What to Expect From Apple at Next Week's WWDC - Wired

Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Monday kicks off Apple’s annual week-long developer conference, WWDC. At its opening keynote, the company will surely offer a sneak peek at the next generation of Mac and iOS software. But Apple often gives us a first look at new hardware and partner products too, like the MacBook Pro with Retina Display in 2012 and last year’s onstage debut of Anki Drive.

So what’s in store for this year’s keynote? Based on what we know about Apple, iOS, Mac OS X, as well as whispers from various “inside sources” in Cupertino, we can expect big news around health and home automation platforms, as well as a preview of next-generation mobile and desktop software. Here’s a rundown of the possibilities:

Apple’s Health Initiative

If Apple is planning on unveiling a health-focused wearable later this year, it may decide to remain quiet about key iOS 8 features like the rumored Healthbook app, a Passbook-like aggregator for health and fitness stats tracked by apps and accessories. But we don’t think that will be the case.

Apple’s developer event is the perfect time and place to preview its reported health and fitness platform. According to one mobile health executive with ties to Apple, the company is working on “a full health and fitness services platform modeled on its apps store.” A big part of this, we’d expect, is this new Healthbook app.

Healthbook will reportedly aggregate and track everything from heart rate and blood pressure to nutrition, sleep patterns, and general activity. Third party apps will be able to plug into this app, much like ticketing or coupon apps can integrate with Passbook now. Considering the number of leaks we’ve seen so far, Healthbook will likely be one of the key iOS 8 features Apple demonstrates on Monday.

Samsung certainly seems to think Apple’s about to make some health-related announcements. This week, the company unveiled a health initiative of its own. But with a significant number of details left for its own developer conference later this year, it was mostly hot air. If Apple gives developers access to its own health platform, as we expect it will, you can bet those APIs and SDKs will be available for developers to start using right away. After all, it will want those apps iOS 8-, iPhone 6-, and potentially iWatch-ready by fall.

But why would Apple get into the health space in the first place? For starters, it’s a booming business. In 2013, a study by Kantar Media found that 25 percent of smartphone owners and 22 percent tablet owners use their devices to track their health, diet, or exercise (that’s 55.7 million U.S. adults, up from 43.9 million the year prior, according to their numbers). Roughly 20 percent of Americans diet and 50 percent work out regularly. More and more of these people are using smartphones and apps to augment their fitness success. According to app analytics firm Mixpanel, health and fitness apps also do a better job of retaining users than the average app, and see more regular use. It would behoove Apple to foster this growing space—and perhaps get a piece of the fitness pie itself.

iBeacons and Home Automation

Apple introduced iBeacons—Bluetooth LE transmitters that can send or receive data from iOS 7 devices—in mid 2013. A growing number of big-name retailers (and of course Apple’s own retail stores) have started using them for improving customers’ in-store experiences. This year, Apple could finally introduce its own mobile payment platform using iBeacons, or at least give developers more ways to utilize them.

Some folks think Apple will employ NFC for this home automation system, or for Apple’s mobile payments system. I think the company would only switch to NFC if it decided that iBeacons and Bluetooth LE were a failed attempt—and clearly, they’re not.

Take, for example, GE’s new iBeacon-integrated lighting fixtures. Google may have grabbed Nest, but with iBeacons, hardware manufacturers can build-in easy iOS controls for a new type of home automation system. And Apple will reportedly debut a home automation system at WWDC. The platform should be similar to Apple’s existing “Made for iPhone” program for third-party hardware products, but as an API that developers can tap into. Google is already working on a similar home automation API thanks to its Nest acquisition, so making such an API available during WWDC would give Apple an edge over its nemesis.

Gartner expects the number of internet connected devices to reach 26 billion by the year 2020. If Apple is first, and dominant, in getting product makers onboard, that’s a lucrative business to get into, since it could give the company additional licensing revenues from certified products.

Beyond that, Apple’s home automation system could eventually involve iCloud and Siri for a) a unified place for storing data and b) a way to easily control the disparate pieces of this home automation system. But this would likely be more of a Version 2.0 or Version 3.0 addition, not what we’ll see on Monday.

Other iOS 8 Updates

Streaming music could be another focus at WWDC, particularly now that the Apple-Beats deal has officially closed. At last year’s WWDC, Apple introduced iTunes Radio, a streaming music service akin to Pandora that builds a station around a song or artist. But it hasn’t been the success Apple hoped for. That means it could be getting its own standalone app in order to draw more eyes. The service could also benefit from the Beats acquisition—but it’s more likely any integration with Beats software and development would happen further down the line.

Maps, which turned into a huge debacle following the launch of iOS 6, should also experience some significant upgrades with iOS 8. While it’s already improved handily over the past two years, public transit information and directions should be one of its major improvements, as well as improved labeling and map data. I personally hope to see biking directions added, as well.

Mac OS X 10.10

OS X 10.10 will be the primary focus of Monday’s keynote as the desktop operating system gets a major design overhaul—much like iOS did in 2013. Indeed, the redesign should bring some iOS 7 aesthetics, like more white space and icons reminiscent of their iOS counterparts. The two operating systems won’t be identical, but they will reportedly have a more harmonious look. While Apple will most definitely preview OS X 10.10 at WWDC, the OS won’t be available for the masses until later this fall.

Apple switched the naming scheme of OS X from big cats to California landmarks last year with 10.9 Mavericks. This version’s name (codename “Syrah”), however, is still a mystery. Apple has trademarked names like Big Sur, Yosemite, California, Redwood, Diablo, and Pacific, among others. This is going to be a big update, so I’m guessing the name will also reflect that. Apple pundit John Gruber thinks Yosemite would be an appropriate choice. I think Big Sur or Redwood would also be good options.


Will we see any remarkable new hardware at this year’s show? When it comes to the iPhone, iPad, and a potential wearable, that’s a definite no. There are hints of a new iMac model, so it’s possible Apple could introduce an evolutionary upgrade to its desktop computer line. A redesigned Apple TV, which we’ve been hearing about for months, likely will not be unveiled Monday (although we hope Apple will give developers greater access to Apple TV APIs). And a new television set? Hahaha, don’t be ridiculous.

The Beats

While Apple went ahead and made its Beats acquisition official this week, there could be more Beats-related news at the WWDC keynote. For example, CEO Tim Cook could bring Beats heads Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine onstage to announce their addition to Apple’s executive team. If Apple did this, I would expect it at the end of the keynote, possibly prior to a musical performance. Apple could also simply mention the Beats acquisition in passing as it highlights notable milestones for the company at the beginning of the keynote. Given the tall order of news and updates we’re expecting for WWDC, the latter may be a more reasonable expectation.

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