Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference begins today with a keynote address from Steve Jobs. What will he announce? Here’s our guide to what we know and what we don’t.
When Steve Jobs takes to the stage at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco this evening (UK time) he will, for once, be announcing products that Apple has already confirmed. Usually the company likes to surprise its keynote audience but this time we’ve already been told what is on the menu: iCloud, iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion.
Nevertheless, there are still plenty of unanswered questions and, this being Apple, there is always room for a surprise or two. With that in mind, here’s a guide to what we know and what we don’t know about this evening’s keynote.
The big announcement will be iCloud, Apple’s internet storage service. Numerous credible reports claim that Apple has done deals with the four major record labels to allow it to store its customers’ music collections on its internet servers. Some reports have also suggested that the service will allow films and TV shows to be stored as well. From there, it might be possible to stream them to any device – iPhone, iPad or computer – freeing up storage space on the device itself.
The licences are important because they will make it possible for Apple to scan your computer for music files and add them to your iCloud service automatically, saving you the time and trouble of uploading them yourself. That feature, made possible by Apple’s purchase of online music service LaLa, in 2008, is something that rival services from Amazon and Google don’t yet offer.
There are plenty of other questions, however. Will Apple allow you to store all of your music, or just those songs purchased from iTunes? If it’s the latter, the usefulness of the service will be limited for many users. Will iCloud allow you to stream music that you don’t own, as Spotify does? And what else will iCloud allow you to store? The possibility of that iCloud could replace iTunes entirely for managing iOS devices is an enticing one.
The operating system that runs Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch will get a major overhaul but it won’t be released right away. The WWDC announcement will give developers time to try the new version of iOS and update their apps ready for a release later in the year. This is the part of the keynote about which we know least.
Apple’s iOS remains popular with users and industry analysts and still offers features that its rivals are struggling to emulate. However there are some aspects of the system, such as notifications, that could be better. Android does a much better job of delivering alerts for incoming messages, missed calls and calendar updates. Expect Apple to deal with that in iOS 5.
There have also been rumours about radical changes to how iOS works with some services, particularly Twitter, with those in the know claiming that iOS 5 offers deep embedding of those tools. What this means in practice is unclear.
One crucial thing that remains to be seen is how much of iCloud’s integration with iOS will be available immediately and how much will rely on features in iOS 5.
In contrast to iOS 5, this is the part of the keynote about which we know the most. Steve Jobs previewed Lion, the latest version of the operating system that powers Apple Macs, at the launch of new the MacBook Air last year. The company has made its computer OS more like iOS, meaning that apps save regularly in the background and are accessed via an iPad-like menu of icons. There are plenty of other features too but most of these have been reported on, after months of hands-on time by developers.
One of the reasons for Apple pre-announcing the agenda for this keynote is thought to be a desire to play down expectations for new hardware. Apple has typically used WWDC to launch the new iPhone and even with the company insisting that this is a software-focused event, there are some who are expecting a new gadget of some kind.
That seems unlikely. However, one possibility is that Apple will announce a new version of its Time Capsule hard drives to take advantage of iCloud features. Time Capsule already backs up Macs regularly and in the background so perhaps a new version will send your files to iCloud and keep all of your devices in sync without bothering you. If there is a hardware surprise in store, I think that’s the most likely one. But part of the reason why Apple keynotes are so intriguing is that you can never be sure.