Apple WWDC 2012: What can we expect?

From hardware to software, and all things shiny, Apple WWDC is the company's opportunity to show off to the world what it has to offer for the year ahead.
By Zack Whittaker, Contributor
1 of 24 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

From hardware to software, and all thing shiny, Apple's WWDC is the company's opportunity to show off its offerings for the year ahead -- primarily to developers, but also to the world.

But typical Apple, nobody really knows what's coming. We can guess and speculate, but until the week is over only then do we have a rough idea of what's to come.

Here's everything we could think of in one place: from 'definitely' to 'maybe,' to down-right 'who knows?'


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Let's start off with what we do know. We know iOS 6 will be shown off at WWDC this week. The banners are in place showing off the new logo design -- still dubbed the "world's most advanced mobile operating system."

But nobody knows what's actually in it.

iOS, the operating system that runs on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, is expected to have different mapping software and some changes to the App Store. The iPad may have Siri pre-installed, while all devices are expected to receive some level of Facebook integration following on from Apple chief executive Tim Cook's recent comments.

Let's have a quick run through.

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Maps, maps, maps. For years, Apple used Google Maps but has fallen out of favour with the search turned mobile giant following a string of lengthy lawsuits targeting the rival mobile operating system. Blame the patent system or those who abuse it? Nobody knows.

Google recently announced its own map improvements; likely preempting Apple's own upcoming pitch to developers. Apple will probably include new 3D technology along with step-by-step directions and other bits and bobs for software makers to play with.

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Twitter grew massively following iOS 5's release. It was the first social network to be included with Apple's mobile operating system, despite Facebook having more than six-times the users at the time of its release.

Following Tim Cook's comments that users and developers should "stay tuned" regarding Facebook integration, iOS 6 could include tight Facebook integration just as Twitter was in iOS 5. It would make sense: Apple has to cater to its users and as the vast majority use Facebook, it makes sense to embed it as part of the software.

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Apple's App Store -- where all iPhone and iPad applications are installed from -- is due for a lick of paint. Apple bought Chomp in March suggesting a possible integration of the recommendation software among other features. Beyond all else, it's one of the main features of iOS and could do with some sprucing up. It may include improved search function.

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iOS 6 could sport a brand new user interface -- nothing enough to shock even long-time users of the compatible devices -- but enough to keep things fresh. It's understood iOS 6 could lose the blue menu bars in favour of a fresher-looking silver menu instead, according to leaked images of beta developer builds.

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Siri is exclusive to the iPhone 4S. However, the iPad has a similar 'Dictation' feature that allows users to enter text by speaking into the device. It's hardly the most private way of typing an email on the way to the office, but it works well and is a popular feature with its users.

Perhaps it is time to bring Siri to the iPad, considering we now know its iPhone 4S exclusivity is likely not due to a hardware limitation of the device? 

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This one is a giant 'maybe'. We have no idea whether the forthcoming Apple smartphone will make an appearance or not. One would think with the new mobile operating system we might see a glimpse of the device itself, but it is a developer conference and frankly the focus should -- of all things -- be on the software rather than the hardware.

That said, one of the major reasons for Apple to show off the new device is if there is a difference in screen resolution or screen size. I don't think the screen resolution is going to change; that said I'm not closed entirely to the idea. If the dimensions of the iPhone do change -- likely to accommodate a larger screen -- attendees will probably get a first-glimpse of the next-generation smartphone during the week.

Bets are on, however, for a September event for an October launch, just in time to take on the Christmas holiday season.

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Leaked images suggest a minor upgrade from the existing line-up, while others suggest other iOS device-like features -- including a much thinner Ultrabook-like MacBook Pro, while the already razor-thin MacBook Air could come equipped with a high-resolution Retina display.

Let's see what we're expecting.

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It's likely, in a bid to compete with Ultrabooks, Apple will roll out a more slimline MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air is one of the thinnest laptops on the market. The MacBook Pro is still a hugely popular laptop, but Apple could shave with a few millimetres off its thickness. All roads point to a thinner device, but leaked images showing the hardware specifications indicate only the internals will change. Perhaps we will see more RAM memory, solid-state storage, with a new "Ivy Bridge" processor?

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Apple's existing OS X operating system supports Hi-DPI mode, allowing for Retina displays in future hardware. But will Apple push for hardware with greater resolution screens? Supply chain sources understand Apple will, but others are sceptical due to the power consumption increase, but if the new MacBooks include the same battery technology as the iPad, it could work.

