News Column

Apple's soft(ware) touch

June 1, 2014

By Jefferson Graham, @jeffersongraham, USA TODAY

Get ready for a peek at changes for the iPhone and iPad.

Today, Apple kicks off its 25th Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), a gathering that offers a glimpse into the near-term future of Apple's software, in particular, the operating systems that run the iPhone and iPad, and Apple computers.

While Apple has introduced some hardware at WWDC -- most notably, early editions of the iPhone -- the past few years have focused on software, and analysts expect it to stay that way.

"This is a big year for Apple and hardware, but that's for the fall. WWDC is all about software," says Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray.

Munster expects Apple's long-rumored iWatch and a new iPhone to be unveiled in the fall, but what is shown in software now typically offers revealing hints on what may come later.

At WWDC, look for:

iOS 8 preview. The mobile operating system had a controversial overhaul last year. Many users reported glitches. Some did not like the dramatic redesign. This year's changes are likely to be more modest.

A new emphasis, however, on wearable fitness and home automation is expected. Munster predicts a new "Healthbook" app that will tie together in one place the various apps for wearable trackers -- hinting perhaps at the aforementioned iWatch.

Apple is looking to do something similar with all the various smart-home apps that do such things as adjust lighting and open the front door.

"Apple wants to be the central hub," Munster says.

Beats/music. This past week, Apple confirmed its $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics, the company that makes Beats headphones and runs the Beats music service. It's probably too early to hear any Beats-meets-Apple announcement, but do look for Apple to talk music. Its Beats purchase is seen as a way to get Apple out front in music again, where it has lost ground amid declining download sales and the cool factor it once had with iPods.

Last year's WWDC saw Apple preview iTunes Radio, a Pandora-like offering that didn't take off as well as expected.

One problem: Radio is part of the iTunes app; the website MacRumors expects iTunes Radio to be pushed out into its own separate app, to get more attention.

About 5,000 developers got tickets to the sold-out event, but Apple will be streaming the opening day presentation on its website, as well, starting at 1 p.m. ET. Check for the latest updates.

Eric Risberg, AP

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Source: USA Today

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