Apple WWDC 2008: full preview

Steve Jobs reveals the MacBook Air at Macworld 2008
Steve Jobs' keynotes often act as a bellwether for the tech industry

It says a lot about the state of consumer tech in the last few years that even the most insignificant announcements from Apple take on a whole new life of their own - from iMac updates to employees’ holiday.

That’s partly because Apple has arguably done so much to change people’s perceptions of what good tech can be with the Mac, the iPod and, of course the iPhone.

But it’s also a symptom of how characterless much of the technology industry actually is, that it needs a figurehead like Steve Jobs or Steve Ballmer to show it the direction that it should be heading in.

The biggest hoopla, of course, will surround Steve Jobs' keynote speech on Monday 9 June.

iPhone fever

He’s expected to reveal who’s been lucky enough to be awarded a third-party licence to develop apps for the iPhone; then to top that by unveiling the iPhone 3G.

Apple’s move to allow third-party apps for the iPhone has, of course, been mired in controversy.

Apple seemed entirely dismissive of the idea at first, leading to a wave of third-party hacks that showed how far some early buyers and developers were prepared to go to get what they wanted from the iPhone.

That was followed by a compromise deal that saw Apple offer developers the chance to deliver non-resident web-apps for the iPhone.

Final capitulation came at Macworld in January, when Apple announced its iPhone Developer Program, so setting next week’s announcements in train.

Third party apps

There has, of course, been a great deal of speculation over what kinds of iPhone apps we’ll see and from whom.

Rumours suggest that games developers like Electronics Arts and even Nintendo are keen to get on board, as are makers of more ‘serious’ software. We’ll know for sure who the headliners are when Jobs invites them on stage at WWDC on Monday 9.

As for other Mac hardware the jury's still out. Apple rarely uses WWDC to launch hardware, even if it make its shock move to abandon the PowerPC platform for Intel-derived CPUs in 2005.

Mac OS X and the iPhone

Instead, Apple will use this software-orientedf forum to focus on its Mac OS X operating system, especially since it underpins much of what the iPhone and iPod touch can do.

Apple has lined up 150 different sessions over the five days of WWDC, of which 19 have yet to be confirmed. That leaves plenty of room to speculate over what those sessions might be, especially since we don't know what Steve Jobs plans to unveil on Monday 9.

iPhone sessions

Of the sessions we do know about, 24 are focused on developing apps for the iPhone - from creating games the make use of the iPhone’s range of sensors to employing 3D graphics using Open GL.

The sessions will be supported additional labs (workshops) where developers can get help, advice and hands-on training from Apple engineers.

Other WWDC sessions highlight the obvious synergies between the iPhone and Mac hardware, thanks to the common OS that underpins them.

Developers! Developers! Developers!

This will enable many Mac-dedicated developers to get a head-start when it comes to developing for iPhone. But it has other pay-offs too:

New developers who've been attracted to Apple by the lure of the iPhone will find its breeze to develop applications for the Macintosh too.

That could spark a new golden age of Mac development that should finally lay to rest the old ‘there aren’t any apps for the Mac’ myth that in truth has been meaningless for years.

By way of proof, Apple has dedicated 27 WWDC sessions to the technologies that both the Mac and iPhone share - things like Open GL, Core Animation and the Cocoa application development environment.

Sink your teeth into Leopard

The overwhelming majority of WWDC sessions have been dedicated to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard itself. Given that it went on sale only six months ago, there are still plenty of core features developers can take advantage of for their own third-party apps.

They’ll have plenty of opportunity to find out how too, with 50 training sessions and over 50 different labs to enjoy.

With all this on on offer, WWDC 2008 is fast shaping up to be the best Apple developer meet yet.