Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference is easily the company's most important event each year because, as I've noted previously, it serves a handful of key purposes.
One of those purposes is the keynote address given by Apple CEO Tim Cook. That is the only public-facing part of WWDC, and is typically streamed live by Apple and live blogged across many Mac and tech news sites. The keynote provides a preview of the technologies that Apple is building into the next generations of its desktop and mobile OS, new or expanded services, and often includes one or two hardware announcements. It gives Cook and his team the chance to orient Apple's developers, customers, and the media about where the company is going over the six to twelve months.
Although a key media event for Apple, the keynote is a small piece of the week long conference (most of which is subject to NDA). The rest of the week is devoted to WWDC's primary function -- getting Apple's developer community up to speed on the new technologies that Apple will be bring to market and providing them the resources needed to integrate the technologies and to further their development skill set.
Over the years, Apple has shrouded WWDC in varying levels of secrecy. Some years, most or even all of the session titles and descriptions are made public well in advance. Other years, the company has simply identified the key tracks of sessions that it provides for developers. This year, Apple has posted the schedule, in a somewhat redacted form, on its developer site and in its developer-focused WWDC app that anyone can download but only members of Apple's developer programs can fully access.
The vast majority of sessions and labs are marked with quirky "to be announced" titles and a message that Apple won't reveal the names or topics of sessions until after the keynote on Monday:
The title and description of this session will be revealed after Keynote on Monday, June 2nd. Check back to view the updated schedule and favorite the sessions and labs you would like to attend.
The unnamed events are spread across each of the six tracks that Apple offers -- Frameworks, Services, Tools, Graphics and Games, Media, and Core OS -- and include both lecture-style sessions and interactive labs.
The sessions that are listed tend to skew toward informational and design rather issues like "Designing Intuitive User Experiences," "Ensuring Continuity Between Your App and Web Site," and "Optimizing your Earning Power With iAd" rather than more technical topics.
That implies that Apple is planning major announcements about upcoming products, OS features, apps, and services. It also implies that these announcements will directly impact many of the underlying foundations of iOS and OS X. Perhaps, most importantly, it indicates that whatever products, services, or future OS versions Apple announces, it will need the support of its developer community to ensure success.
There's certainly no shortage of speculation, rumors, and alleged plans floating around the web about Apple's potential announcements. Here’s a list of the most likely and why they would require developer support:
- A next-generation iPhone available in two sizes larger than current and previous models at 4.47" and 5.5" respectively. Apple would need to train developers to support these new screen dimensions, which may not be an easy task.
- iOS 8’s anticipated Health Book app that can track fitness, lifestyle, and chronic diseases as well as provide emergency information for healthcare professionals. This could require a new device from Apple or a way to aggregate data from existing Bluetooth LE devices like fitness trackers, blood pressure cuffs, and blood glucose meters. It's well known that Apple has gone on a healthcare hiring spree. Developers and device manufacturers would need to know how to integrate this feature in products.
- The long-rumored watch. If Apple is planning to release an iWatch with support for its own apps, this would be the place to get developers up to speed on creating them. Even if Apple doesn’t open the iWatch to third-party apps, it will need to teach developers how to handle data captured by the device and/or how to send information like notifications to it.
- A next-generation Apple TV with support for apps or games. This seems like something Apple will need to address as it is now the only major device in its category, which includes offerings from Roku, Google, and Amazon, without some form of app support. Even if Apple just releases the ability for developers to create “channel-style” apps like those it has added for cable networks and other services as opposed to true native apps, Apple will likely want some developer support.
- Advances in CarPlay. Apple’s nascent in-dash system currently supports just a few apps, though the company has said it will be adding to that list. Advising developers how to create CarPlay appropriate apps and interfaces, perhaps with a CarPlay-specific review process, could be a boon to Apple’s automotive ambitions.
- A smart home platform. This is a late addition to the list of possible announcements, but it makes a certain degree of sense. Last month, I described ways in which iBeacons, or similar Bluetooth LE solutions, could be used for home and family security and monitoring. If Apple expanded on that premise, it could easily create such a platform, but it would need developer buy-in to succeed on the part of both app creators and hardware/accessory companies.
- Map and location advances. It’s no secret that Apple has been building a comprehensive location and navigation team through targeted acquisitions ever since the disastrous rollout of its own Maps app in 2012. The companies Apple has purchased (or hired executives from) range from those offering mass transit directions to indoor positioning and navigation. Combined with iBeacons as a location service, Apple could offer a lot of value in general and could provide developers with a great range of options for integrating that type of data.
- Expansion of Touch ID. Apple is now expected to be building Touch ID into all future iOS devices. That’s a pretty big feature in itself, but with Touch ID incorporated into every iPhone and iPad, the company might expand the technology to allow developers to rely on Touch ID as an authentication and authorization option.
Beyond these specific items, there are of course more general announcements that we can expect Apple to make. iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 will definitely be announced with a range of new features and, for OS X, likely a new user experience similar to the aesthetic of iOS 7.
Apple's enterprise push at WWDC
In addition to all this, Apple will almost certainly introduce more enterprise-friendly features to one or both of its platforms.
Apple has been on a roll of responding to enterprise needs since the announcement of iOS 7 and Mavericks last year. The iOS 7.1 update included support for easier mass enrollment and deployment of iOS devices in enterprise and education and coincided with the release of major IT-focused information about Apple products.
With Microsoft now in the enterprise mobility game and Google positioning itself to make Android enterprise-friendly, Apple needs to keep this momentum going and there are strong signs that the company will. Tim Cook has identified enterprise as a key market for Apple.
More importantly, although the company hasn’t restored the IT track that used to be a part of WWDC, it has expanded enterprise-related programming. Included in the un-redacted items on the WWDC schedule are four enterprise-specific events – there are sessions on "Managing Apple Devices," "Building Apps for Enterprise and Education," and "Distributing Enterprise Apps"; labs related to "Developing Apps for Enterprise and Education" and "Managing Apple Devices"; and an "Apps for Enterprise Get Together" event.