It’s that time again — when the Apple stages its Worldwide Developer Conference to fire up the developer community, trot out some new tricks for old products, and, hopefully, announce some brand new ones.
Based on the news reports and word from our own sources, we believe the star of WWDC 2015 will be music. We’re likely to see a redesigned web and mobile music player, plus a new subscription service that includes lots of curated content. Apple’s HomeKit connected home initiative will also be a big theme, along with previews of iOS 9 and new Mac OS. We’ll also likely see some new developer tools for developing apps that run natively on the Apple Watch.
Following Google’s entertaining and information-rich I/O developers conference last week, Apple has a hard act to follow. Let’s hope Tim Cook and company deliver, and that they have a few surprises up their sleeve.
Apple puts a new spin on music
Apple is expected to announce a major redesign of its music platform on Monday. The new platform, which may be named “Apple Music,” will use part of the curated subscription music streaming technology it bought from Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s Beats Music back in 2013. It will also use or build on the existing music management and shopping services in iTunes. But nobody really knows exactly how all these parts will mix together, and how it will all look to the user. Trent Reznor is said to have played a central role in designing the mobile experience.
Drilling down a bit deeper, the new music subscription service, which will be something like Spotify and cost $10 a month, will focus much more on curated content than Apple has in the past. A source tells VentureBeat that Apple has already entered into relationships with talent like Dr. Dre to act as a real human DJ on one of the channels offered by the new service.
Pharrell, Drake, Q-Tip, and will.i.am are also already on board. Our source in Los Angeles says DJs will include “all Jimmy’s buddies,” meaning friends of Jimmy Iovine; this could mean anybody from Dre to Bono to anybody signed to Interscope during Iovine’s time at the label.
Apple will, in essence, be offering something that looks much more like traditional radio than its unpopular iTunes Radio service. iTunes Radio is little more than a very limited Pandora clone that uses algorithms to select music for its streams. It’s unclear whether or not Apple will keep iTunes Radio alive. It could, because it’s a very different service than the human DJ-driven broadcast service Apple is about to launch.
It’ll also be interesting to see if all the major record label groups are listed as content providers for the new subscription music service. Just a few weeks ago, reports said Apple had yet to wrap up licensing agreements with some of them.
Connected Home and the new hub
Apple will most likely talk about its grand vision for the connected home at WWDC, with its HomeKit platform at the very center. HomeKit provides a technology language that manufacturers can use to make their HomeKit-certified products talk to a common, Apple-flavored integration and control platform.
The two main points of control of HomeKit devices in the home will be a mobile app baked into iOS 9 and the Apple TV (Apple TV got HomeKit support last year with the arrival of iOS 8.1). In fact, Apple TV is likely to emerge as the main hardware hub for controlling the connected home. The HomeKit mobile app will probably communicate with the Apple TV box so that users can control devices and utilities in the home remotely using their phone. The Apple Watch will almost certainly gain a control interface for HomeKit devices.
We expect to see a small parade of device and appliance makers on stage showing off their HomeKit devices.
Apple TV — or not
Based on a New York Times piece published Wednesday, a new Apple TV set-top box will not be announced at WWDC as had been expected. An earlier Re/code report said Apple’s failure to reach content-licensing agreements with some of the major video rights holders makes a WWDC announcement of a new subscription TV service impossible, too.
Apple has reportedly wanted to offer a subscription video service for a long time, possibly as far back as the Jobs era, but it has never been able to reach suitable terms with rights holders such as TV networks and sports leagues.
But there may still be news around the existing Apple TV streaming box.
Developers have long been interested in developing apps that would run on Apple TV, and they may soon get their chance. Apple may add a dedicated app store to Apple TV, and provide developers with a software development kit to build the apps.
It’s also possible that Apple will announce a more robust integration between the Apple Watch and Apple TV. The Watch, for instance, could become a more functional remote control for Apple TV.
iOS 9 will focus on stability, with a few new tricks
The next big iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system is likely to be a mix of under-the-hood fixes for stability, performance enhancement, and privacy support.
But there’s reason to believe that we may also see some shiny new features. VentureBeat sources say that Apple is under pressure to add significant improvements to the existing iPhone experience, and it may try to do that in iOS 9.
One source with knowledge of Apple’s plans says that iPhone users have been complaining that there aren’t more multitasking capabilities, like a split-screen mode, especially on the larger screens of the iPhone 6 Plus and iPads. Samsung and other Apple rivals have already added multitasking functionality to their devices, and Apple — in typical “fast follower” style — is likely to do the same.
