Apple has confirmed early June for the 2014 edition of its WWDC conference, par for the course for the past decade plus – but this time the keynote could take a sharply different tone than in years past. The keynote address at Apple’s annual developer conference is typically a software preview session for Mac and iOS developers which coincidentally serves as a teaser for whatever new versions of its existing product lines will debut in the fall. Apple must reveal the nuts and bolts of its upcoming system software platforms to developers so they can gear their apps and software development accordingly in order to integrate the new technologies and features in time for the fall launch, but it makes a point of keeping as many of the details of its upcoming hardware under wraps as possible. That creates a summer atmosphere in which consumers are generally aware of what the next generation iPhones and iPads will deliver in terms of software while having no idea what the new products will look like. But this year’s WWDC in particular is ripe for a diversion from the norm, in the form of new mystery products apart from the inevitable iOS 8 preview.
The process of revealing the iOS 8 interface and core software features in advance creates a tricky tightrope for Apple, which doesn’t want sales of its existing iPhone and iPad generation to fall off too severely before the new hardware actually arrives. For instance last year’s summertime WWDC saw an extensive demonstration of iOS 7, but made no mention of which new products it would run on; the iPhone 5S and 5C weren’t officially shown off until just weeks before they shipped in October. But that becomes a different matter when entirely new products are involved.
When Apple first unveiled the iPad, it did so nearly three months before it began shipping. The lag time was used to gradually build hype for the new product, with no fear of cannibalizing existing sales because Apple didn’t already have a tablet product on the market at the time. Apple is widely rumored to be working on and close to readying new product lines ranging from smart televisions to smart watches. Any of these new products will require some level of support from third party developers, meaning that they could be initially introduced at this June’s WWDC. And even if they don’t ship until months later, Apple loses nothing by showing off the hardware designs now.
Until such time, speculation will continue to swirl regarding just which new areas Apple will indeed venture into. But the one sure bet for the WWDC is the unveiling of iOS 8. Last summer Apple introduced the biggest-ever overhaul of its mobile operating system in the form of iOS 7, leaving it with two possible directions to go in this time. One is to use iOS 8 as an opportunity to debut any software features which weren’t completed in time for last year’s ambitious release. The other is to essentially make iOS 8 a maintenance release, keeping in line with its pattern of essentially making every other iOS version a landmark. In the latter case, Apple would instead rely on a specific headlining feature to drive sales of the next iPhone and iPad, as it has done in past years with features like Siri and the fingerprint ID sensor.
One key question mark for WWDC is whether Apple will follow up last year’s OS X Mavericks, an update to its Mac computer system software, with another version. Apple’s new OS X versions have arrived at inconsistent intervals in recent years, meaning it could opt to wait until 2015 before deliver the Mavericks successor.