What To Expect At Apple’s WWDC This Year

Apple’s signature event of the year kicks off on Monday, when thousands of software developers descend on San Francisco to hear the latest from the company that defined the modern era of mobile computing four years ago this month with the launch of the iPhone. This year proves to be interesting: not only because Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) already announced what they were going to talk about (a rare if not unprecedented move), not only because iconic CEO Steve Jobs remains on medical leave yet very much in the public eye, and not only because Apple’s Web strategy appears to finally be ready for the 21st century. A preview of what to expect:
iOS: Forget all the hype about the iCloud: the single most important reason for WWDC remains iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. A series of coordinated leaks to Apple-friendly bloggers over the past few months would appear to indicate that we’re not likely to see an iPhone 5 at this event. That also tracks with history: Apple has always shown off the next iteration of iOS a few months prior to launching new hardware.
But while Apple certainly takes a lot of pride in its hardware design teams, the software is arguably more important, the basis for an army of mobile developers who consider Apple’s iOS their biggest priority when it comes to application development. iOS 5 will be shown off at the keynote, and it’s likely to contain hooks into iCloud (more on that later), a new push-notifications system, and a deeper level of integration with Twitter. There’s also likely to be something geared specifically toward tablets, in line with Jobs’ declaration that 2011 would be “the year of the iPad” the day he introduced the iPad 2.
OS X Lion: Just because Apple now gets more revenue from the iPhone than any other segment doesn’t meant the company has forgotten about the Mac, which has always been the soul of Apple. It has been quite some time since OS X Snow Leopard was released, which itself was only a nominal upgrade over OS X Leopard, first launched in 2007. Much is already known about OS X Lion, but expect Apple to devote significant time to demonstrations of the new operating system and its ties between iOS and iCloud.
iCloud: Apple is a bit notorious for having trouble grokking the Web. A disastrous MobileMe launch in 2008 resulted in a vintage dressing-down of company executives by Jobs, according to a recent Fortune article on Apple, and iCloud is expected to be the most modern take on Internet services that Apple has yet to attempt.
Details regarding what iCloud will enable are still a bit sketchy, but it is sure to have prominent ties to Apple’s twin computing operating systems: one of Apple’s core brand promises is that if you invest in all of its gear, those components will work better together than pieces from other companies that are mixed and matched. (That’s the pitch, anyway.) Of course, it will also contain the underpinnings for a Web-based music service, the details of which Apple might be ready to announce following the completion of deals with four major record labels.
Lodsys: Apple may be constrained in what it can say about the lawsuits filed by Lodsys against iOS developers, claiming that their in-app purchasing system within iOS infringes on Lodsys. Pending litigation has a way of making official statements few and far between. But the issue is certain to be on the minds of developers gathered at the conference, and Apple could assuage some fears by making further commitments to those affected by the legal uncertainty.
Steve Jobs: Apple’s famous CEO is still technically on medical leave, his second in the last three years. However, Apple confirmed he would deliver one of his signature keynote addresses on Monday, just as he oversaw the launch of the iPad 2 in February. It seems hard to believe that Apple wouldn’t use the occasion to provide an update on Jobs’ role at the company, such as whether or not he’s ready to return to full-time duties (which he’s likely been doing this whole time anyway).
Some interesting details have emerged in the last month or so, however, regarding Apple University: the program Apple announced back in 2008 but barely acknowledged in the intervening years. Thanks to the same Fortune article mentioned above, we now know that Apple University is a project to capture as much knowledge as possible related to Apple’s strategies and decision-making processes under Jobs’ second term at the helm. Might Apple finally be ready to make public a succession plan? It’s a wild card, but an intriguing one nonetheless.
We’ll be at Moscone West on Monday to bring you news and analysis of Apple’s latest software product plans.
UPDATED: Here’s a link to our full coverage of what actually happened at WWDC 2011 on Monday.