It wouldn't be much of a stretch at all to say that Apple's WWDC 2012 keynote is the most highly-anticipated keynote in a long time. Historically, Apple has used WWDC to unveil new generations of the iPhone. Last year's delayed launch of the iPhone 4S, however, means that we won't be seeing the next iPhone (probably "the new iPhone," instead of the iPhone 5 or iPhone 6) until October, or possibly September.
Nevertheless, expectations for this year's keynote are running high, and with good reason. There have been a lot of rumors zipping about in the last few weeks, and if even half of them are true, it's going to be a big day.
With that in mind, here is what we know so far about what we should expect from Apple's WWDC 2012 keynote. But first, a disclaimer: WWDC is a software conference. Strictly speaking, the focus isn't on hardware. That means that all we're guaranteed from today's keynote is iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion. Anything else is just gravy. Though as you'll see, there's reason to expect a sizable helping of gravy.
The first of the two guarantees for today's keynote is iOS 6. Even though the new iPhone isn't coming out for another 3-4 months, Apple will be unveiling the latest version of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch's operating system today. While it's been treated as a given for some time that iOS 6 would be on today's menu, we got the best confirmation we could want short of an official statement from Apple on Friday. An Instagram user managed to catch a picture of workers raising a giant iOS 6 banner inside Moscone West, the San Francisco venue for WWDC 2012.
So, iOS 6 has been confirmed, but what should we expect from iOS 6? Well, the biggest news is a new Maps app. Back in May it was reported that Apple was preparing to ditch Google Maps as the source for the iOS Maps app and replace it with mapping data developed in-house by the three mapping companies Apple began purchasing in 2009 (just a year after Google launched Android). Since that initial report there have been several additional leaks confirming a new Maps app. According to the reports, the new app will be largely the same in terms of interface, but will sport a hyper-realistic 3D mode. Check out a mockup of the new app below:
But that's not all we should expect from iOS 6. Speaking at AllThingsD's D10 Conference at the end of May, Apple CEO Tim Cook all but promised that iOS would be getting Facebook integration soon. Later reports have appeared to confirm that, saying that iOS 6's system-wide Facebook integration will be much like the Twitter integration introduced last year with iOS 5.
While reports suggest that iOS 6 won't actually look much different from iOS 5 on the surface, Apple appears to have completely rewritten all of the stock iOS apps - Weather, Clock, Contacts, Calendar, etc. - in addition to Maps. While details are a little thin, the new versions of the apps are expected to have some pretty remarkable new features, and a slightly different user interface.
During the same D10 session mentioned above, Tim Cook also strongly hinted that there would be major improvements to Siri coming soon. Though he was, naturally, coy about the details, it's a fair bet that with iOS 6 Siri will be losing her "beta" label, and getting several new features and performance improvements. Though it may be too much to hope for Apple to release Siri's APIs to developers, it's certainly possible.
Finally, iOS 6 will be getting some of the same improvements to existing features that are about to be rolled out with OS X Mountain Lion, including a Do Not Disturb feature for Notifications, Mail VIPs, and iCloud Tabs. The Do Not Disturb mode is pretty self-explanatory: it temporarily disables notifications from popping up while you're, say, watching a movie or trying to sleep (nobody appreciates waking up to a Words With Friends notification at 3 in the morning, after all). Mail VIPs makes it easier to find and read mail from your selected list of VIPs, and iCloud Tabs allows you to see from one version of Safari (mobile or desktop) the tabs you've got open in all versions of Safari.
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion
There actually hasn't been a lot of detail surface about Mountain Lion since Apple made the original (and quite unexpected) announcement earlier this year. That said, here's what we know. Mountain Lion will be releasing sometime later this summer (possibly this month). It will include OS-wide Twitter integration like iOS 5, though surprisingly there has been no hint of Facebook integration making the jump to OS X. It will be getting a variety of sharing options including Flickr and Vimeo. It will also feature Message, an app that syncs with iMessage on your iPhone and iPad. While there's currently a beta available for OS X Lion, that beta will stop working after Mountain Lion launches, making Messages a Mountain Lion-only product.
