The Big Apple WWDC Secrets Revealed (Not)

Opinion: Maybe some. Apple's developer get-together is upcoming and wild, strategic theories are being floated online. But as history proves, with Steve Jobs and Apple, anything is possible.

With the serious Mac heads on pilgrimage to San Francisco for the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference starting June 11, the online rumors have gone into overdrive.

Not that its been anything but racing speed anyway, with the iPhone due to ship later in June and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard set for release in October.

To make the point (and drive traffic), blogger Wil Shipley predicted the end of the iMac.

"Thus, it would shock many to hear that Apple is, in fact, planning to retire the iMac this year. [...] Of course, theyre not. That would be stupid. Still, I bet I could get a ton of other rumor sites to pick this up as news if I kept going with it," he wrote.

(Remember that Apple is closed very tightly at most times, and sealed airtight before CEO Steve Jobs is due to speak. So, nobody but the inner-inner circle in Cupertino really knows what he will say and announce at the conference. Even then, he has reportedly left announcements and honored guests waiting in the green room.)

Of course, developers have plenty of questions for Jobs about the iPhone, including whether an SDK will be released at WWDC and what will be the market for third-party software for the phones. The iPhone will run a slimmed-down version of OS X and the Safari browser, Jobs said at its introduction in January.

In an exchange at the recent D5/All Things Digital conference, Jobs was asked if the iPhone platform was closed. He said that Apple is working to find a way to allow developers to build applications for it, but that he didnt want the iPhone to be "one of those phones that crashes a few times a day."

Most of the questions online focus on the size of applications Apple might allow for the phones or whether developers will be held to "widgets," or small applets that combine splashes of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. These programs can be currently found in the Mac OS X Dashboard interface.

However, one small developer I spoke with, who declined attribution, wondered about the market for these programs, which is after all, a consumer computing product. In addition to the questions on how iPhone owners might receive the software, how would they even know about them?

The iPhone SDK is a "fine idea, but I wonder how useful it would be. It would be nice if third-party software were more "discoverable" by ordinary users than [is currently] the situation with the Mac. We dont know how users will download software to the phone and that will be important," the programmer said.

Still, the chance for a new platform for OS X applications, whether big or small, must strike the imagination of developers. On June 7, Mac sites were abuzz with news of PiperJaffray research that said iPhone sales could climb to 45 million units per year by 2009.

Meanwhile, the next generation of the Mac OS, Leopard, still has its secrets. While Apple has revealed most of Leopards features in its beta seeds over the past year, Mac developers are waiting on the entire package. When Leopard was first announced, Jobs said the company was holding back a number of features and keeping them secret, or "hidden" for its release.

These must be revealed at the conference, said developers. Apple in an e-mail to developers said they will receive a "feature complete" version.

/zimages/3/28571.gifWhy is the Mac more secure than Windows? Click here to read more.

Leopard was expected to ship this June, until Apple in April delayed the release until October. According to Apple, testing of the iPhone required it to shift engineering and QA resources from the Mac OS X team away from Leopard testing and bug fixing.

However, many developers I spoke with said the Leopard builds are still chock-a-block with bugs.

One suggested that the recent Build 9A410 (release in mid-April) was just a place marker for the "real build," with all the secret sauce, coming at WWDC. Another vendor found this concept "totally believable."

"Im hoping to get a more stable version of Leopard, with useful features that will make it easier for third-party developers to integrate with Apples applications and data stores," said the vendor, who asked for anonymity.

He said Apple provides some frameworks for integrating with Address Book, chat status, but these could be improved. "Integration with iPhoto and iTunes databases should be two ways [and] not just read-only XML files," he offered as examples.

The exact definition of "secret" may also be questionable. Some insiders claim that certain features now seen in the Leopard previews will turn out to be some of the "hidden" features. They may be considered "hidden" because their APIs arent fully fleshed out or activated.

Resolution independence for displays, which decouples the resolution of OS elements, such as windows and menus from the physical pixel density of computer screens, is likely one of these features. Similar support is now available in Windows Vista Aero, so Apple may want to keep up with the Joneses.

Another "hidden feature" may be the integration of ZFS (Zettabye File System), which is included in Solaris 10. In Leopard Build 9A410, ZFS is apparent but not usable, according to one site.

As Ive said in previous columns, ZFSs intelligent management architecture supports plenty of storage goodness such as built-in replication, RAID and self-healing data verification. This would be a significant foundation for the other Leopard Server file services.

Next Page: Interesting Leopard input speculation.