anyone who has observed Apple in the past year, the Apple TV as a division holds some affection in the hearts of the management team.

The Apple TV hardware and software effectively puts the Apple experience for discovering TV shows, movies, songs, photos and more on to your large-screen TV in the living room or bedroom.

But what next for the platform? Greater integration with devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops is a distinct likelihood, but if you let your imagination roam, perhaps actual DVR functionality, social media and web integration.

But if you study the Apple TV, it is likely the platform could hint at how future television services could be consumed if Apple does decide to produce actual television hardware.

It’s an intuitive and slick service to use, content discovery is relatively painless and iTunes as a TV commerce application works elegantly on TV screens.

Not only that, but what about actual TV apps? Netflix works remarkably well on the Apple TV, so if Apple does have something pretty amazing up its sleeve, WWDC could be the place to see software development kits (SDKs) unveiled for developers to spearhead a new apps ecosystem as successful as the iOS apps ecosystem has been.

So expect plenty of SDK-related innovation, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about an actual physical TV being unveiled so soon.

New Macs

Rumours of new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro machines have been flying for months now. Some rumours suggest the MacBook Pro may become more akin to the MacBook Air’s ultrabook format, for example.

In recent months, we reported that Apple is working on a dramatic revamp of its notebook range, beginning with the MacBook Pro, with Apple jettisoning optical disk drives and hard drives in favour of flash memory solid state drives, instant-on and software delivered via the MacApp Store.

As well as rumours that Apple may disrupt the nascent ultrabook market with a sub-US$800 MacBook Air, Apple is also understood to be planning to revamp its Mac Pro desktop line-up.

Apple is reportedly planning to launch three new design configurations of its Mac Pro family for the first time in two years.

Apple is understood to have been working on a new Mac Pro design that is rackable and stackable, including more space for storage drives.

The new machines will also come with Thunderbolt technology and could be unveiled at WWDC.

If you have been following the Apple story for the last decade or so, you will come to realise that no matter how many rumours circulate, Apple is an ultra-secret organisation that will divulge only what it chooses to divulge when it is good and ready.

Last year the rumour mill was in overdrive about whether a new iPhone would be unveiled at WWDC, and nothing happened.

But with emotions running high in the lead-up to the launch of OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, the likelihood of announcements that will delight and surprise can be guaranteed.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com