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WWDC 2008: iPhones, 10.6, and a new .Mac?

It's that time of year again, and while everyone and their mother awaits a new iPhone, don't forget that Apple should have more to say about the Mac and .Mac on Monday.

Moscone for WWDC
Workers hang Apple's logo outside Moscone Center, where the Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off Monday. James Martin/CNET

Expect to hear new details about the future of Apple's Mac OS X and Web business next week at the Worldwide Developers Conference--and we think there might be a new iPhone, too.

On Monday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take the stage at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco to address a gathering of Apple's developers and the media. This year's WWDC is sold out to the development community, who will be hearing formal presentations by Apple on both Mac and iPhone development during the week's sessions and meetings.

Anyone with even a passing interest in consumer electronics is probably aware that Apple is expected to unveil the next generation of the iPhone in the near future. The older version has been sold out for weeks as we approach the anniversary of the first model's debut, and anticipation of a model that can connect to 3G cellular networks has been building almost since that date last year.

One of the primary drawbacks of the first iteration of the iPhone has been its reliance on the slower EDGE network outside of Wi-Fi hot spots, which can make downloading a Web page an exercise in patience. Upgrading to a faster connection should encourage people to do more Web browsing outside of Wi-Fi connections and could open up a whole new class of applications that need a faster pipe to work effectively.

Apple is also expected to include GPS technology inside the latest version, another development that could pique the software development community's interest in the iPhone. Location-aware services are available on several phones that use GPS technology, and the iPhone developers could soon be ready to join the party.

Will the new iPhone be available immediately following Jobs' keynote? It's not clear. There have been conflicting reports, but Brian Tong of CNET TV is hearing from his sources that Apple Retail employees have not yet been told whether they'll need to report early on Monday for a special training session, which the company has done in the past before major announcements.

Next Monday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs could announce a new iPhone and a new operating system. Apple

While the iPhone gets all the attention as the new kid on the block, WWDC is always, in large part, about the Mac. Apple chose a picture of two Golden Gate bridges branching off in different directions to illustrate its WWDC invitation, and while the iPhone branch might account for the sold-out conference, the Mac branch is the bread and butter of this conference.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog reported on Wednesday that Apple would be providing developers with an early version of Mac OS X 10.6 during the conference. It's unclear whether that means Apple is ready to start demonstrating features from that release, but the report said the new version is expected to focus on "stability and security."

Apple released Leopard, Mac OS X 10.5, last October after a delay needed to make sure the iPhone arrived on time. At the time, Jobs told The New York Times that he wants Apple to stick to an operating-system deployment cycle of 12 to 18 months.

TUAW's report says Apple could be eyeing a Macworld 2009 release for Mac OS X 10.6, which would certainly nestle within that time frame. Microsoft recently said it wants to get the next version of Windows out by the end of 2009.

Another interesting part of that report is the notion that 10.6 will be an Intel-only release. Users of older Macs running PowerPC chips were able to upgrade to Leopard, but the report suggests that Apple will drop PowerPC support with the next release.

Apple will likely spend a healthy portion of Jobs' keynote discussing Mac OS X, but it remains to be seen how much of a peek we'll get at the next version. One question on the minds of many Apple users: after which big cat will Apple choose to name the next release?

Ars Technica's Infinite Loop reported Wednesday that "Snow Leopard" was the name slated for the next version, which sounds like it could be somewhat confusing, given the fact that the current version is called Leopard. In a poll on TUAW's site, "Cougar" was in the lead, trailed by "Lynx" and "LOLcat," the last of which we can probably eliminate.

The third leg of the WWDC presentation could involve Apple's .Mac service. There have been a number of recent signs that Apple is rethinking its presence on the Internet, with new domain names being snapped up by the company and code strings in the iPhone SDK suggesting that a new name is on tap.

One interesting thing to watch for concerning any new version of .Mac is how much of the service Apple keeps in-house, as opposed to bringing a Web-savvy partner like Google into the mix. The .Mac service is a good idea, but it isn't widely used among Mac users due to issues with its stability, feature list, and price tag.

Any or all of those objections could change, if Apple transfers the back end of the service to a huge Internet services provider like Google, and uses the service to bring Macs and iPhones together in interesting ways.

As usual, Apple is very tight-lipped about what may or may not be arriving during this year's WWDC. The latest iPhone may or may not be ready for an actual release on the first day of the show, but expect the topic to be the highlight of the day's announcements.

We'll have a live blog up and running during the keynote, which is expected to run from about 10 a.m. PT on Monday to about 11:30 a.m., so make sure to come back and read about what's actually rolled out, as it happens.