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Preview: Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference

Look for Apple to unveil iPhone 3.0 as well as its next-generation Macintosh operating system, Snow Leopard.

Mitch Wagner

June 4, 2009

9 Min Read

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, which kicks off on June 8 in San Francisco, has traditionally been the site of some of the Mac maker's biggest announcements. This year will be no different, with the event expected to host the debut of a new iPhone running a powerful new operating system. On the computer side, WWDC attendees will hear details of Apple's next-generation operating system, Snow Leopard.

Apple will almost definitely unveil its new iPhone at WWDC, although likely it won't go on sale for a couple of weeks after that. The first iPhone went on sale in late June 2007 and the second in early July 2008. The new model will be named the iPhone Video, according to The Unofficial Apple Weblog. (See also Apple Planning Video-Call iPhone.)

iPhone 3.0

The biggest change for the iPhone will be its software. iPhone 3.0 will support copy, cut and paste (finally!), and push notification for applications. Push notification will be a workaround for the iPhone's lack of support of background apps, to allow tools such as instant-messaging apps to send alerts to the user when an update is available.

The new built-in Spotlight app will allow users to search applications and their data.

Another sign of progress: Using iPhone 3.0, developers will be able to write applications that provide turn-by-turn directions for driving and walking -- previously a no-no under the Apple terms of service.

Bluetooth On Board

The software will support peer-to-peer connectivity over Bluetooth, allowing developers to write multiplayer games that users can play on two or more iPhones without needing an Internet connection.

Peer-to-peer connections will also allow iPhone users to exchange data, such as electronic business cards. And If you're sick of untangling your earbud headphones, take heart: The new iPhone software will support stereo Bluetooth audio.

The iPhone 3.0 software will include a couple of additional goodies for developers: They'll be able to write software applications that tie into particular hardware devices; for example, when Apple demoed the software in March, it showed a glucose reader for diabetics with its own application for recording data and calculating recommended insulin doses. And developers will be able to sell content from within applications; game developers will be able to sell add-ons, magazines will be able to sell subscriptions, and e-book readers will be able to sell e-books.

When will the software be available? Possibly as early as this coming week. The software will be free to existing iPhone users, iPod Touch users will have to pay $9.95.

Hello, Faster Chips

On the hardware side, one of the most significant features of the new iPhone will be its new processor. The original iPhone and last year's iPhone 3G used the same 400 MHz processor, but the new iPhone will likely have a 600 MHz processor, writes John Gruber on the blog Daring Fireball.

The change won't be just a little speed boost, it'll be transformative, he writes:

Much of what the iPhone does now is constrained by its CPU. App launching speed, for one thing -- faster app launching should make it feel more like switching between apps and less like quitting/relaunching them.

Faster processor speeds will also significantly speed up Web page rendering.

The new model iPhone will have double the RAM of existing models, 256 MB. "Prices will stay the same -- $199 and $299 -- but storage will increase to 16 and 32 GB," Gruber says.

Also look for a possible 4GB iPhone 3G for $99. That's according to a report on the Boy Genius Report, a popular mobile blog. But my colleague Eric Zeman is skeptical, noting that the first-generation iPhone came in a 4 GB model that was discontinued after a few months. I agree; I think people who've already decided to buy an iPhone will pay a little more for a lot more memory.

Changes to the size and shape of the iPhone, and how it looks and feels will be "subtle, perhaps very subtle. I expect that cases designed for the iPhone 3G will continue to fit the new iPhone, and that the only colors will remain black and white," Gruber says. Despite the faster CPU, he expects improved battery life for the new iPhone. The new iPhone will also probably have a magnetometer -- a/k/a a compass. Now applications won't just know where you are, they'll also know what direction you're facing. I have a feeling this will open the door to vastly richer location-aware applications. Like what, exactly? If I could tell you that, I'd write the apps myself and make a million dollars off the app store.

The Mobile Safari browser will also support geolocation, according to Computerworld; so no more need to type your zip code or address into the browser to tell it where you are to find local restaurants, bank branches, or auto-repair shops; geolocation support will also lead to more targeted Web ads.

The new iPhone will likely support video recording, making it a tough competitor for inexpensive, point-and-shoot digital video cameras like the Flip, Gruber says. The iPhone will have video uploading capabilities, so you'll be able to upload short clips to video-sharing sites like YouTube as soon as you take them.

