Five things to expect at Apple’s WWDC
For an event that lasts only two hours — the length of a Hollywood movie — there’s a lot riding on Apple’s (AAPL) WWDC keynote presentation Monday.
About $94 billion, by my calculation.
That’s how much Apple’s market value has increased in the past eight weeks, driven largely by fund managers anticipating some kind of surprise Monday. Preferably a new piece of hardware. Preferably in a new category, like a wearable device or a TV.
We’ll get to the chances of a surprise of that nature in a bit. But fair warning: That’s not what WWDC is usually about.
WWDC is what its name implies: A World Wide Developers Conference.
It’s the one event each year where Apple gets to introduce developers to the new software tools they’ll need to write programs for Apple’s forthcoming devices — generally introduced at their own events, in the fall, in time for the big holiday selling season.
And for the 5,000 or so developers lucky enough to get in (they were chosen by lottery this year) it’s a rare chance to get the ear of the engineers who created those tools.
That said, what can we realistically expect from the keynote scheduled to begin — and be webcast live — at 10:00 a.m. Pacific (1:00 p.m. Eastern)?
— New faces. In the past two months, Apple has taken on more high-profile executive talent than any time since Steve Jobs returned from exile in 1997, and this will be the company’s first opportunity to trot them out on the big stage at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. So there’s a very good chance that CEO Tim Cook will formally introduce Angela Ahrendts, the glamorous former CEO of Burberry, the legendary Dr. Dre (“billionaires boys club” for real, homey!) and Jimmy Iovine, one the savviest music producers in the business. Ahrendts will take charge of Apple’s retail empire — its online presence and its 424 stores as a senior vice president reporting to Cook. Dre and Iovine came on board as part of Apple’s $3 billion acquisiton of Beats Music and Beats Electronics. It’s not clear what their titles will be or what they’ll be doing at Apple. We may find out on Monday.
— New iPhone operating system. iOS, the software that runs Apple’s iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, got a major overhaul last year with the release of iOS 7 — Jony Ive’s “flatter” version, stripped of such skeuomorphic touches as green felt and fake leather. By all accounts, iOS 8 will be a refinement of iOS 7 with a few important improvements: Maps is said to be getting a major overhaul although a key feature — the addition in selected cities of such public transport information as bus and subway schedules — is reportedly delayed. Other rumored improvements: A new iRadio app, the addition of a Song ID feature in Siri, a simplified Notification center.
— New Mac operating system. Conventional wisdom has it that OS X is due for a major upgrade — if nothing else to make it look and feel more like iOS. By version number it’s OS X 10.10. Judging from the banners hung in the lobby at Moscone over the weekend, it will have a Yosemite theme — El Cap, El Capitan or simply Yosemite. Functionally, this may be the version that finally brings Siri to the Mac and allows AirDrop to exchange files between an iPhone and a Mac. Any improvements in Maps and other apps that come to iOS may also appear in OS X 10.10.
— New platforms. Credit where credit is due: 9to5Mac‘s Mark Gurman broke the story in January that Apple was working on something called Healthbook for monitoring such health and fitness data as heart rate, blood pressure, nutrition, blood sugar, sleep, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, weight and pysical activity. And it was the Financial Times‘ Tim Bradshaw who reported last week that Apple was working on a smart home platform for coordinating such devices as burglar alarms, smoke detectors and thermostats. If Apple hopes developers will populate these platforms with apps and devices that take advantage of them, now would be a good time to brief them on the necessary software tools. Another platform ripe for development: Passbook, an iOS app currently used as a place to store boarding passes, movie tickets, gift cards and the like. If Apple were to connect the dots between iBeacon, fingerprint ID and 800 million credit cards to make a friction free (and credit-card free) payment system, Passbook might be the place to do it.
— New hardware. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s always possible that Apple could use Monday’s developer conference to pull a new device out of its hat. They did it last year with the MacPro, a secret it was able to keep because there weren’t any Asian assembly line workers to spill the beans. Improvements on its current line-up — new iMacs, MacBooks, iPads — won’t impress Wall Street. Even an early release of the larger format iPhone expected in September isn’t going to move the needle much. A new Apple TV set top box opened up to third-party programmers — through the release of an SDK (software developers kit) — would be welcome news, but would not fulfill the lingering fantasies that Apple might finally solves television’s myriad problems. That leaves the so-called iWatch, about which so much ink has been spilled. Since nobody has been able to figure out how such a thing would work, anything said about it on Monday would be a big surprise. Hopefully, for Apple investors, a good one.
I’ll be joining my colleagues Adam Lashinsky and JP Mangalindan in Moscone West Monday to cover the event for Fortune’s new website. Instructions for how to tune into the live simulcast are available at Apple’s Events page.