If all those rumormongers have it right, this year's Worldwide Developers Conference will be one big game of catch-up for Apple, a technology giant that's not exactly used to coming from behind. At 10 a.m. in San Francisco, Tim Cook will take the stage to confirm, deny, and/or bolster week's worth of chatter leading up to the annual nerd-fest-turned-product-announcement. No matter which of the expectations are fulfilled, Apple will no doubt align with its encroaching competition. Probably like this:
A Flat 'Skinny Jeans' iOS to Make the iPhone Hip Again
With Apple losing so much market share to Samsung of late — and some of its stock price with it — the former smartphone king of the world is expected to announce a new operating system, featuring a brand-new look in hopes of appealing to Apple's ever-image-conscious fan base, according to The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Lessin. "Software blunders, like Apple's widely panned mapping app, have raised doubts about the company's ability to build cutting-edge mobile services," she writes. Part of the offensive will include the much talked about "flat" iOS 7 to freshen up a tired iOS look.
In addition to the revamped apps, home screen, and notification center, "the whole OS has that 'skinny jeans' Helvetica Nueue Ultra Light," according to 9to5Mac's Seth Weintraub, who claims to have seen the new software. It's unclear how a phone operating system slips on a pair of skin-tight pants, but if we've learned anything from New York Times trend stories, well, skinny jeans a hipster does make, and that's what Apple needs right now: to get some of its cool-kid credibility back in the year of the Galaxy S IV.
Do what does a skinny-jeans iOS look like? Weintraub got his Photoshop guy to recreate the home screen based on his notes, the results of which are at right. Much like the pre-WWDC rumors (most of which ballooned from 9to5Mac), the new iPhone icons no longer have that faux-3D look or the sheen that comes with it. Also, the images for photos and your game center show a move away from "skeuomorphism," those cheesy visual metaphors that don't actually make sense. For example, rather than attempt to mimic some real-world arcade, the game center goes for an abstract design instead.
iRadio: Not Just 'Pandora with an 'i' in front of it'
Apple is also likely announce its delayed music streaming platform, at a time when there are already various popular music streaming platforms encroaching upon and even putting a stranglehold on the space Apple so long dominated with iTunes, beginning with Pandora, Spotify, Grooveshark, and Rdio — to name a few. Spotify has 1 million paying users and 24 million who sit through ads. Pandora, a service that's more similar to what Apple supposedly has slated for release, is 200 million users strong. That's a pretty mature market. If Apple wants to win people over with music again, it needs to do give listeners something more than is already available. "It's going to have to innovate," James McQuivey, a Forrester analyst ,told The New York Times's Brian X. Chen. "It can't just be Pandora with an 'i' in front of it or Spotify with an 'i' in front of it."
It's not exactly clear how Apple will do that. It's signed on all three major record labels, but it sounds a lot like Pandora Lite right now, serving songs based on a secret-sauce algorithm. Maybe if Apple's technology leads to better music discovery, it can win back some streaming listeners, but that bar is already very, very high.
...and Some MacBooks, Because Why Not?
If all else fails, at least Apple will have some shiny hardware with which to distract the fanboys. (Update: The Apple store is down ahead of the event.) Internet services have never been the company's forté. (Hello, Maps disaster!) But a new Macbook Air with better insides? That can't go wrong. Of course, relying on that hit has turned into a less lucrative prospect of late, with fewer people buying computers than they used to.
None of this catch-up is too exciting. But who knows: Maybe the rumormongers have it all wrong and Apple will announce something big and crazy and future-now. But, considering the accuracy of past leaks, we're going to bet on the rumorers this time.