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And to keep things on the hardware side of things -- since it's a developer conference, OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion" is also expected to feature heavily during the week. We have mobile covered and it's likely the desktop will hold a prominent position during the meet. 

Let's have a spin through what could be coming during the week.

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iMessage on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch allows you to send free unlimited messages to other iOS devices. Apple will expand this functionality to the desktop, allowing you to keep your contacts and devices in sync wherever you go. You can send a message from your iPhone and see the reply on your account-linked Mac or iPad.

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Notifications will keep you in the loop on things you need to know and when, including software updates, birthdays and who wants to get in contact with you. It will likely include a "do not disturb" feature to prevent important meetings from being interrupted.

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With the increased iOS-ification of Apple's desktop and laptop operating system, we are already seeing more applications porting from the iOS platform to OS X.

This includes: a new Reminders application to keep track of what you need to do and when, a Notes application to keep your lists simple and e-scraps of paper together, and a Game Center to keep all of your games in one simple-to-use place, just as it is on your iPhone or iPad.

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The part music player, part content store is expected to receive a much-needed update in the coming release of iTunes 11. Since iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match were launched, the current version of iTunes has grown rapidly. It could even be included in iCloud, some reports suggest, though some believe otherwise.

iTunes manages your iOS devices. While iPhones, iPads and iPods are all backed up, iOS devices may also have their applications and game settings and data backed up with it. Some even suggested the music player could be redesigned from the ground up, resulting in a cleaner interface with less clutter, and greater flexibility over what one does.

iTunes would have to pull its weight if it is to offer its services on Apple TV, or even an Apple television set. Plus, with a new OS X version, it's only reasonable to include a brand new version of its flagship software with it.

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With hints of a new audio format for 'adaptive streaming, iPhones and iPads will be able to raise or lower the audio quality depending on the bandwidth available completely hands free and automatically. iTunes may end up competing with the likes of Spotify, as rumours suggest the software could also offer music streaming.

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Apple's venture into the cloud has so far been successful -- even in the face of competitive rivalry from Microsoft's SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox -- and things can only get better. We're expecting to see some interesting improvements, from new applications to additions that exist already in iOS. 

Let's have a look around at what we expect to see.

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iCloud, which allows users to sync photos and contacts across iOS devices -- such as iPhones and iPads -- could soon open up functionality to other areas, such as Notes and Reminders. It's already included in OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion" so we can reasonably assume there will be a similar feature addition to the Web interface.

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According to sister site CNET, banner-like notifications will arrive to iCloud will add to the overall look and feel of the Web interface. It's not yet clear how this will work, but it could include synchronisation updates and let users know when a new text message or email has arrived. It's also a similar feature to one that will appear in OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion", expected to be released or at least officially debuted during WWDC 2012.

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The Wall Street Journal understands a 'photo sharing' feature will debut in upcoming iCloud updates. iCloud already offers users the capability to store and sync photos using Photo Stream. This expected feature could be a logical extension which may allow friends and contacts to comment on your photos.

Sources remain tight-lipped, so we will just have to wait and see on this one.

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The technology giant, despite rolling out the 'media center' Apple TV set-top box years ago, has yet to open up the software to developers. Running a variant of its mobile iOS software, it could be time for Apple to open up its television counterpart to the developer field -- perhaps in preparation of an expected release of a 'smart TV' set of its own.

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Tim Cook described television as an "area of intense interest" for the company, though failed to disclose any details -- naturally. Some say a television set is destined for 2013--14 after the struggling TV market recovers, while other Apple analysts suggest a smart TV-like device could be on the shelves at around Christmas time.

It is possible Apple may announce something relating to a television set during WWDC, but it would be hard to justify it unless there was a developer hook. If it was a smart TV running iOS 6 -- or some variant of -- it could include App Store functionality or APIs that could be hooked into by software makers.

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A highly contested and controversial topic for Apple fans worldwide: Will Tim Cook 'overrule' the views of his former boss Steve Jobs and roll out a 'mini' iPad with a 7-inch screen?

Taking on the vast array of Android devices and arguably Amazon's Kindle e-reader, it's an opportunity for Apple to take advantage of its dominant position in the market and completely obliterate the competition. Plus, it keeps competitors on their toes and would jump ahead of Microsoft's launch of tablet-centric Windows 8 operating system. If it launches before Windows 8, it could leave Microsoft's big bet dead in the water.

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