Apple’s annual gathering of developers and press is a mere two days away, so you know what the means: The last-minute rumor mill is in full frenzy. Will Apple launch a Spotify killer? What features will iOS 9 sport? When will we finally get a taco emoji?
This year, the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference is happening in the shadows of the Apple Watch, one of the company’s first big product launches in years. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of new details to soak up on Monday.
The iPhone just got a significant physical refresh last year in the form of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, so in keeping with the company’s product development trajectory, this year is expected to be more about mobile software than hardware (which will likely see an iterative update in the fall).
Little is known about the next version of Mac OS X, except that it’s going to be unveiled on Monday. Reports suggest an upgrade that’s more about stability and tighter cross-device integration than any new major features on the desktop. Of the new features that will be included, a new system font (“San Francisco,” from the Apple Watch) and iOS-style control panel sound likely.
The star of the show on Monday will be iOS 9, which is reportedly more focused on stability and iterative feature updates than on revolutionizing the mobile interface. Some notable reports include the arrival of a “Home” app for managing HomeKit-supported devices, improvements to Siri, split-screen multitasking on the iPad (although this rumor has been around for a while), public transit directions in Apple Maps, and overall improved operating system performance on older devices.
If there’s one major feature unveiled on Monday, it would be Proactive, Apple’s predictive, ever-learning Google Now competitor.
As 9to5Mac explains:
Beyond Calendar integration, the feature will be able to integrate with commonly used apps. For example, if an iPhone user typically opens the Facebook app when he wakes up around 9AM, a button to access Facebook will start to appear for the user around 9AM. If the user calls his mother every Tuesday at 5PM, a bubble to “Call Mom” could appear around that time every Tuesday.
The feature will also include tight mapping integration and augmented reality. It’s not entirely clear if it will be ready in time for WWDC, but it’s almost certainly in the works.
At WWDC, Apple is expected to start giving developers a taste of native Apple Watch app development with the arrival of a new Apple Watch SDK. The new smartwatch is supposed to start running more capable, phone-independent apps in the fall and WWDC would be a logical place to get that process started, or at least preview it.
Perhaps the most talked-about and potentially impactful feature expected to be announced on Monday is Apple’s music streaming service. Practically a year to the day after acquiring Beats Music for $3 billion, Cupertino is expected to peel back the shrink wrap on an all-new, iTunes-branded music subscription service. The new streaming option will be part of a radically overhauled Music app, according to the always well-sourced Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac. Rather than having to wait for iOS 9 to ship in the fall, users will reportedly get access to the new Music app in iOS 8.4.
Apple is entering a very crowded market, joining archrival Google alongside the likes of Rdio, Rhapsody, Jay-Z’s new Tidal service and, of course, Spotify, which dominates this space in the U.S. With so many other players, Apple will need to differentiate itself. One way it’s rumored to be doing that is with star power: Drake and Pharrell reportedly signed on to be DJs for the as-yet-underwhelming iTunes Radio, which is expected to get its own overhaul. Apple also poached longtime BBC DJ Zane Lowe, another sign of how important human curation will be to Apple’s new music offerings.
Of course, Apple’s killer feature in streaming music may wind up being the fact that it’s Apple. By virtue of being included in iOS 9, the new service will have the advantage of being on every new iPhone that ships in the fall and beyond–not to mention the millions of devices that will be upgraded to Apple’s newest operating system. The service will also offer the advantage of merging people’s digital downloads and MP3s with a massive streaming library. That’s something Google Play already does well, but that Spotify could make easier.
It looks as though 2015 is the year that the “Apple is building a television set” rumor finally died. But while Steve Jobs’s deathbed vision for the future of television may not come in the form of a TV set, Apple is still working on ways to reimagine the biggest screen in the house. A new, redesigned Apple TV device might make its debut on Monday, although recent reports have cast serious doubt on that claim. The company just slashed the price of the existing Apple TV box to $69 in March, so it’s clearly making room for something soon.
New hardware always brings welcome improvements, but the much bigger deal is going to be what Apple is planning on the software side. At eight years old, the Apple TV is the only device in Apple’s lineup that lacks any kind of software development kit for third-party apps (although its screen-beaming AirPlay feature lets any iOS app become a TV-based experience). That’s supposed to change soon, although you shouldn’t hold your breath for a new Apple TV SDK to arrive on Monday.
See what Fast Company’s Mark Wilson and Noah Robischon predict for WWDC: