Apple's WWDC kicks off June 2: What to expect

Updates to iOS and OS X are all but certain at Apple's developers conference, but will there be any surprises? CNET rounds up the latest rumors.

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Apple will kick off WWDC on June 2. Apple

It's that time of year again, when the Apple faithful descend on San Francisco's Moscone Center for the company's Worldwide Developers Conference.

The Cupertino, Calif., electronics giant from June 2 to 6 will give the world a glimpse of what's coming this year. Apple has used its WWDC keynote as a chance to introduce new products in the past, but more recently has focused on software, saving new mobile device announcements for separate events. This year's conference -- and the two-hour keynote at 10 a.m. PT on June 2 -- likely won't be any different.

"Apple needs to keep the momentum going on development for iOS and to a lesser degree OS X," Gartner analyst Van Baker said. "That's what's going to be the focus of the event."

Don't miss it: Tune in to CNET's WWDC live show and live blog starting at 9 a.m. PT on June 2.

Last year, Apple unveiled iOS 7, OS X 10.9 Mavericks, iTunes Radio, the Mac Pro, and new MacBook Airs.

The company, in typical Apple fashion, is being coy about what it will announce this time around. Its WWDC app lists many of the developer session topics as "No Comment," "This One Is Sealed," and "Shhhh, Can't Tell You Yet." That has caused some blogs to speculate Apple could have something "really big" in store. The big news about Beats Music? Apple already made that official.

So what will we likely see in June? Mostly, a lot of software. CNET has heard there won't be new hardware at WWDC, but there always could be a few surprises from Apple.

Sure bets

iOS 8

WWDC is Apple's annual chance to talk to developers, and most of its announcements will be geared to app makers. An update to Apple's mobile operating system, iOS, is all but guaranteed. iOS 8 likely won't be as dramatic a change as iOS 7, but it should have some nice tweaks to keep app makers and users happy. There is some speculation, however, that many new features could appear in iOS 8.1 instead of iOS 8.

As far as the likely additions, a big one is Healthbook. The long-rumored feature could be a hub for collecting health and fitness data in one place, like Apple's Passbook aimed to do for tickets and gift cards. Healthbook could be a first step toward an Apple wearable, but it also could be a way to better connect fragmented health gadgets and apps.

Apple also could introduce more CarPlay features. The company launched CarPlay with iOS 7.1 in March, which means it might be too soon for further changes, but there might be a bigger influx of apps. CarPlay lets an iPhone 5 (and newer) power a touch screen on a car's dashboard. The interface is iOS-like, but vastly simplified compared with what's seen on a phone or tablet. Functionality is limited too -- really just letting users access maps and audio, though Siri can read messages and take dictation for responses.

One feature that sorely needs an overhaul is Maps. The introduction of Apple's homegrown mapping program with iOS 6 in 2012 angered iPhone users and resulted in the firing of at least one executive, software head Scott Forstall. Apple could introduce some big changes in iOS 8, including the return of public transit information.

Another possible feature for iOS 8 could be a standalone iTunes Radio app. Apple currently nestles the free streaming service in its Music app, but the radio could get its own app, as well as more features and a new design. Apple also could potentially introduce music subscriptions.

Siri might also now include Shazam integration to tell users what song they're hearing. The digital assistant could also work better with other third-party apps.

Other iOS tweaks could include improved notifications, split-screen apps, multitasking, improved gaming features for game controllers and Apple TV, support for more peripherals such as mice, better battery life management, and a refined voice memo app.

Apple also may make AirDrop, the file-sharing tool, work with Macs, and it could include improvements to iWork and iCloud. We also could see more iBeacon enhancements, and other features that work across Apple's various devices.

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OS X 10.10

Apple also likely will use WWDC to show off its latest Mac software. The prior version -- Mavericks -- unveiled at the conference last year, featured improved battery life, many new applications, better power management, tabs in Finder, and the ability to add tags to file names so they're more searchable.

