At 1 pm Eastern today, Apple introduces its newest software updates to a group of 5,000 avid developers at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Very little is known, but much is speculated about what the company will unveil, especially given the promise of "new product categories" to be introduced in 2014.

iOS 8

Most of the attention will be focused on the next release of iOS, Apple's primary software platform. Very little is known about iOS 8.

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The UI revisions last year in iOS 7 were controversial for some, representing a major change in the "look and feel" of the mobile platform. It's likely last year was simply the first stage, and that iOS 8 may represent a further refinement and fleshing out of iOS 7.

One of the few genuine iOS 8 leaks seems to be about a new app, or rather a new locus for apps, called Health Book (Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac has done most of the solid reporting on this.) It seems to be modeled on the iOS Passbook app, but intended as a central location for fitness, lifestyle, and health information. Bluetooth LE may be a key, to link iOS with data and apps on fitness and health devices.

Another recent rumor, concerns using iOS, or a subset of it, to turn the iPhone into a remote control for a range of network-based home automation systems, such as lights, security, home entertainment, and appliances. The Financial Times last week posted a story headlined "Apple sees the light in push for Jetsons-style home automation." [Subscription is required to read it.] 

Apple's iBeacon specification, which Apple bases on Bluetooth 4.0 (also known as Bluetooth Low Energy) may be part of this network/Internet of things. There have been a variety of software platforms aimed at home/office automation systems, which have achieved varying levels of success. Apple may intend to leverage the millions of iPhones in existence, and the familiar iOS user interface, to create a home automation platform that has almost at the start a very large user base.

Besides Healthbook, it has been rumored that Apple is porting TextEdit and Preview apps from OS X, and preparing a separate iTunes Radio app. Many expect improvements for Maps, Notification Center, and Messages, among others, and possibly enabling communications between apps. And there is an expectation that the Touch ID fingerprint sensor will be expanded to include all future iPhones and iPads, and the software for it may be extended to begin to act as an authentication/authorization tool, perhaps as a precursor to a future mobile payments system.

Another possible change, or at least one sought by some such as iMore.com chief Rene Ritchie, is for interactive push notifications notifications that also let you take an action in response to the alert.

There could be improvements and changes to iCloud, enabling iOS devices to be integrated more tightly and seamlessly, and to leverage more features, in Apple's unfolding cloud.

OS X 10.10

The same guy responsible for the iOS 7 makeover, Jonathan Ive, is reportedly also engaging in a major workover of the Mac's OS X. Many Apple watchers are expecting the next iteration, OS X 10.10 or Syrrah, to become still more like iOS. That would likely mean, in part, having the Mac software adopt at least some of the design concepts Ive introduced in iOS 7 a more stripped-down look and icon changes that reflect iOS 7.

"Mac OS X is in desperate need of an overhaul of its conceptual spatial layout," argues Daring Fireball's John Gruber. "Mission Control, Spaces, Launchpad, Dashboard -- where are these things? How do you get to them? It's all a confusing jumble of ideas that have been glommed together piece by piece over 15 years."

Also on the list of OS X "wants" are richer iBooks apps, compatibility for the wireless file sharing protocol AirDrop between Macs and iOS devices, and support for the Siri voice assistant.

Hardware

It's almost a certainty that new iPhone or iPads will be announced later this year, not today.

Some think, or hope, that Apple will unveil a Retina display iMac and MacBook Air. But the latter at least seems unlikely since that line was revised recently, though there are rumors of a 12-inch Retina model in the works.  

There's been an almost surprising lack of rumors about the possibility that Apple will introduce the feverishly-rumored iWatch, or some other wearable device, at WWDC. So far, there's been little hard information about this, except reports over the past year about new hires with "wearables" backgrounds.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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