WWDC 2014: Meet Apple's software and services mash-up

Apple's upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference keynote speech is expected to unveil a melding of software and services, as the company continues to flesh out its cloud platform.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Apple prepares the Moscone West ahead of its annual developer conference
Image: CNET/CBS Interactive

Apple's international developer powwow will start with a bang on Monday when the technology giant announces, among other things, the latest in its software line-up.

On deck, we're expecting the next versions of its mobile and desktop operating systems, iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote speech.

All in all, WWDC is an event for developers to get their hands on the company's software, in order to prepare for upcoming iPhone and iPad releases later in August and November. Expect little — if any — hardware bits to be announced. 

The big focus will be on software, the company's ever-expanding portfolio of cloud-based services, and the thread that ties its platforms together. While its iCloud service was initially the sync-service that kept devices in its hardware range talking and sharing with each other, it still hasn't become the Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services that are capable of not just sync and storage, but active computational power.

Will that thread run deeper? Will we be seeing more of the software and services push from Apple? For its benefit, it has to — not least in anticipation of any device that becomes the centerpiece to its future hardware portfolio. But also in an effort to remain competitive ahead of its rivals in the cloud space.

Here's what we're expecting, anticipating, and not likely to see:

OS X 10.10

Apple's next-generation desktop software for the Mac, MacBook, and iMac is expected to be unveiled for the first time.

 "After seven months without an event, we expect Apple to focus its announcements on new software updates and innovations that expand the reach of its digital matrix." 

It's expected to sport much of the same visual interface as previous iterations of OS X 10, with improvements and new features.

That said, according to Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White in a note to investors, he expects Jony Ive, who took up the design effort for the desktop software, to "wield his talents," and give OS X 10.10 the facelift it needs.

Currently, Apple has 7.6 percent of the desktop operating system market, according to Net Applications, compared to Windows, which has about 90 percent.

iOS 8

The company's money-maker resides in its iPhone unit, which will run the latest software, expected to be unveiled in front of thousands of developers at its keynote. As the software underwent a radical user interface overhaul in iOS 7, expect largely the same visuals. Rumors and leaks point to software additions, notably Healthbook and the possibility of a mobile payments service.

Apple's software and services unit, which comprises mostly iTunes and App Store purchases, makes up exactly 10 percent of the company's revenue as of the fiscal second quarter.

While the company's cloud-based platform is certainly gaining traction, any way to advance this will help bolster its wider cross-platform efforts.

Healthbook (iOS 8)

As part of its new iOS 8 feature set, Apple is expected to dish out a health platform, dubbed Healthbook. Previous reports have suggested this may not be an app just for iPhones and iPads, but a wider platform to track activity, exercise, and other facets of a user's lifestyle.

What's key is that this will have a major impact on the wearable tech market — but don't expect to see an "iWatch" any time soon. Apple typically holds its hardware events just before or after the December fiscal quarter.

Mobile payments (iOS 8)

Rumors suggest that Apple may dish out its own mobile payments system — again, another hook to its software and services unit — which would be a boon to the ever-growing division. Apple chief executive Tim Cook previously called this space "intriguing," and a "big opportunity on the platform," according to our sister-site CNET.

Apple isn't expected to issue an iPhone with near-field communications (NFC) any time soon — though that may change in the coming device iteration, expected in August or September, according to Reuters

Exactly how this mobile payments system may work remains unclear, but its target — cab rides, coffee purchases, and so on — would be a no-brainer. However, it may be a software-based system to target the existing hardware-based mobile payments market, including the likes of PayPal, Square, and Intuit. 

Internet of Things: Hello, smart home?

The melding of the Apple platform could rest in the smart home, such as Internet-connected thermostats, light bulbs, plant feeders, and other household gadgetry.

Image: Apple

Earlier rumbles pointed to a more grandiose affair that might see iPhone and iPad users able to control any online appliance and accessory from a simple panel on their handheld screen.

Exactly what Apple will dish out remains — obviously — unclear, until company executives take the stage. Later reports pointed to a "Made for iPhone" system that would allow devices to easily connect through Wi-Fi rather than home automation. Either way, expect more integration rather than strictly home automation.

Beats acquisition: Meet the team?

Following Apple's acquisition of Beats, the headphone maker and music streaming service, for $3 billion in cash and stock, we can expect to meet the new additions to the Apple team on Monday.

Founded by rapper Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine — both will join Apple under the company's Internet chief Eddy Cue — Beats will be offered through Apple retail outlets and resellers. But there's no further indication of exactly how it will be integrated into Apple's product line, and online services, such as iCloud and the App Store.

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White, in his note, added: "If Apple is serious about the purchase of Beats, as reported by the Financial Times this month, we believe WWDC is an ideal venue to introduce the team."

On the hardware front... 

Apple's hardware announcements typically kick off following the release of its software, so developers can tie their new apps to the new features or technologies.

There have been some minor iterative updates to the MacBook Air earlier this year, but the MacBook Pro and iPad line-up have yet to see any major changes. Expect some more hardware events later this year, with the possibility that the iPad Air, the latest update to the tablet, won't see a refresh until early next year.

Certainly don't hold out for an "iWatch" wearable, or an Apple-branded television set. While the former could land later this year, the jury is still out on whether Apple wants to break into the consumer appliances sector.

If we are to see anything, we may see a new Apple TV set-top box. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs called Apple TV a "hobby" business; incumbent chief executive Tim Cook upgraded its status, saying the device was "a little more difficult to call [Apple TV] a hobby," at its annual gathering of shareholders in February.

Should the company wish to further bring e-commerce to the living room, particularly by branching out to apps and games, we could see the company's revenues climb even further than previously expected. As Apple TV relies on software, not just an accompanying television set, we may see something Apple TV related on Monday.

We'll have it all as it happens on Monday, starting 10am PT (1pm ET; 6pm GMT).

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