Applels Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) starts today, and industry analysts put this year's conference on a par with the release of Mac OS X and the Intel transition in terms of importance for the company.
"This is a hugely significant WWDC for Apple because they are bringing out a new platform," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at research firm JupiterResearch. "This is the coming-out party for the iPhone."
Ross Rubin, director of analysis at market-researching NPD Group agreed. "Certainly the iPhone SDK is the most significant expansion to the platform since OS X," he said.
Speculation has been swirling around the internet for months that Apple will unveil the next-generation 3G iPhone at WWDC, but the significance of the event doesn’t rely on a new iPhone release. Having thousands of developers on hand, beginning work on applications for the iPhone is what’s most important.
While WWDC is a developers' conference in every sense, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be speaking to more than the developers when he takes the stage for his keynote later today. Jobs will also have a message for the mobile industry, according to Gartenberg.
“They are saying, 'there is a new mobile platform in town and it’s us',” said Gartenberg.
Interest in the developers' conference has never been higher. Having a sold out event for the first time in the company’s history, Apple engineers will see the greatest variety of developers that have ever attended the event.
Analysts expect to see traditional Mac developers, mobile developers from other platforms and internal developers from companies that want to be part of the iPhone revolution.
Many developers and consumers wanted Apple to release a native software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone when it came out, but Apple stood its ground at the time and only let people create web-based programs.
“In typical Apple style, it attacks problems one at a time, fix it and move on to the next one,” said Gartenberg. “It could have done this right away, but at this point consumers are aware of the iPhone and developers have seen the popularity of the iPhone.”
By delaying developer access to the iPhone, Apple also had time to create a delivery system for the programs to come - the App Store, giving Apple another significant advantage over its competition in the mobile market.
“Putting apps right at the users fingertips and enabling them to acquire that software from anywhere is definitely a step forward in building exposure for the applications,” said NPD’s Rubin.
Gartenberg agrees. After spending years trying to navigate mobile websites and managing what is sometimes a difficult installation process, the App Store should be a welcome change.
“The ecosystem Apple is providing is super-important. Most just aren’t consumer friendly,” said Gartenberg.
The App Store could also lead to another benefit for Apple and its developers - the impulse buy. Much the same way that users often purchase songs from iTunes on a whim, Rubin expects the same thing could happen with iPhone applications.
Whatever the announcements next week, Apple will deliver a shot across the bow of the mobile industry - and should set itself up nicely to reach its 10 million iPhone sales goal.