Here are my predictions for what will be announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week – with an Apple TV OS being my big punt for Monday’s keynote highlight.
Apple TV OS
I think Apple will use WWDC to announce an Apple TV OS for developers. The current Apple TV device, while useful, is limited to the video content and TV services that Apple themselves license and support. In the UK, this means you can’t even watch BBC iPlayer on a standard Apple TV. This lack of extensibility is the reason why the Apple TV hasn’t taken off, particularly given that TV content is so very country-specific. It’s similar to the first-generation iPhone – a useful device, but limited in its scope to what Apple themselves have the resources to provide.
I think Apple will give developers the ability to create and sell their own Apple TV apps, downloaded through an on-screen store, just as they did on iOS. This would enable country-specific on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer to be created independently of Apple, and streamed straight to an Apple TV. Specific shows could even have their own apps for a customised viewing experience – and third-party apps such as Zeebox could bring the visual and social sides of a show together on a single big screen.
Apple have the opportunity to unify the first- and second-screen experiences on a single device, and make it fully customisable to your own social circle. No other company has the mix of hardware manufacturing, software platform, developer community, store infrastructure and media partnerships needed to make this happen. If they get it right, Apple could do the same for the living room as they have for the mobile phone, by enabling their existing developer network to customise their device for worldwide appeal.
And it’s not just about video. Apple have already disrupted the handheld games console market with the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. An Apple TV with the ability to run custom games would give them a direct route to challenge the ageing XBox, PS3 and Wii consoles too. An Apple TV and an iPhone or iPad with AirPlay is already a replacement console; providing a beefier chip in the Apple TV itself, and reducing the reliance on streaming video from a device, would shift the balance to Apple TV for the grunt work, with iOS devices as wireless Wiimote-style controllers. Apple already have buy-in from hundreds of games developers for iOS, and have an ecosystem in which games can be profitable while only costing a couple of dollars for users. Providing Apple TV extensions of those existing games feels like a natural evolution for all involved.
As an aside: Apple introduced Bluetooth Low Energy in the iPhone 4S and iPad 3. Could this form the basis of a low-power, low-latency controller connection for the Apple TV? It’s certainly what Bluetooth Low Energy is good at.
I think an Apple-manufactured television set is coming, as a zero-install way for people to get set up with an internet- and app-connected TV and games console (based on the apps described above). I don’t think we’ll hear anything about it this week, however – rather, I expect to see it announced in the fall, in a joint event alongside a new iPhone 5. Traditionally, WWDC is all about the software, and Apple can get its developer community busy developing apps for the Apple Television right now using the Apple TV, without having to announce a big new hardware release until the holiday period.
The banners are already up inside Moscone with mention of iOS 6, so we should get a preview copy of iOS 6 to play with this week.
We won’t hear anything about the iPhone 5 this week. It’ll have a likely release date of late September / early October, with a fall iPhone announcement around the same time as iOS 6 is released to the world.
Apple’s own maps service
iOS 6 will see Apple remove one of its big dependencies on a competitor, by introducing its own Maps service in place of Google Maps. Relying on its biggest competitor in the mobile market for an integral part of its OS is a risk, and this is one of the reasons why Apple bought 3D mapping company C3 back in 2011. Hopefully Google will submit their own rival mapping app to the App Store once Apple make the switch.
UK location data for Siri
A year on from the announcement of the iPhone 4S, and we still don’t have UK location data for Siri, rendering it mostly useless. I expect this to come with Apple’s move to their own mapping service in iOS 6, although it’s a shame to have had to wait this long.
Apple introduced the Accounts Framework in iOS 5, for managing external accounts. Right now, it only supports one kind of account – Twitter. I expect Facebook to be introduced as a second type of account in iOS 6. I’m not expecting a full SDK like Facebook’s own, however – rather, I think we’ll get a simple-to-integrate ‘Post from Anywhere’ view, with Apple handling your Facebook account details and login at a system level for all apps.
Third-party Siri integration
I don’t think Apple will open up Siri to third-party developers, although I’d certainly like to see it happen. If so, I like Amy Worrall‘s suggested approach of addressing individual apps to command them – e.g. “UK Train Times, show me live departures from Leamington Spa”. All app names on the store have to be unique, so this would fit with the existing naming approach.