Not much is known about the latest update to OS X, but many people expect a completely revamped design, similar to what the mobile operating system went through last year. That could include some features that make the operating system more iOS-like, though the two aren't expected to converge into one platform anytime soon. Some sites have speculated the OS X redesign could include sharper edges and icons.

Possible

Mobile payments

Several clues have surfaced over the past few months that point to Apple working on its own mobile payments business. We've seen patent filings, rumors of secret meetings, executive hires, and analyst predictions.

Apple already lets hundreds of millions of users -- about 800 million, as of Apple's earnings in April -- buy music, books, and apps through an iTunes account linked to their credit cards. Expanding this payment process into a digital wallet, or some other sort of mobile payment service, could be a feasible shift for the company.

Home automation software

Apple plans to launch a new smart home platform at WWDC that will allow iPhones and iPads to control a home's lights, security system, and other connected appliances, according to a Financial Times report.

The new "software platform" will be built into iOS devices, according to the report, which cited anonymous sources. As with Apple's "Made for iPhone" program, the new platform would be open to third-party device makers, allowing their gadgets to work on Apple's automation system.

Long shots

Macs

Along with a revamped Mac operating system, Apple also could use WWDC to introduce new Macs. However, Intel's newest chip, dubbed Broadwell, won't be ready until later this year, so the devices wouldn't get big performance boosts if they were updated now. Most signs point to Mac updates later this year instead of at WWDC.

In terms of new Macs, people are looking for Apple to finally introduce a Retina Display in its MacBook Air. The company boosted the MacBook Air processor and cut the device's price in April, but it has yet to release such a laptop with a high-resolution screen. The last major change to the computer came in June 2013. Since Apple just released new MacBook Airs, it's less likely that it will introduce overhauled devices this soon.

There's also speculation that Apple could introduce a 12-inch MacBook that's fanless and has other tweaks. So far, the MacBook Air has come in two sizes: 11.6- and 13.3-inch -- both with relatively low-resolution displays.

That 12-inch device also could end up being the rumored iPad Pro that converts between a tablet and a laptop. Apple has long panned hybrid devices that can convert between tablets and laptops -- Cook two years ago famously compared it to combining a toaster and a refrigerator -- but many have called for the company to change its mind and create a hybrid of its own. It's more likely we'd see something like this later in the year or next year.

We also could see an update to the Mac Mini, Apple's small-form desktop that hasn't been changed since October 2012. The current unibody construction dates from 2010, and the internal 2012 update was for new Intel chips, which remain a generation behind the rest of the Mac lineup (with the exception of the similarly dated 13-inch "classic" MacBook Pro). But again, this would be more likely once Intel's newest chips are available.

Beats

There was some speculation that Apple would use its developer conference as the place to announce a deal to buy Beats. However, Apple actually revealed the news Wednesday, saying it's buying the company for $3 billion. There's still a chance Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, Beats cofounders and soon-to-be Apple employees, could take the stage at WWDC, but Apple likely wouldn't let them say much.

iWatch

Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised interesting new products in new categories this year, and smart money has been betting on a wearable. Apple likely will introduce a smartwatch or fitness band sometime this year, but it's unlikely to happen this soon. Generally, rumors have pointed to the iWatch hitting the market in the fall.

Apple TV

What started as hobby for Apple has become a pretty big business over the years. The company revealed during its earnings call in April that it has sold 20 million Apple TVs since it launched the device, and in 2013, people spent more than $1 billion on Apple TV content.

Apple might make some changes to its current Apple TV for WWDC, particularly the software, but we're probably not going to see the completely revamped, over-the-air streaming product that people have been seeking.

iPhone and iPad

Add new Apple mobile devices to the "not-going-to-happen" category. The company introduced its latest versions of the devices in the fall, and it's likely going to do the same again this year.

Surprises

Of course, Apple could have some surprises in store for the WWDC audience. The company isn't expected to introduce hardware, but it could end up shocking everyone. Stay tuned to CNET for full coverage of the keynote.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. with Beats acquisition news.

 

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