Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take the stage at the company's developer conference next week to introduce iCloud -- Apple's new cloud service -- and the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 5.
In a statement today, Apple announced that Jobs -- who remains on an indefinite medical leave -- will take part in the keynote that opens the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 6.
Jobs and other company executives will highlight the next version of Mac OS X, nicknamed "Lion," during the keynote, as well as iOS 5 and iCloud, the name Apple's stuck on what it described as its "upcoming cloud services offering."
iCloud will be the star of the keynote, predicted Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.
"That will be the splashy part of the show," said Gottheil. "They feel that they messed up on cloud stuff -- and I agree -- and will want to make it as big as they possibly can."
In April, reports surfaced claiming that Apple had paid Swedish company Xcerion $4.5 million for the icloud.com domain. Xcerion, which had used icloud.com for its online file-storage service, switched to cloudme.com earlier that month.
As of Tuesday, a WHOIS search showed that Xcerion still controlled icloud.com.
Most experts expect that iCloud will at the least replicate the online music "locker" services already launched by Apple rivals Amazon and Google, giving customers the ability to play tracks from their iTunes collection over the Internet using their iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches and Macs.
But some analysts, including Gottheil, have used the news that Apple has signed deals with major music labels to speculate that the company will up the ante by launching a music subscription service as part of iCloud.
"Apple doesn't tend to repeat their mistakes, and a music subscription service could be a part of iCloud," said Gottheil, who expects that Apple will offer a tiered service that includes a free option.
"The iPad is relatively weak in its cloud orientation," noted Gottheil. "Some iPad-specific sync stuff could be a highlight of iCloud."
Apple has been mum about iOS 5, the next version of the mobile operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. But that will change next week as the company touts new features to developers.
Traditionally, Apple has introduced the next iOS earlier in the year, then followed with a new iPhone in late June or early July. The lack of an iOS-specific event this year has led most analysts to conclude that Apple won't start selling an iPhone 5 -- or whatever name it puts on the smartphone -- until this fall, likely in September.
If the company follows past practice, it will offer developers a preliminary version of iOS 5 at WWDC, along with an SDK, or software developers kit, giving them several months to work on new apps or update existing ones with features specific to the upgrade.
Gottheil, for one, is uncertain what Apple will add to iOS 5, or bring to the table in the next iPhone.
"It's getting harder and harder to figure out what to add to the iPhone to make it better," he said, echoing other experts who have already labeled the next iPhone as possibly a less-compelling purchase than earlier refreshes of the line.
Apple will also reveal in more detail Mac OS X 10.7, aka Lion, which was first announced in October 2010. At the time, Apple said Lion would ship sometime this summer.
Recent revelations from developers, however, indicate that the next update to Snow Leopard -- Mac OS X 10.6.8 -- will include a Mac App Store update that allows customers to upgrade to Lion without physical media. That has spurred talk that Lion's release is imminent.
It's probable that Apple will use WWDC not only to tout Lion, but also to announce its price. Two years ago, Apple used the WWDC platform to narrow the launch date of Snow Leopard, Lion's predecessor, and spell out the upgrade's $29 price .
Prior to that, Apple had priced its operating system upgrades at $129.
"Reducing the price [of Snow Leopard] did not negatively affect revenue," said Gottheil. "I expect them to offer a low-priced upgrade to Lion as well."
Doing so will let Apple again contrast its upgrade pricing with Microsoft's, as it did in 2009 prior to the debut of Windows 7, Gottheil added.
The WWDC keynote will be Jobs' second public appearance since he stepped away from Apple last January. His only other time in the limelight was in early March, when he took the stage to introduce the iPad 2.
"Certainly, he's well enough to go out in public," said Gottheil of Jobs' plans to participate in the keynote. "If nothing else, he wants to demonstrate his ongoing relationship with the company."
Jobs' time on stage would be the perfect opportunity to announce his return to work at Apple, or to set a timetable for that, said Gottheil.
The WWDC keynote is scheduled to start a 10:00 a.m. PT on Monday, June 6, the opening day of the conference, which runs through June 10. Apple sold out WWDC in under 12 hours, a record, when it put the $1,599 tickets on sale March 28.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .
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