NEXT MONTH is shaping up to be a major period for upgrades and new announcements. The Apple World Developers' Conference starting in San Francisco on June 8 is always a big event for Mac fans. This year it is generally accepted that we will see the launch of the new iPhone 3.0 operating system. This brings a number of long-anticipated improvements for existing iPhone users, including cut and paste. There are strong signs, too, that an updated iPhone 3G will be introduced. The consensus is that the physical dimensions will be the same as the existing model, but there will be a raft of detail improvements, including a 3 MP camera with automatic focus (instead of fixed focus) and a faster processor.
On the wider Mac front there are persistent rumours of some form of tablet or netbook computer pitched midway between the iPhone and the MacBook. Apple have already said they will not introduce a low-cost netbook, but bets are being taken on a Kindle-sized touch-screen device which could double as an ebook reader. One thing we can be sure of is that it will not be cheap. However, any announcement at the WDC is unlikely and it seems any such device is still months away.
Much interest lies in the wider phone market. Palm are due to introduce their new Pre iPhone slayer and current indications are that this launch will take place on June 7, one day before Apple's announcements, in an attempt to steal the initiative. There is no doubt that the Pre's specification and early demo models have won fans and it will be interesting to see whether the phone really will be an iPhone killer. This is surely a last-gasp for Palm and they desperately need the Pre to be successful.
Timing is crucial for Palm and Apple because June marks the end of the first batch of two-year service contracts signed with AT&T at the launch of the first iPhone in the USA in 2007. These early adopters will be looking to upgrade and much will depend on whether they decide to stay with the (much improved) iPhone or take a chance on the Pre. For this reason alone, Palm must announce in June or risk losing the advantage.
There has been renewed gossip about a new Zune device from Microsoft. Some commentators have urged potential buyers not to get an iPhone or a Pre until they have seen what Zune has to offer in June. This is particularly interesting because, of course, the Zune is an iPod competitor and a Zune phone had been seen as likely. A major problem for Microsoft is that a Zune phone would have to offer a new operating system if it is to have a hope of tackling Apple and Palm on equal ground. But a new operating system would mean annoying, perhaps fatally, existing partners using the Windows Mobile OS. It is difficult to see what room Microsoft has to manoeuvre in this tight market.
By the end of June we will have answers to several of these questions. In particularly, we will have a good idea whether the Palm Pre is the next big thing or a busted flush.
So far we have one sure fact about the Apple WDC: Steve Jobs will not be making the keynote presentation. He was due back at Apple in June and most commentators had hoped for a grand return at the conference. Instead, the conference will be a joint effort by senior Apple bosses. The stock market reacted negatively to the news that Jobs would not appear. The Apple Inc price is extremely sensitive to news of Jobs' health and his absence will no doubt take away some of the gloss from the new announcements.