WWDC 2009: What will Apple do?

Apple's annual developer conference opens Monday morning, and anticipation of new iPhone hardware as well as new operating system features abound.

Apple WWDC 2009
The banner caption indicates the focus of Apple's developer conference will be on features of the iPhone OS and third-party apps. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Trying to predict what we'll see at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference this year gives one the slight feeling of deja vu.

Heading into the annual conference last year, we knew there would be three basic topics covered in the event's opening keynote speech: OS X 10.6, the iPhone platform, and new iPhone hardware. You can bet that WWDC 2009--sold out for the second straight year--will hit on those same three areas. But there are still plenty of questions surrounding the specific details of what we'll see Monday morning when the conference opens at San Francisco's Moscone Center.

We know that the human headliner of the kickoff event, the conference keynote speech, will be Phil Schiller, vice president of marketing. Apple has promised he will discuss iPhone OS 3.0, which should be available this summer, as well as Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

The other headliner, that will invariably steal the show, will be new iPhone hardware, if it is indeed introduced. It seems a good bet since it's practically Apple tradition now to introduce the latest update to its incredibly popular smartphone at WWDC. The device may not be immediately for sale, and Apple could wait to roll them out in July, like last year. But the No. 1 reason Apple is likely to debut the phone Monday is that the point of WWDC is to teach developers how to work with Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems. It wouldn't make much sense to bypass the opportunity to familiarize them with new application programming interfaces (APIs) for new iPhone hardware.

Of course, rumors have been bubbling since at least January about a second-generation iPhone 3G. Some of the more credible leaked photos and uncovered clues seem to point to a more evolutionary update to the phone's hardware, instead of a major change like last year's upgrade to an iPhone that could handle 3G wireless service. Things that appear likely:

  • It's easy to see Apple keeping the 16GB model of the iPhone, and introduce a 32GB version, while keeping the prices the same: $199 for the smaller, $299 for the larger.

  • A new camera with the ability to take video.

  • A magnetometer built into the phone's hardware.

Speculation regarding a discount version of the phone in a smaller capacity with fewer features for $99 has cropped up also, mostly from Wall Street analysts. Apple already has a 10.8-percent share of the smartphone market, and lowering the price by $100 would be a way to expand the user base even further. But like most things with Apple, we won't know what they're going to do until they decide to tell us.

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Beyond rumor, speculation, and grainy photos appearing online, it's impossible to know exactly what to expect. Despite that, some are already saying the anticipated keynote will be underwhelming compared with most years, with Steve Jobs sidelined, and no early signs of any sort of monumental update to the iPhone hardware.

Most of the updates to the iPhone will have to do with the operating system update, which Apple already detailed at a special event in March. We know for sure iPhone OS 3.0 will add some features iPhone users have been demanding since the phone's debut in 2007: background processing, system-wide search, the ability to copy, cut, and paste, multimedia messaging, and an option for a landscape virtual keyboard. There will also be 1,000 new APIs available to developers creating applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch platform. Apple didn't discuss every single one of those at the March event, so it's certainly possible Schiller and whoever else joins him onstage could have saved one or two of the best things to unveil Monday.

Apple has also promised to give more details on Mac OS X 10.6 , which the company announced at WWDC last year, and promised it would be ready in "about a year." Apple will likely give us the release date on Monday.

Leading up to the event, rumors of a Verizon service plan option on the iPhone, and the unveiling of an Apple touch-screen tablet have surfaced. Those are likely wishful thinking--for now. Though those rumors could both become reality, it's not likely they'll appear at WWDC. AT&T's contract with Apple to offer the iPhone is said to guarantee exclusivity for five years. And most agree a touch-screen tablet wouldn't be available until 2010 at the earliest.

Of course, many WWDC attendees may still be holding out hope that Jobs will make an appearance Monday. Apple has been clear that Jobs' return as CEO is scheduled for "the end of June," though it's impossible to say for sure whether he would simply attend the conference or not.

We'll be live-blogging the keynote speech, which is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. PDT on Monday. So please be sure to come back and read about what Apple is announcing as it happens.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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