San Francisco –- Ah WWDC. Don't you just love this time of year? Thousands of Apple developes descend upon the fair city by the bay for a week of excitement, nostalgia and imbibing.
Alright enough reminiscing, let's take a look into our crystal ball and try to figure out what Apple has up its collective sleeve for tomorrow's announcements at WWDC.
What we know:
Apple has already stated that it will talk about Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud. No surprises there.
Since Apple's believed to have struck a licensing deal with Universal Music -- and between one to three of the remaining four labels -- making it likely that iCloud will allow you to store your music library and stream it to all of your iOS/OS X devices. Up for debate is wether you'll actually have to upload your entire library (like Google Music) or if Apple will simply fingerprint each track in your iTunes library and unlock a corresponding (and possibly higher-resolution) version on iCloud.
There are several ways that Apple could choose to implement a music fingerprint-unlocking technique. The most restrictive would be to only grant online access to tracks that you purchased from iTunes, but this would be put Apple behind Google and Amazon, feature-wise anyway, so it's unlikely.
Somewhere in the middle is having to prove ownership of a track to unlock it on the cloud, although I'm not sure how this would work. Maybe you'd have to re-rip your CDs? But there would be nothing stopping you from burning pirated tracks to CD and ripping them back into iTunes -- the equivalent of laundering your stolen music.
The other extreme is that Apple and the labels offer some sort of limited music amnesty allowing all the music in your iTunes library (legal or otherwise) to be uploaded or fingerprinted, without passing judgement. While it would be a tacit endorsement of stolen music (and essentially legitimize the practice) the labels could justify the move with their cut of the fee (believed to be 58% labels, 12% publisher, 30% Apple) -- heck, it's better than getting zero dollars for all those tracks you Napstered back in the day.
How will it charge for iCloud? MobileMe's $99 annual subscription fee feels patently absurd in 2011 and $25 annually is probably the most that Apple can reasonably charge without losing customers to free alternatives. Apple has been rumored to offer a stripped-down (i.e., no music) version of the service for free.
Cult of Mac has posted an interesting piece on how iCloud could tap the power of an upgraded Time Capsule to put your home folder on iCloud:
According to the source, Apple has developed a system to make users’ Time Machine backups available through its new iCloud service... This is the “Home Folder” access concept that we’ve detailed before... All your files and data — pictures, videos, Word and Excel documents, and so on — will be available anytime, anywhere, on both Mac OS X and iOS devices.
It would work like this: your Mac is backed up to the Time Capsule and the Time Capsule is synced to iCloud -- all in the background. When you use a different device it syncs with the home folder that's on the Time Capsule and all your files are current. According to Cult, the service will also allow you to upload photos and videos from your iPhone or iPad to your Time Capsule. Rather than storing all your files on a server in its data center in Maiden, NC, iCloud would act as the conduit that everything moves through.
An updated Airport Express has also been bandied about for tomorrow, but without the local storage of the Time Capsule, I'm not sure how this would fit into the iCloud equation.
While this whole Time Capsule sync thing could be plausible, it sounds like a version control nightmare to me. What happens when there's no connectivity? How would conflicts be handled? Reminds me of the old adage "sync is hard."
Then there's Twitter. According to rumblings ahead of WWDC, iOS 5 could gain major OS-level Twitter integration. At minimum you should be able to share iOS photos via Twitter, but it could go much deeper with Apple launching a new location-based, check-in service allowing Apple to compete with Foursquare.
There's a rumor that Mac OS X Lion will launch on June 14 via the Mac App Store, ahead of Apple's previously stated "summer" launch date. The consensus among developers using the latest pre-release build of the new Mac OS tell me that it's nowhere near ready enough to ship in barely over a week. But then again, Apple has a history of withholding features from OS X developer builds until after an event like WWDC in order to preserve the element of surprise, so it's plausible. Either way, developers should probably expect a new Lion build tomorrow, at a minimum.
What I'd like to see
Speech Recognition - Apple acquired Siri in 2010, which used Nuance’s speech recognition technologies, and it's high time that it address the iOS achilles heel and embed speech recognition at the root of iOS. It's not only convenient but it's safer than typing. And it will bring iOS up to par with Android. Enough said. (If Apple wanted to lap Android it could also release speech synthesis for iOS 5: "iPhone: read my unread email to me" -- now that would be cool.)
Notifications and Widgets – iOS' other glaring issues include an outdated notification system and its lack of widgets. Apple could use iOS 5 to debut overhauled versions, which Apple could preview for developers tomorrow. Apple's implementations need to work at least as well as these notification and widget concepts dreamt up by users.