There’s also a chance that Apple will introduce Force Touch support for phones and tablets. The feature, which was first used in the Apple Watch, allows the user to press down and hold on a screen to activate some features. In the Watch OS, Force Touch is used to change to Watch face. In iOS, Force Touch could be used in all kinds of ways, and might serve to remove some of the buttons on the interface.
Odds are somewhat better that Apple will trot out some big improvements to its oft-maligned Maps. Apple’s mapping vehicles have been spotted around the country busily soaking up the landscape with a hundred cameras perched on their roofs. And we know of at least one Apple acquisition of a mapping technology company — Coherent Navigation — back in May.
Rumors have said that Apple will add local transit arrival times (again, following Google), 3D and augmented reality features, and indoor mapping. It may even announce a full-on competitor to Google’s Street View.
The next Mac OS
As with iOS 9, much of the new stuff in Apple’s latest version of the Mac OS will be under the hood, and not functional or cosmetic.
Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac believes that Apple may introduce a new security system called Rootless to defend against malware and enhance data security.
Gurman also believes that the new OS could contain Control Center, a panel that emerges from the left side of the screen and contains key functions from the Menu Bar as well as some music controls.
Apple will likely announce further improvements and enhancements to the way OS X integrates with iOS. The current OS, Yosemite, already included a set of features in which the phone interacts with the computer. The Handoff function lets users begin a task (like writing an email) on the Mac and finish it on a phone or tablet running iOS. The Mac can use the phone’s broadband connection; it can also be used to take a call coming in on the phone. With OS 10.11, we may see the addition of new kinds of content or apps that can be shared back and forth from iOS to OS X.
New dev tools
It’s a safe bet that Apple will spend some time talking about its newest platform, the Apple Watch. The company will likely talk about a set of new development tools for creating apps that run on the Watch itself (not on the phone). Developers will be provided with a software development kit (SDK) containing the new tools, as well as new code that will let them build apps that exploit more Watch features, like the digital crown, the microphone, and the speaker.
We’ll likely see a few new SDKs announced for developers, and Apple will provide a preview of new features in its popular Swift development language.
Siri wises up
There’s one area that Google is far ahead of Apple, and that’s in personal assistant technology. Google Now searches and analyzes data on the host device to understand the user’s daily events and habits, then proactively offers reminders, suggestions, and other relevant information.
Siri, on the other hand, seems limited to simple tasks. She can be great for things like setting an alarm on a phone or getting local weather, but she isn’t so smart when it comes to understanding the context in which the user is asking a question or giving a command.
With Siri becoming a more important means of controlling Apple platforms like HomeKit and Apple Watch, Apple is under pressure to teach the personal assistant some new tricks. Press reports say that Apple plans to make Siri aware of more types of information in iOS — things like the user’s contacts, calendar items, and data from third-party apps. Siri could see that a close friend of the user has recommended a movie in the Facebook app, then pull up showtimes for the movie.
Google raised the bar even higher last week with the announcement of Now on Tap, a new feature in Android M (coming out later this year) that gives the user contextually relevant information. For instance, a friend might mention a restaurant in a text conversation, and the user can just press and hold to see directions to the place, its prices, and other information.
Siri may gain this type of functionality too. And it could be especially interesting on platforms beyond the phone. For example, Siri is expected to be a major part of the Apple TV user interface. So the viewer might be watching a scene in a movie and simply ask “Who’s that actor,” and Siri may be able to surface the information on screen.
Apple Pay adds rewards programs
Brian Chen at the New York Times reported shortly before Google I/O that both Google’s Android Pay and Apple Pay would soon add the ability to process rewards program credits. Google already added the functionality to Android Pay, and we expect that Apple will announce the addition of the feature to Apple Pay on Monday.
This will allow users to store their rewards cards in the Passbook in iOS. Apple Pay will know when a user has crossed a geofence and entered a store for which she has a rewards card. So any available rewards points will automatically be added or applied to payment during the Apple Pay transaction in the store. There will no longer be a need to scan a rewards card or enter a phone number to pull up the rewards information.
‘One more thing’
Those are the main announcements we’re likely to see next Monday. It’s also possible that we could hear announcements about Apple’s car platform (CarPlay), its health platform (HealthKit), new Xcode developer tools, a Safari upgrade — who knows? We’re expecting to see some surprises. There’s always a “one more thing.” That’s part of the fun (and the panic) of covering Apple events.
The fun starts at 10 a.m. sharp Monday June 8 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco (catch the livestream here). I’ll be there watching, and typing as fast as I can.