Predictions for Apple's WWDC

At the WWDC, Apple fans are hoping to see Steve Jobs and a Mac tablet device. But they'll probably see Snow Leopard and iPhone software.
Written by Seb Janacek, Contributor
While others are making predictions for what will happen at Apple's upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference, which kicks off on June 8, I'm going to start out with two things which are almost certain not to happen.

Firstly, Steve Jobs won't take the stage: hopes that the CEO might make a big return were dashed when the name of Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller was allocated to the keynote slot. Statements coming from Cupertino earlier this year say Jobs has been closely involved in all kinds of decisions at the company while on sick leave, including the design of the iPhone 3.0, but I think it unlikely he might return a month early.

Secondly, we won't see a Mac tablet device.

The mythical device long predicted by analysts, fans and the media alike won't be arriving before 2010 - if ever. Even the device's most ardent supporters aren't expecting it until the new calendar year. Two thousand years ago, people poked about in chickens' entrails and studied the flights of other more-fortunate birds to determine the will of the gods. These days, analysts quote unnamed sources within Far East component suppliers and dream up entirely new Apple product categories. The Mac tablet may yet come to pass, although not next week.

Now onto my predictions in terms of what will happen...

It's likely, and appropriate given it's a developer conference, that the event will be dominated by software announcements - although a hardware unveiling will probably dominate headlines.

It's almost certain that Apple will announce new features and the launch date for Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard).

In addition, Apple will take the wraps off a few more iPhone 3.0 features and announce a specific launch date (they've already said we should expect it this summer).

Finally, the launch of the mobile phone software will probably coincide with the release of a new version of the iPhone handset.

Anticipating Snow Leopard
Of the three releases Snow Leopard is the one I'm most looking forward to but the one we'll have to wait longest to get our hands on. While some expect it to be made live at the conference, it's more likely to get a firm launch date in the near future; Apple's Mac OS releases don't tend to be available immediately after events.

For the headline writers Apple's big cat is a bit of a dead duck. The company has made it clear this is not a release packed with exciting new features for consumers. Instead, Snow Leopard is all about taking a step back and refining the underpinnings of what is already a full featured and powerful operating system. When Jobs announced the successor to 10.5 (Leopard) at last year's conference, he talked about better performance, improved stability and a smaller overall installed footprint.

Many of the features are aimed at developers and make it easier for the third parties to write software for the operating system. In addition, the OS is full of new features or technology that allows programs to take full advantage of the processing potential of powerful graphics chips. Snow Leopard will also see Apple offer a 64-bit environment for applications.

Other software announcement could include a new media player in Quicktime X and some user interface tweaks for the OS. Nothing to get overly excited about unless you use a Mac and have become a little tired of the spinning beach-ball of death or occasional sluggish performance.

Given the dearth of marketable features for the OS, the truly interesting news will come in the form of the price announcement. It's unlikely to be either free or the price of previous updates. If it is the latter, then expect that to dominate the headlines.

iPhone intrigue
Since Apple has already announced that the iPhone 3.0 software will be made available this summer and has detailed many of the upcoming features, what will get most people excited will be the launch of a new iPhone handset. Many outlets are reporting dwindling stocks of the iPhone 3G while others have been offering deals on the device in an attempt to shift inventory.

As with all iPhone hardware releases thus far, the update is likely to be incremental. Think evolution not revolution. The device has changed little since it was first released and is, after all, a big screen with a single button - it's in software that the real innovation and development has taken place.

Rumors abound over new features for the iPhone. Among the front-runners are an integrated video camera (and video chat), a built-in compass (presumably to aid turn-by-turn directions) as well as beefed up memory and processor speeds.

Intriguingly, a report by Engadget this week suggests that the iPhone will come in a range of storage capacities from 4GB to 32GB, in an attempt to appease budget shoppers and power users respectively. The article is based on a report that the range of devices has been granted approval by the US standards body responsible for certifying handsets.

A less likely possibility is that the smaller storage capacity might be indicative of a smaller iPhone device. Take it all with a pinch of salt, though.

The most likely date for the release of the third-generation iPhone is the end of June or early July. The timing is important. As a slew of contenders come to market, most notably the Palm Pre, the company needs hardware to tempt those who are coming to the end of their original iPhone contracts to renew.

The future In truth, a part of me hoped the whole suite of software and glittering new hardware to be unveiled by a rejuvenated Jobs. Now I have accepted we are now looking at a new Apple. Not necessarily without Jobs but de-emphasising his iconic status as the magician at the head of company.

His abscence was meant to mark a $40bn drop in the value of Apple. In reality, the stock price has risen significantly in the five months he has been recuperating and dealing with local planning committees (he recently won permission to raze his mansion to the ground in order to build a new one).

So credit to interim CEO Tim Cook for steadying the ship and possibly indicating a way forward for the company.

In the meantime, Apple fans - sit back and enjoy the show, just don't expect it to be a blockbuster.

This article was originally posted on silicon.com.

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