For once, Apple is feeling the pressure to catch up.
Major tech players such as Google, Samsung, and others have made it clear they aren’t giving up future customers to Apple. Samsung released a second smart watch. Google bought Nest, debuted self-driving cars, and sent out thousands of Google Glass headsets. Now, tech insiders believe Apple is ready to strike back with a fitness app, the "Internet of Things," and new music software in order to gear up for major hardware announcements later this year. Where will we get out first peek? Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) on Monday, June 2.
Apple certainly isn’t downplaying what it expects of the event. It has only offered a two-line comment previewing the event so far: "For five days, one thousand Apple engineers and five thousand developers will gather together. And life will be different as a result."
Apple does have a way of hyping up its events – media have gleaned many conclusions from its cryptic invitations in the past – but this message does rest on some pretty widely believed speculations and rumors.
One Apple update many believe will be revealed next week is a fitness-oriented update for the expected iOS 8. This year has proven that consumers are more interested in keeping track of their workouts and diet than ever before: a study by Kantar Media’s MARS OTC/DTC found that 34 percent of smart phone users and 31 percent of tablet users look for health-related information on their mobile device. With smart phone, tablet, and wearable tech use growing, it is likely those numbers will also increase. This would reflect recent moves by several tech companies. Samsung debuted its second smart watch, the Gear 2, earlier this spring, along with a prototype fitness watch, and last fall, FitBit released another iteration of its popular fitness band. Facebook also recently bought Moves, a fitness app.
Though most people say that Apple will hold off on debuting the mythical iWatch, a fitness software platform would be a great set up for future hardware announcements, says Wired’s Christina Bonnington.
“According to app analytics firm Mixpanel, health and fitness apps also do a better job of retaining users than the average app, and see more regular use,” she writes. “It would behoove Apple to foster this growing space—and perhaps get a piece of the fitness pie itself.”
iTunes Radio was also heavily rumored to get an update, and now that Apple has bought Beats, it nearly seems inevitable. By acquiring Beats, Apple also acquired Beats’ popular streaming player Beats Music. Whether Apple simply highlights the acquisition as part of the keynote or announces a software update remains to be seen.
The Internet of Things has also kept the tech world intrigued this year: a refrigerator that talks to a smoke detector? Google thinks it will happen – this year it acquired Nest, the company that entirely overhauled the home thermostat and smoke detector (though it has run into some issues with the latter). Samsung recently debuted its line of Smart Home refrigerators and other appliances. These moves have indicated to major tech companies that home automation is the next frontier, and now is the time to hop on the train. The Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw says that Apple is creating software that allows select third-party product makers to connect to other “smart home” devices.
“Apple’s integrated system will make it easier to set up and control new ‘smart home’ devices,” he writes. “For example, a home’s lights might automatically come on when the owner enters the house, using their iPhone to wirelessly signal their arrival. Such a system was outlined in an Apple patent filing, published in November last year.”
Already Apple has begun to experiment with this using iBeacon technology, which can ping messages to devices from physical hot spots around a store or home.
Other than these rumors, insiders have predicted everything from an OSX update to a new Apple TV, an upgraded MacBook Air to a mobile payment system. Apple has surprised us before. Tune in June 2 to see what Apple has in store this time.