We're just days away from the the 2014 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, and there's a lot of buzz and speculation around what will be announced by Tim Cook & Co. New versions of both OS X (major overhaul) and iOS 8 (think enhancements) will certainly be on tap, but Apple may also reveal its ambitions for creating an entire smart home ecosystem. Also expect a lot of news around health and fitness initiatives. Here's the top five things you need to know heading into the conference, which takes place from June 2 to June 6 in San Francisco.
Apple's mobile operating system for the iPhone and iPad may see major improvements to Siri and Maps--including public transit, according to Macrumors.com. A Passbook-like Healthbook incorporating your fitness information is another rumored addition. This app will presumably pair with the upcoming iWatch, which will also place an emphasis on fitness. iTunes Radio may be split off into its own app, and add a music-identification feature similar to Shazam.
Another rumor points to Apple debuting a split-screen multitasking feature for the iPad (not the iPhone). This will allow users to run two apps on the screen at the same time, similar to the Surface Pro and several Samsung Galaxy devices.
OS X 10.10
OS X Mavericks delivered some notable enhancements, such as improved notifications and the ability to create tabs in the Finder, but it wasn't a huge step forward. OS X 10.10, however, promises to represent a much bigger overhaul, at least aesthetically. Not much is known about this update to Apple's notebook and desktop operating system, but it will likely get a "flatter" interface, akin to iOS 7.
Apple has consistently argued that mobile devices like tablets and phones and the desktop are different animals, but OS X 10.10 should bring the look and feel of the two realms closer together.
According to 9to5 Mac, the new OS X will have "sharper window corners, more defined icons across the system, and more white space than the current version." But don't expect Mission Control to go away; multitasking shouldn't change to a more iOS-like approach.
Apple's Own Smart Home Platform
WWDC may bring an introduction of a smart home platform tied to the iPhone, according to the Financial Times. One of the challenges facing smart home device makers is that there has yet to be one standard through which all devices can communicate with each other. A new Apple smart home platform would allow makers of smart thermostats, LED lights and wireless video cameras to better integrate their products. For example, as soon as you left your house, the thermostat would enter power-saving mode and the security cameras would turn on.
An updated Apple TV, which would come out this fall, may serve as a central hub. However, most Apple watchers don't expect the company to debut a new set-top box at WWDC.
Dr. Dre and Beats
Now that Apple confirmed its $3 billion acquisition of Beats, there's a strong chance that the hip-hop impresario, along with Jimmy Iovine, could make an appearance at the event.
Tim Cook may reveal how Apple will take advantage of Beats very popular headphone line and its subscription music service. Will Beats Music compete with iTunes Radio, or will the two services be merged? Apple is fond of surprise musical performances at the end of its product announcements, so we wouldn't be shocked to see Dre take the mic.
Retina MacBook Air
Although it recently updated its 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs with new processors and a lower price, a 12-inch Air with a Retina display could be unveiled at WWDC. Such a device would be a direct challenge to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which has a 12-inch screen with a resolution of 2160 x 1440 pixels.
Apple could price the a Retina MacBook Air in between the $999 13-inch Air and the beefier $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The new Air would presumably run OS X 10.10 out of the box.
So what are you most likely not going to see at WWDC? Don't expect an Apple iWatch sighting or the iPhone 6. Both of those devices are expected to launch later in the year. We also don't anticipate a refreshed Apple TV, but it could happen if it's integral to Apple's smart home strategy.
Apple will livestream the WWDC keynote (June 2 at 10 am PDT) online. You'll need Safari 4 or later on Mac OS X v10.6 or later; Safari on iOS 4.2 or later; or QuickTime 7 on Windows. You can also watch it on a second- or third-generation Apple TV with software 5.0.2 or later.
We'll be on the ground in San Francisco to report on the latest developments at the conference and to bring you our full analysis.