Apple's WWDC 2013: Rumors and expectations

Apple's annual developers conference is just days away. Here's a comprehensive guide on what to look forward to.

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Apple's 24th annual developers conference kicks off next week, and will be the company's first event in more than seven months.

The conference lasts the entire week, but the highlight is Monday's keynote address, where Apple typically announces new products and services. This year, Apple has only said it will give developers new versions of iOS and OS X software , though there's likely to be a surprise or two.

CNET's live coverage of Apple's WWDC 2013 keynote

Expectations are high, in no small part because it's been so long since Apple has released anything new. Its last big product launch was the iPad Mini in October, and the months since then have contained little besides tweaks to some existing products . The company has also attempted to temper expectations in the lead up to WWDC, saying there are "amazing" things, but that they were coming in the fall, and throughout next year.

But that doesn't mean there aren't a few things to look forward to at next week's conference. We've rounded up some of the top rumors going into the show, as well as our own expectations.

New software

Apple has already said it will be showing off new versions of iOS and OS X, though the software will almost certainly be only for developers to test before either is released to the public. In the past there has been a several months-long delay between when developers first get new software, and when it's released to the public.

A purported photo of iOS 7 that cropped up a few days ago.
A purported photo of iOS 7 that cropped up a few days ago. iDownloadBlog

As a frame of reference from last year: OS X Mountain Lion went out as a developer preview in February, and was released as a finished product near the end of July. iOS 6 went out as a developer preview at WWDC in June, and was released to everyone else in late September. Apple patched bugs and added a few more features along the way.

iOS 7 is expected as a follow-up to iOS 6, which first debuted at last year's WWDC. There's been much rumbling about a complete visual overhaul led by Apple's top designer Jony Ive, a detail that was confirmed by CEO Tim Cook in an interview last week. Impressively, few details of new features and functionality have leaked out ahead of Apple's reveal. Here are some of the big ones:

  • New interface -- A report from 9to5Mac in April, as well as the New York Times in October suggested Apple was changing the design to do away with many longstanding visual features of iOS. 9to5Mac's report, in particular, suggested Apple would keep the functionality of iOS apps and features the same, but lose some of the digital facsimiles of real world objects in favor of simpler designs. A purportedly leaked shot of the new look cropped up earlier this week (pictured above).
  • More gestures -- Also from the 9to5Mac report, Apple was said to be looking into additional ways to access basic information with gestures, similar to what it currently uses with a one-finger swipe to bring up Notification Center, and a four-finger swipe on the iPad to pull up the multitasking menu.
  • More sharing tools - Once again from 9to5Mac is a report Apple plans to add its AirDrop file-sharing service , which is built into OS X, into iOS so that users can swap files with one another if they're on the same Wi-Fi network. The blog also adds that Apple intends to build in system-level integration to send media to Flickr and Vimeo.
  • More Yahoo -- An April report from The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) says Apple and Yahoo are working together to bring more of Yahoo's content and services to Apple's devices. That includes more content from Yahoo's sports and news sites.

OS X 10.9 is also expected to be unveiled at WWDC. This is Apple's operating system for Macs. This time last year, Apple had already taken the wraps off 10.8 as part of a developer preview, all so that it could release the software in the summer. As for what to expect this time around, the rumors have been very, very thin, with nearly every single major detail coming from a report from 9to5Mac in April:

  • Finder with tabs -- Apple's infrequently updated file browser is said to be getting tabs, solving an age old problem that left people with multiple floating windows on their desktop.
  • Apple
  • Siri and Apple Maps integration-- The greatest thrust in the last two versions of OS X were bringing iOS features over to Apple's computers, and more of that is expected. Apple added a voice dictation tool in Mountain Lion, and more is expected. In November, 9to5Mac said the company was testing full-fledged versions of Siri in early builds of the software. The same report also suggested Apple was planning to integrate its homegrown maps too.
  • Full screen apps that work -- Full-screen apps were the big new feature in Mountain Lion, but Apple botched how they worked for people with multiple monitors. This too is said to be fixed in the new version, something Apple's iOS and OS X software chief hinted at in an e-mail to a customer in October.
  • New multitasking features -- Multitasking is a very old, and basic feature of Macs, though is said to be getting some behind-the-scenes changes that improve battery life and processing power. That's boring, but important if true.

The one big question is timing on a public release, and just how ready the software will be. A report from Daring Fireball in April suggested Apple was shifting some engineers from OS X to help get the new version of iOS out the door, something that could lead to a release in the fall, or later.

New hardware

Even though WWDC is about Apple's platforms, it's also been a time when the company updates and introduces new hardware. This year is no different and, in fact, ripe for improvements with a new generation of chips from Intel just hitting the market .

