Moscone West in San Francisco adorned for WWDC 2012

Moscone West in San Francisco adorned for Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is approaching quickly and unlike last year it looks like Apple might put on more than a software only show. Equally exciting for 2012 is that in the six months that have passed Apple has released and updated relatively few products. Particularly notable for the six months that have made up 2012 so far is that not a single model of Mac has been refreshed. We know that Apple has a particular dislike for releasing new hardware in August and after late October which leaves only a few months for a whole bunch of products to be crammed into.

Macs which have so far been completely void of any changes and many of which haven’t been touched for almost 12 months or more will likely be changed ahead of the “back to school” period which usually runs during June and July. Such a release timeframe could coincide nicely with the release of OS X Mountain Lion pinned by Apple for “late summer”.

It is possible to say with confidence that neither the iPhone nor the iPad will see any sort of hardware change announced during the WWDC keynote on Monday. Both of Apple’s leading products are firmly set in predictable cycles—iPad in March and iPhone in October for those slow off the mark.

The problem with such a high number of potential announcements is that it becomes difficult to make accurate predictions for WWDC which has in recent history focused more on developers than consumers, certainly since the iPhone moved to a Fall refresh in 2010.

But as Apple has indicated in its WWDC 2012 material the upcoming week is the one “we’ve all been waiting for”. So let’s take a look at the likely candidates for next weeks keynote.

Macs

Now would be a good time to familiarise ourselves with the details of how Ivy Bridge looks set to pan out with Apple’s Mac updates. After all the changes Ivy Bridge delivers will generate some of the headlines. Apple currently has five lines of Macs, the Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.

At this stage I could break into a one by one lay down of how the Mac line is likely to shape up but I’m willing to put it on the line and go with something a bit more decisive. That is to say it’ll err less on the side of caution and more on the side of how I see it playing out.

On the desktop side the iMac and Mac mini will get bumped to Ivy Bridge and gain USB 3.0 connectivity. Expect the usual upgrades such as more storage space for less and more RAM and such. Apple has an awful lot to cram into Monday’s keynote so I wouldn’t be surprised if both these updates flew under the radar. As the Mac mini usually trails the iMac I also wouldn’t be surprised if that update didn’t come until a month or so down the line.

Sticking with desktops the big news at WWDC, not necessarily by Apple’s standards but certainly by devs, will be the Mac Pro. Finally after almost two years of stagnation the power house will get a serious once over. I don’t want to spend too much time mulling over the specs, in fact Ars Technica have a decent run down of that. I’d expect such a refresh to actually get some airtime on the keynote, after all it is pertinent to the people in the room.

It looks likely at this stage that the Mac Pro refresh will be a healthy one, with a whole new look and the latest top of the grade Intel processors coupled with Thunderbolt connectivity, USB 3.0 a lot of storage and RAM and we have a serious machine on our hands.

Despite all this, the star of the hardware show will be Apple’s notebook line. But here’s where things get interesting. The current notebook model breakdown is made up of an 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-, 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros. Straight off the bat it looks like the 17-inch model will disappear. At least there are strong suggestions that this is the case.

Making use of a recent dose of rumour it seems that Apple will use WWDC to introduce another notebook Mac. Seems crazy at first thought but makes sense. Refer back to that article on Ivy Bridge and we can see where some of this begins to look plausible. Rumours for a long time have suggested that the MacBook Pro would take on a thinner (rumoured wedge shape) form factor. The problem with this idea is that the MacBook Pro exists to be Apple’s powerhouse on the road and powerful computers need space for cooling, not something that a significantly thinner MacBook Pro could provide.

Add into this rumours that Apple will incorporate “Retina” displays on some MacBook Pros and we have a purportedly super-thin MacBook Pro with more power than the current generation and a requirement for some serious GPU power to push that display plus potentially a further two 27-inch displays. Heat exists as a problem now on the MacBook Pro and Apple is in no position to change physics.

Enter stage right an additional Mac. Such an addition to the MacBook lineup (presumably also called just ‘MacBook’) gives Apple the freedom to shave some thickness of the current MacBook Pro but still keep it powerful.

The new MacBook would fit in as thicker and considerably more powerful than the 13-inch MacBook Air with the addition of a Retina display but thinner and less powerful than the MacBook Pro.

As for Retina displays I’m undecided whether they’ll go across the board from 11-inch Air all the way up to 15-inch Pro or just hit this new individual MacBook model. Suspect it’s 18 months early for a Retina display on the iMac, after all that would be some serious pixels.

All this talk of a Retina display on Macs may seem out of place but the evidence has been in the offing for some years. Higher resolution icons are now a standard for most pre-installed Mac apps and HiDPI mode has been shown to work well with current builds of OS X Mountain Lion. It would appear that when running in HiDPI mode the OS simply loads up 2x versions of everything to prevent them from looking blurry. This is not the resolution independence that has been the holy grail to Mac OS X users for years.

If we say for example that the current 11-inch MacBook Air display which is 1366 x 768 in resolution, in theory a retina display would come in at double that so 2732 x 1536. Quite simply a shape or UI element that current measures 100 pixels by 100 pixels on the current MacBook Air would either get doubled up on the new retina display and look pretty rubbish or the developer supplies a new element that measures 200 pixels. This is all pretty familiar for those developers who moved from the original iPhone to the Retina display on the iPhone 4.

iOS 6

Despite all the talk of hardware updates which honestly tickle the interest of the fans it is software that will dominate the show and of course Apple’s largest platform is iOS and will therefore command the majority of the keynote. It should also be noted that it is software that Apple can give the biggest surprises with. The hardware supply chain is leaky, Cupertino is not. You’ll note that any rumours we “know” about iOS 6 all involve third parties somewhere in the equation.

