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It will be new software.
And we'll likely hear about it at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on June 10-14 .
At WWDC, thousands of developers who make applications and software for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac will gather to hear about Apple's latest software features.
Apple will probably not be announcing a new iPhone or other gadget at WWDC. Therefore, you might think this conference will be a non-event, but you would be wrong. This year's WWDC will actually take on heightened importance relative to prior years.
This year and next will be about Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team creating and executing their own vision for the future of technology. We don't know what their ultimate vision for Apple's hardware is going to be. However, we know that they need to update Apple's mobile software and iCloud, its cloud service.
WWDC is where this will all start.
By the time WWDC arrives, Apple will have gone 230 days without announcing a new product. That's the longest gap in years.
WWDC will be Apple's opportunity to reset the company's story, and reveal its plans for the future of its most important software, iOS, which powers iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. Combined, those products accounted for $32.6 billion revenue last quarter, or 75% of Apple's total revenue. The revenue of those products is the same as Google and Microsoft's total combined revenue last quarter.
During the 230 days between Apple's product announcements, Apple's stock dropped, and dropped, and dropped some more.
The stock price is falling because Apple's iPhone business, which was so strong for the last six years, is in its twilight, at least as it's currently constructed. The market for premium priced iPhones appears to be nearing, or at, saturation.
Cook has been CEO since August of 2011. As we get further removed from Steve Jobs' death, Apple and its products will increasingly be under his guidance.
Around that same time, he reorganized Apple's executive structure.
He ousted Scott Forstall, who created and led the iOS division, replacing him with Jony Ive and Craig Federighi. Ive was Apple's lead hardware designer, now he's in charge of Human Interface, which means he's going to lead the software and hardware design. Craig Federighi, who ran Mac software, now leads Mac and iOS.
Eddy Cue, who runs Internet services, took over Siri and Maps.
WWDC will be our first chance to see how this executive shake-up has changed Apple.
Ive is a brilliant hardware designer. His sex-in-a-box designs have made Apple the darling of design-oriented consumers around the world. Ive's work is in museums. He has been knighted.
Ive's products are know for sleek minimalism. Apple's software design, meanwhile, has been filled with extra animations and illustrations designed to make the software look like the physical items it is replacing in the physical world.
For instance, last year, Apple rolled out Passbook, a new application for holding tickets, and retail apps. When a user used a Passbook ticket, Passbook shredded the ticket like it was running through a paper shredder.
This is just one of the many design touches in iOS that mirrored real life. Apple's notes app looks like a real-life legal pad. Its Game Center looks like a real-life gaming table.
Under Ive's direction, it's widely assumed iOS will abandon these animations and illustrations. The design is supposed to get less life-like, and more simple.
However, Ive's never done software design before. Or, if he has, it hasn't been well documented. Therefore, there's some risk.
Plus, beauty, as they say, is only skin deep. Fixing the look of iOS is only half the battle for Apple.
Even Apple's most ardent supporters have begun griping that iOS has fundamental user interaction flaws.
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Swipe from the top to get quick access to settings in Android.
Basic tasks, like turning on WiFi, aren't easy. Anonymous design blogger Kontra wrote earlier this year, "Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off, without any simple, thematic or geo-fenced grouping."
Kontra also said that while Apple's much-maligned Maps app is inaccurate, it's also flawed because of a bad search engine.
Then, there's iCloud, Apple's cloud based storage service.
iCloud is really good for backing up your iPhone.
Developers have been avoiding iCloud, according to The Verge, because of its problems.
At WWDC, we'll get our first look at how Ive is going to change the look of iOS. We'll get our first look at how he and Federighi are going to fix user experience issues. We'll also see how Cue is fiddling with iCloud to make it better.
In sum, at WWDC we're going to see the first step in Tim Cook's long journey as Apple CEO. And the first step doesn't involve world-changing hardware.
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