Mountain Lion will be continuing the tradition Apple began with OS X 10.7 Lion last year of bringing iOS features "back to the Mac." Consequently, Mountain Lion will be getting Notification Center, Reminders, and Notes, in addition to the aforementioned Twitter integration. There have also been recent rumors that the Dictation feature that made its way to the iPad in March will also be coming to Mountain Lion.
Another new Mountain Lion feature will be Gatekeeper. Gatekeeper is a security feature that allows you to lock down your Mac so that only software from the Mac App Store can be installed. You can also set Gatekeeper to allow apps created by participants in Apple's Developer ID program, or you can turn Gatekeeper off completely, allowing software from any source to be installed. While it's likely to be popular with businesses and parents, there are those who worry that it's a step toward making OS X the same sort of walled garden that iOS is.
Finally, there appear to be several new features coming to iCloud. Early last month Apple accidentally made their test of iOS-style banner notifications for the iCloud web interface public. A few days later a beta version of the iCloud web interface revealed that Notes and Reminders apps were being added as well. It's not certain that these new features will be unveiled at WWDC 2012, but a third report predicted that several major new features would be shown off at the conference, including vast improvements to iCloud's photo handling and sharing.
If you pay much attention to Apple's product cycles, you may have noticed that while the company has been aggressively updating iOS and its associated devices, and has been incorporating certain features into OS X, there hasn't been much attention paid to actual Mac hardware. Though the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac lines have gotten feature bumps in recent years, there have been no major upgrades. Indeed, some models - namely the Mac Pro - have been without an upgrade of any kind for years.
According to what we've been hearing over the last few weeks, that's about to change. While there have been rumors since the launch of the iPhone 4 in 2010 that Macs would start getting retina displays, it looks like this time it might actually happen. Back in May we started hearing the first serious rumblings of the MacBook Pro getting a retina display. The next day reports surfaced that the same might be true of the MacBook Air and iMac. While nothing has been confirmed, of course, Apple did let a retina display-ready app into the Mac App Store last week.
Last week rumors surfaced that a fourth Mac line would be getting an update. While some believed it would be the Mac Mini, I speculated that the Mac Pro would be the model to get updated, which is in far worse need of an update than the Mac Mini. A report the next day appeared to confirm that it would indeed be the Mac Pro, though there's little information on what, specifically, will be updated.
Finally, there was a report last week that all these updates we've been hearing about for the MacBook Pro might not be headed to the MacBook Pro at all, but to an entirely new line of MacBook. This new MacBook would drop the "Pro" branding, and would get the lion's share of the upgrades, leaving the MacBook Pro with only a basic feature bump. If it sells well, this new MacBook would eventually replace the current MacBook Pro (which replaced the original MacBook line a few years ago).
New Apple TV OS (and the iTV?)
Last but not least, there have been reports that Apple may show off a new operating system for the Apple TV at this year's conference. There aren't many details, but it's possible that this update is meant to pave the way for the much-rumored iTV, Apple's entry into the HDTV market. Though there has been some speculation that the iTV itself would be unveiled at this year's conference, that is not likely.
While little is known about the new Apple TV OS, one exciting detail has been circulated. It seems that Apple may release a software development kit (SDK) for the Apple TV alongside the OS update. That will mean that third-party developers can create apps for the Apple TV. That's right, the Apple TV (and possibly the iTV?) may finally be getting the App Store.
It's worth noting again that WWDC is a software developers' conference, and that the only things that have been confirmed about this year's keynote are iOS 6 and Mountain Lion. The rest is just speculation, though much of it appears solid. At any rate, we're less than two hours from the keynote now, when all will be revealed. Until then, you can follow our WWDC 2012 page for more information, and check back for our live coverage of the keynote itself at 1 PM Eastern time.