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What to Expect at Apple's Developers Conference

Apple's annual developers conference is often a springboard for new-product announcements. Here are some of the rumors on what might appear.
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Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference is a prime time for the company to announce new software, hardware products, and upgrades. However, this year is different. Samsung's market success has shown that being cool is not enough to stay ahead in any market. And CEO Tim Cook has been in defensive mode, making some wonder whether the media genius of Steve Jobs has left the building.

Apple needs to show some innovative muscle to the 5,000 developers who show up next week in San Francisco. With that in mind, here are some rumors of what to expect and what might be best to forget. 

Smart home

The biggest rumor is that Apple will announce a smart home platform, according to the Financial Times. People could potentially use an iPhone or iPad to control almost anything--lighting, air conditioning, entertainment.

Apple's interest in this area appears in patent documents dating back to at least 2004, which means it was probably in the works well before that. With Google having bought Nest, Samsung producing Internet-savvy refrigerators, and both Verizon and AT&T trying to claim the home automation market, Apple may feel pressed to get something on the market now. The company's strategy is based on becoming customers' interface for anything digital--or their ecosystem--so it can't afford for somebody else to become the gateway to the home.

Software upgrades

One pretty big bet is that both Mac OS X and iOS will get upgrades, at least according to MacRumors. Both need developer support for apps and applications, so they must make an appearance months before going to market. Because new Macs and iPhones have been on a fall release schedule, that would mean developers need the operating systems now.

There isn't a lot of information on either of these, although some speculate that the new iOS version will integrate health information and applications. Mac OS X could see a user-interface refresh, much as iOS previously did now that design wizard Jony Ive has gained control over software design. Another area ripe for innovation, of course, is Apple Maps.

New iPhones

Some speculate that Apple might introduce two new iPhones with larger screens. Over the past couple of years, Apple has shifted the introduction of new iPhones to the fall from its previously accustomed announcements at WWDC, with products coming about a month later. But changing screen dimensions requires third-party developers to change how they write their code. It may be that Apple would have to make its announcement in advance to give third parties enough time to adjust their apps.

Beats

Many wondered whether the $3 billion Beats acquisition would go through. But Billboard claims that several things--including Dr. Dre's leaked celebration on YouTube--threw the deal into question. 

Apple TV and iWatch

Both products have been rumored for some time, but although WWDC would be a logical place for them to appear, negotiating with Hollywood studios is difficult, especially when what you really need would have a significant impact on television's business model.

As for the smartwatch, perhaps Apple hasn't been deterred by the so-called wearable tech fatigue and really has something in the works. But MacRumors says neither of these is likely to happen. The site also bets against a 12-inch Retina display MacBook.

Last updated: May 29, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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