Apple's MacBook Air.
Apple's MacBook Air. Apple

Both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are due for an update. There are plenty of questions surrounding just what exactly Apple's got up its sleeve though. Apple is expected to eventually add a pixel-dense Retina Display to the MacBook Air , but right now that's one of the main selling points of its highest-end MacBook Pro, which is thicker and heavier in order to power the display, not to mention more expensive.

For the MacBook Pro (the non-Retina version), Apple's said to be slimming things down , according to Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at KGI Securities who has a good track record of Apple's hardware plans. That same report also suggested Apple was further increasing the quality of its built-in FaceTime camera to support 1080p.

Apple could also finally debut the Mac Pro, its desktop tower that the company publicly noted it would be relaunching at some point this year. Recent rumors suggest it's going to be a drastic change from the large, expandable tower into something akin to a souped-up Mac Mini that relies heavily on Thunderbolt for expansion.

On the accessories side, there are a few things to look forward to, though mainly networking gear. Apple last updated its AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule in mid-2011, and its Airport Express about a year ago.

Apple's Thunderbolt display sports some outdated tech.
Apple's Thunderbolt display sports some outdated tech. Apple

A trio of what could be leaked product model numbers obtained by 9to5Mac are strongly believed to be new versions of Apple's AirPort wireless line that support the speedier, and increasingly ubiquitous 802.11ac standard. What were alleged to be leaked 802.11ac components headed for iMacs, were posted in the forums of an Apple enthusiast site earlier this year. More recently, code within OS X 10.8.4 (which was released on Wednesday ) suggests 802.11ac support is baked into Apple's software already.

Apple could also use WWDC to debut a new version of its Thunderbolt display , a product that's been outdated for close to a year since it uses an older version of Apple's MagSafe connector (version 1, instead of version 2), as well as slower USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0. Apple's launched updated models of its displays at several developers conferences, which made a lot more sense when the product was more than three times its current $999 price tag.

New services

A new music service at a developers conference? It's happened before. Look no further than the introduction of iTunes Match at 2011's WWDC keynote. This year, all the chatter is about Apple's Pandora-like Internet radio service, commonly referred to as "iRadio."

Apple's been rushing to make deals with record labels, most recently securing one with Warner Music Group and its publishing arm, Warner Chappell, to stream music to users as part of a free, ad-supported service for iOS devices. The company's already made deals with Universal Music , which is the world's largest label, and is working to close a deal with Sony, CNET has previously reported. If it can do that in time, we might just see a preview of the service at the show.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple certainly has plenty of incentive to get its music service out the door. While a completely different service, rival Google launched a subscription music program at its developers conference last month, and it's headed to iOS . Meanwhile, Amazon too is said to be in talks with record labels to release its own subscription service, according to a report from The Verge in March. Sources familiar with the talks between the two companies tell CNET they are still very exploratory.

Not to be left out is iCloud, the successor to the company's botched MobileMe service. It's been two years since it was introduced , and there's still plenty of room for improvement. That includes areas that consumers see, as well as what developers have been given to integrate iCloud features into their software. Case in point: the cost of the service, which gives users 5GB free, though its paid expansion offers half the storage as Dropbox at the same price, and falls even shorter when compared to plans offered by Google (both of which can be leveraged on Android devices). Developers have also complained about how difficult it is to integrate iCloud's storage and data-syncing tools into their apps.

No new iPhone, iPad

Last, but certainly not least, it's worth pointing out you're unlikely to see either a new iPhone or iPad at WWDC this year. While Apple has used WWDC as a launchpad for a new iPhone in the past -- specifically the iPhone 4 in 2010 -- that's highly unlikely to happen at Monday's event.

One key thing to back that up is that new iPhones have come in step with the release of new versions of iOS. And as mentioned earlier, Apple relies on developers to spend several months working out bugs on that software before it's released to the public, typically just days before a new iPhone. There's also the fact that Apple's last iPhone model came out a little more than eight months ago, which is ages in the world of smartphones, but several months shy of how long Apple's gone between models in the past.

Apple's Phil Schiller introduces the iPad Mini in October.
Apple's Phil Schiller introduces the iPad Mini in October. James Martin/CNET

As for the iPad, it's a little more complicated. The company ticked off many when it released a fourth-generation iPad in October , just a few months after debuting the third-generation model. It's only been seven months since this last model went on sale, but there have already been plenty of rumors the company's readying a new version that takes design cues from its younger sibling.

Adding to the intrigue, casemaker Gumdrop Cases has already readied a $59.99 protective cover for the next iPad , which the company says matches up with specifications it's confirmed from sources.

You can get the full scoop on everything Apple ends up announcing by tuning into CNET's live blog on Monday. We plan to kick things off well before the keynote starts at 10 a.m. Pacific. You'll be able to follow along right here:

CNET's live coverage of Apple's WWDC 2013 keynote
 

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