Apple is in a strange and unwelcome position
as it heads into its annual developer conference beginning Monday.
Normally such affairs are a chance for Apple's ultimate fans to glory in the company's successes and its vanquishing of every other tech company on the planet.
But this year's WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) comes on the heels of a precipitous decline in the company's stock, a painful and potentially significant patent case loss to Samsung, and market figures that show the South Korean electronics giant outselling iPhones in Apple's home US market for the first time ever.
While the company is still raking in billions in profit every month, Apple-watchers say that the iPhone and iPad maker needs another genre-defining hit if it is to recapture its place as the darling of investors and savvy tech users.
But if anyone expects that moment to come at the event starting Monday in San Francisco, they will likely be disappointed as Apple's custom is to introduce major new hardware at customized launch events.
Instead of a brand new phone, tablet or Apple TV device, the major headline from the WWDC is likely to be the far more prosaic introduction of an updated mobile operating system iOS7.
The update to the software that runs iPhones and iPads is expected to be the most significant upgrade to the operating system since it was first introduced with the iPhone in 2007.
In a major executive shake-up at the company last October, Apple's renowned hardware designer Jony Ive was given control of the look and feel of the company's software, and is expected to introduce a major new look.
Devoted Apple websites say he will ditch the faux-real look of the software - which put games on green baize, took notes on lined legal pads and stored books on wooden shelves - in favour of a cleaner, more modern aesthetic.
Gone will be the phony 3D buttons in favour of a minimalist flat design. Judging by Apple's logos, poster and app for the conference, the company will introduce a much brighter palette to its software as well as translucent layers that may remind some people of the first iMacs that Ive designed in 1998.
"We believe iOS is due for a material upgrade in order to freshen and reinvigorate the 'cool' factor around Apple's products," Deutshe Bank said in a note to investors. "The general look and feel of iOS is 6 years old and is in need of an update and some spark. It seems clear that Jony Ive's fingerprints will be all over iOS7, which we expect to be the most significant iOS upgrade from a visual perspective."
Apple Insider's Daniel Eran Dilger hopes that visual changes will take a back seat to improvements in functionality, noting that wholesale changes in appearance could alienate existing customers. He predicts changes to Contacts, Notes, Messages and Photos to make them more integrated, easier to use and more social.
In other areas, Apple may release details of its iRadio service, a streaming music service for iTunes that's designed to compete with the likes of Pandora and Spotify.
Apple is also expected to announce new models of its Mac laptops that will incorporate the brand new Haswell chips from Intel that were showcased by PC manufacturers this week at the Computex trade show in Taipei.
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