MacRumors has a screenshot that appears to show the video-recording application at work; it's pretty much the same as the existing Camera app but with additional buttons to allow you to choose between still and video.

Other features that will probably appear in the new iPhone include Wi-Fi movie and TV downloads, and an improved camera, at least 3.2 megapixels, up from 2 megapixels on the current model.

So when will the hardware be available? Did Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal slip up when he referred to "the new iPhone to be unveiled next week"? The blog AppleiPhoneApps is reporting the release date will be July 17. I don't buy it; that would be almost six weeks during which Apple fans would be waiting impatiently for the next-generation iPhone -- and, more importantly, not spending their money on buying current model iPhones. That kind of delay would cost Apple a lot of money. My gut feeling is that we'll see the new iPhones at about the same time as we saw previous generations, late June or early July.

Snow [Leopard] In Summer?

And what about Snow Leopard? Expect Apple to release more information about that operating system, unveiled a year ago. The new version will focus more on speed, scalability and stability than new features. It will be optimized for multicore processors using technology called "Grand Central," and designed to facilitate future innovation.

It will lift the theoretical system memory limit to 16 TB, up from 4 TB today. The software will support technology Apple is calling "Open Computing Language," for improved graphic processing performance. And it will include QuickTime X, a revised and optimized version of Apple media technology, native support for Microsoft Exchange, and a faster implementation of JavaScript. Still unknown: When Snow Leopard will ship. Now here are a couple of things you won't see at WWDC:

First, you won't see the rumored Apple Tablet. Apple is reportedly working on an inexpensive tablet computer, its answer to netbooks, for availability in 2010. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said last month that Apple is working on a tablet with a 7-10-inch touch screen, selling at $500-$700, and filling a gap between the $400 iPod Touch and $1,000 MacBook.

Evidence pointing to such a device is coming from Piper Jaffray component contacts in Asia, as well as from recent Apple patents related to multitouch technology, comments to financial analysts in April by chief operating officer Tim Cook, Apple's acquisition of chip designer P.A. Semi, and recent chip-related hires, Munster said. "It is increasingly clear that Apple is investing more in its mobile computing franchise."

My gut feeling is that Apple is, indeed, working on this product. The iPhone and iPod Touch are already perfectly fine tablet computers; a bigger display would make them even more useful. But I don't expect to see Apple talking about the product at WWDC. Apple doesn't want to take focus from the iPhone and Snow Leopard.

Moreover, Apple likes to announce products around the time of their availability. The company is sensitive to cannibalizing sales, and an announced, but unavailable tablet would lead some consumers to put off buying low-end MacBooks, iPhones, and iPod Touches and wait for the tablet to come.

The iPhone was the exception to the rule about advance announcements -- Apple announced it in Jan. 2007 for availability almost six months later. But this was Apple's entry into a completely new product line and business; it had no existing products to cannibalize sales from.

Steve Jobs Due Back Soon; Fanfare Not Expected

Another thing you won't see at WWDC -- or, rather, a person you won't see, is Steve Jobs. Apple announced Jobs was taking medical leave of absence in December to deal with a dire digestive problem -- his body was not absorbing nutrients, leaning to drastic weight loss. Jobs survived cancer surgery in 2004, his gaunt appearance last year fueled rumors that the cancer had returned. Apple said in December that Jobs would be back in June, and he's been taking a role in strategic Apple decisions since then.

Jobs is recovering nicely, ready to get back to work, and might well put in a surprise appearance at WWDC, according to a report that ran Friday on The Wall Street Journal

But I don't think Jobs will make a big appearance at WWDC. He might take a quick stroll of the show floor, and if he does it'll surely create huge buzz on the news and in blogs, but that's the most I think we can expect to see from Jobs at the conference.

My gut feeling is that Jobs will simply return to work, at the end of this month, without any external announcements. It seems like his style to send an all-hands e-mail to Apple employees and then get to work without any further ado.

US law may require Apple to make a short press release on his return, but I don't think we'll see any further hoopla from Apple when Jobs returns to work. He'll make his first public performance a few weeks or a few months afterward, at an earnings conference call or the next time Apple has a new product or service to announce.


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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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