At Apple's World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco next week, Steve Jobs will take the stage to announce a series of much anticipated software upgrades, including iCloud, Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5. Jobs, who's been on medical leave from the company this year, will don his signature black turtleneck with Levi's jeans and might have a surprise in his pocket.The company's rare preview of what's to be expected at WWDC--particularly the inclusion of a new mobile operating system, iOS 5--hints that the iPhone 5 could make a surprise appearance.
But let's not get carried away. The iPhone 5 will arrive one day, likely without too dramatic an update, but these software changes could signal a big shift in Apple's business plan. What we already know about the upcoming products reveals that new iPhone or not, Apple is doubling down on their commitment to mobile and making a big bet on cloud computing. Streaming iTunes seems highly likely with Google and Amazon's recent announcements for cloud music services, Apple's existing cloud options with MobileMe and contracts signed by three of the four major music labels. In brief, music subscriptions piled on top of media subscriptions and app purchases will give Apple a trickle of cash out of all of their users' wallets for the foreseeable future. Here's what you may get in return.
Om Malik reports that Apple snapped up the iCloud.com domain name in April for an estimated $4.5 million. They'll make their money back and then some as the service, Malik further explains, will likely charge users an annual fee for storing their music on the cloud in order to access it anywhere, anytime. Much like Amazon's Cloud Drive and Cloud Player service, Apple could offer a limited amount of free storage to begin with--Amazon offers 5GB for free or 20GB at $20 a year--but some rumors suggest that the cost of cloud hosting might be included in the price of iTunes purchases in the future. One more theory posits that Apple's formerly fee-based cloud storage service, MobileMe, might be offered for free in order to entice new customers into the habit of storing their files with Apple and hopefully later pay for iCloud. UPDATE: According to a Wall Street Journal report, Apple will likely sign the fourth major record label later this week, greenlighting iCloud.
Just as Lion will integrate features from the iPad and iPhone onto the Mac, the mobile operating system will also pull over some Mac features. According to rumors, Dashboard-like "widgets" will allow you to display information like the weather or top headlines on the device's home screen. Some code discovered in an system update earlier this year indicates that we can expect some social features like public photo albums to become available. And last year's hire of Rich Dellinger, the mastermind behind Palm's notification system, is said to hint that we might expect a better notification than the red dot by the app icon.
Mac OSX Lion
The developer preview of Apple's eighth version of OSX has been circulating the geek circles for months so there's little mystery as to what the main upgrades will look like. As with Apple's sneak preview of WWDC, sending out preview software for developers is a first for the super secret Cupertino company. Based on Engadget's test-drive back in February, however, the new operating system borrows so generously from the iOS that powers iPhones and iPads, Apple probably wanted to give developers a solid head start to populate the fairly new Mac App Store. In addition to a sexier user interface design--think less shiny blue, more svelte silver--Lion is full of new features that will make working on a Mac feel more like working on an iPad. Here are the major upgrades (in some particular order with screenshots courtesy of Apple and Engadget) and a full list of itemized upgrades can be found at Apple Insider.
Auto Save & Versions
For apps built specifically for Lion, you will never have to worry about manually saving files. Or losing them due to a crash. Ever. Versions works similarly by automatically saving a snapshot of the document you're building every hour. You can access earlier versions by going back in time. It looks a lot like Time Machine.
Full Screen Apps
Also only on apps built for Lion, full screen capability allows you to use the entire display for a single app with one click. Swiping takes you from one app to another or back to your desktop.
Just like the app icons are splashed across the homescreens of the iPad and iPhone, Launchpad provides one-touch access to all of your Mac's applications.
Apps can be rearranged or grouped into folders by dragging and browsing the entire library is controlled by swiping the touchpad.
Like a more elegant version of Exposé, Mission Control allows you to zoom out and view everything that's running on your Mac with a quick swipe. Various windows open of the same app are grouped and one-click brings that window to the front.
Apple Mail 5
Yet another bequest from the iPad, Apple's new native mail client takes on a new look and some neat new features. The inbox has been moved to the left to give full height to an email preview. Inbox searches received a (much-needed) algorithmic update to make them faster and more accurate.
And finally, a new feature called Conversations inherits that Gmail look everyone's so crazy about.
AddressBook also gets a major facelift.
AirDrop, FileVault & Gestures
The other major new features are really upgrades on things you could already do fairly awkwardly on a Mac. AirDrop allows you to send a file easily over a WiFi network. FileVault makes encrypting documents and protecting data more effective. Gestures lets you do more with the touchpad.