Apple's mobile priorities to headline at WWDC

Apple's secrecy is legendary, and it only fuels the intense speculation of what the company might announce at today's opening keynote at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. So a more fruitful approach might be to focus on Apple's challenges and opportunities.

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Apple's secrecy is legendary, and it only fuels the intense speculation of what the company might announce at today's opening keynote at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. So a more fruitful approach might be to focus on Apple's challenges and opportunities

Apple is widely expected to release new MacBooks and MacBook Air models, thinner and lighter; many pundits are convinced that at least some of them will sport a Retina Display to rival the pixel density found on the iPad and iPhone. There's speculation that a revamped Apple TV OS is in the offing, and some insist that Apple is preparing its own television product.

Yet the lion's share, by far, of Apple's vast and fast growing revenues and profits, come from products that didn't exist five years ago: iPhone and iPad, coupled with revenue and profits from the App Store, and iTunes. Though Macs and the MacBook notebooks still show growth, the late Steve Jobs' mantra of the "post-PC world" clearly guides Apple's priorities.

iPhone 5

Don't count on it. At this point, the consensus is that Apple will announce "iPhone 5" in September or October. There's ongoing speculation that it will have a new CPU, which may end up being a variation of the existing dual-core A5 chip (as was the new iPad's), and an elongated screen -- about 4 inches diagonally -- that maintains the Retina Display resolution, while a new 16:9 aspect ratio will let existing apps run unchanged with the characteristic black bars when seen in portrait mode.

But important changes may be in offing for the iPhone's operating system ...

iOS 6

WWDC is aimed at Apple software developers. And iOS is where the action is.

New photos clearly show "iOS 6" on recently installed banners at the WWDC's Moscone Center location, confirming the speculation that a new version of the mobile OS will be unveiled.

There's been intense speculation about specific features iOS 6 might offer.

A recent Wall Street Journal story noted that "Apple has quietly acquired at least three cutting-edge map companies, melding their technology with its own. Last fall, Apple took a first step in developing a proprietary mapping service with the virtually unnoticed release of a 'geocoder' -- the brains behind a mapping app that translates a phone's longitude and latitude into a point on a map, like an address. Before that, it relied on Google's geocoder."

Whether this is enough for Apple to drop Google Maps in the next iPhone is a matter of intense debate. On the one hand, Apple is working to render Google irrelevant in the mobile world. Its own maps solution would be part of that work, as Apple's Siri "voice assistant" promises eventually to do in the area of mobile search. But others point out that many iOS developers, and their apps, currently rely on Google Maps. These observers argue that Apple can't afford to leave them, and their users, as orphans: It's more likely, they say, that Apple will continue to support Google Maps, initially offering its own 3D mapping technology as an option.

Other rumored changes are a new color scheme or theme for the iPhone user interface, similar to the silver theme used for the iPad, though others think Apple will keep the UIs distinct; and deep integration with Facebook. While all of these have their partisans, their impact on the overall iOS mobile user experience is minimal.

Robert Falck, a freelance tech journalist and self-styled "Internet troublemaker," in a recent blog post, argued in effect that many of the changes sought in iOS 6 -- a user-accessible file system, onscreen widgets and so on -- miss the point of what Apple has introduced with iOS, and how that's been embraced by the vast majority of iOS users, who no longer think of information in terms of files and file cabinets. Instead, they think of photos, videos, documents and so on.

"As much as many of us who have been used to computers for some time might complain about the lack of interaction with the file system, for most people it's a better solution," Falck writes.

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