That actually leaves me with relatively little to say. In line with past iOS releases at WWDC we’ll see an initial build released on the day followed by roughly fortnightly beta updates leading into October when Apple will release a public version, usually about three weeks after the Golden Master (GM).

iOS 6 banner in Moscone West for WWDC 2012

iOS 6 banner in Moscone West for WWDC 2012

The OS itself will look familiar although Apple’s stock apps will move away from the familiar blue and take on a more silver look (like a lot of iPad apps now). Such a tiny change will go a long way to convincing people that larger parts of the OS have changed.

We’re also looking at system wide Facebook integration to sit alongside Twitter, details of exactly how it’ll work are unknown but the deal appears set and the relationship between iOS and Facebook is said to be extensive.

The big news will be Maps. The ongoing spat with Google has seen Apple spend a lot of money and time trying to get the eggs out of Google’s basket and into its own. One of the remaining big eggs is Maps and finally Apple appears to have a solution ready to compete with Google. Rough details have leaked such as a fancy 3D mode and it is assumed that Apple will bring turn-by-turn directions to the table in order to compete with Android. Some elements remain unanswered though such as the extent and quality of Apple’s maps and whether they will offer a web version.

Another frequently discussed area is iOS 5′s flagship feature Siri. Aside from complaints about Siri’s performance developers are desperate to get the digital voice assistant working in their apps. It’s a long shot but a Siri API could be on the cards. Whilst we’re on the subject of Siri it would appear that iOS 6 will bring full Siri integration to the iPad, I’ve long suspected that only the dictation element of Siri would come to the iPad as the majority of Siri’s functions do not exist on the iPad but the rumours are strong.

iCloud

iCloud was arguably the centrepiece of WWDC last year, we just didn’t know it at the time. As Tim Cook has said this year the cloud based service is vital to Apple’s strategy going forward for a “decade or more”.

Just like iOS 6 details of iCloud changes are slim. What we do know is that a couple of details were let slip by Apple last month. The strange occurrences on the iCloud website revealed that Apple is going to bring Reminders and and Notes to the web interface. Integration of these on Mountain Lion will see a complete unification of all iCloud tools across all platforms.

Apple is also rumoured to introduce Photo Stream for videos, a tall claim considering how large some videos recorded on the iPhone can get. Also photo sharing with friends and family will reportedly get simpler, harking back to the .Mac days.

Finally for iCloud is something that probably won’t make its way into the main keynote but will be a feature of the rest of the conference is third-party app integration with iCloud. Apple will most likely expand the capabilities of iCloud having listened to feedback for over a year now.

Apple will also bridge the gap between iOS and OS X with a number of functions that operate on iCloud including Safari tab syncing across devices.

iCloud Tab Syncing in Safari 5.2 on Mountain Lion

iCloud Tab Syncing in Safari 5.2 on Mountain Lion

OS X Mountain Lion

Keeping the spotlight on the software Apple will also spend a chunk of time on Monday morning talking about the next major update to OS X due in “late summer”. We’re already familiar with OS X 10.7 Mountain Lion as it was revealed by Apple in February and has been in developers hands ever since.

WWDC is a great place for Apple to begin wrapping up development of Mountain Lion, recent builds are stable and relatively bug free with the main features well baked in. It would come as no surprise for Apple to deliver a close to final build on Monday, potentially even a GM. Mountain Lion’s release is rumoured to occur in July but could possibly coincide a release with all those new Macs and beat the back to the school period.

Much like in iOS 6 we’ll see Facebook integration included in a WWDC build of Mountain Lion as well as a “Do not Disturb” feature in Notification Centre. A feature I’d like to see in both iOS 6 and Mountain Lion but don’t appear to be on the cards is set quiet periods for notifications, having a handful of devices beep and buzz at 3am because of a new tweet can be jarring.

WWDC will be the first time that Apple will have publicly demoed Mountain Lion, remember the release was done through the media in an orchestrated and controlled way. Of course the new OS will be a big talking point for the rest of the conference too.

Apple TV

Finally but not least is Apple’s product continually referred to as a “hobby”. The hardware of the Apple TV was updated earlier this year offering very little change by simply incorporating a new CPU to help power the 1080p video output and also having Bluetooth 4.0 built-in although not operational.

Whilst rumours of an actual TV set have been at fever pitch for months (maybe years) this isn’t going to happen at WWDC—or in the near future if you ask me. The area of interest here is the software, it’s obvious to most that the Apple TV is fertile ground for software development by third parties.

I can see a large portion of the keynote talking about an Apple TV SDK for developers. In terms of the future if Apple is going to delve into the TV market then an established platform of apps sure will help them catapult towards the lead. How detailed this SDK will be and what functionality it will give is a mystery.

Thinking along the lines of Apple TV still I can’t help but think that Apple needs a better remote control solution. I know others, particularly John Gruber are also in this camp. Specifically that an IR remote doesn’t cut it in 2012 and if Apple wants a solid platform for apps it needs more accurate and quicker control of the interface. I wouldn’t necessarily expect this at WWDC though.

WWDC 2012

Apple’s WWDC 2012 kicks on Monday June 11 at the following times:

10:00AM – Pacific
11:00AM – Mountain
12:00PM – Central
1:00PM – Eastern
6:00PM – London
7:00PM – Paris
9:00PM – Moscow
2:00AM – Tokyo (Tuesday 12th)
4:00AM – Sydney (Tuesday 12th)

World of Apple will provide detailed analysis after the keynote and during the week. Follow myself @alexbrooks on Twitter for regular updates on WWDC goings on and the keynote and follow @worldofapple for major announcements.