Developers look ahead to plenty of product news at WWDC

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When Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference kicks off this week, there will be one big change from years past: No Steve Jobs.

But don’t expect developers on hand to spend much conference time mourning the man who guided Apple’s vision for so many years before passing away in October. Instead, they’re focused on the future—and want to see where the company is going with its hardware and software. It’s CEO Tim Cook who has their attention now.

“I think everybody will miss (Jobs),” said Craig Hockenberry, senior software engineer for The Iconfactory, which makes applications for iOS and Mac. “But I think we all feel the company leadership is more than up to the task at hand, [and] enjoy listening to Tim Cook speak—not as much as Steve Jobs, but there are going to be a lot of cool product announcements, and I look forward to hearing those.”

Indeed, Hockenberry’s comments were echoed by a half-dozen developers surveyed by Macworld in the runup to WWDC 2012. Each focused on possible product upgrades and simmering controversies about Apple’s “sandboxing” requirements, dismissing any looming fallout from the company’s transition to new leadership.

“As the quarterly statements show, that company is doing quite well,” noted Rogue Amoeba’s Paul Kafasis.

Here’s a quick overview of what developers hope expect to see at WWDC:

An upgrade to the Mac Pro line: “My No. 1 wish is for Apple to finally update the Mac Pro with the fastest processors available, (as well as) Thunderbolt and USB 3,” said Gus Mueller of Flying Meat Software.

Hockenberry agreed that the Mac Pro line is in need of sprucing up. “I’ve got two of them sitting in the office, and they’re huge,” he said. I think developers like the horsepower of a Mac Pro, but not the size of a Mac Pro.”

Other Mac lines may also see some updates. “There's been a lot of speculation about portables and laptops that are due for a refresh,” said Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software.

• A firm launch date for Mountain Lion: Developers have had their hands on previews of Apple’s latest version of Mac OS X since February. And the developers we spoke to say they believe the software is ready to go public.

“It will be soon,” Siegel said of Mountain Lion’s release date. “Not before the end of June, but probably not much after.”

In a related development, some updated Macs might come with Retina displays—the high-definition screens have been available only on iOS hardware so far. “Mountain Lion seems ready for that,” Hockenberry said. “We’ll see some hardware that takes advantage of the Retina displays.”

• A preview of iOS 6: Don’t expect this to hit the market until Apple releases a new iPhone, probably later this summer. But developers hope to get a peek at the upgraded software—and they especially want to see how Apple changes two related features—Siri and Maps.

Developers said they hope Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated digital assistant, emerges from beta—and becomes available for third-party developers to incorporate into their offerings. But they also expect that Siri may advance in baby steps.

“I'd think there will probably some (Siri) support added in iOS 6 but I'd bet that they'll be pretty restricted,” said Guy English, a Montreal-based developer. “A full API for Siri is incredibly complicated on many levels and would involve extending the operating system in really big ways.”

As far as Maps, it’s been widely reported that Apple plans to bring the feature in-house instead of relying on rival Google for geographic data. “We have been waiting for some time to see what Apple will do with its various mapping acquisitions, so it will be interesting to see if we get some good news on that front,” said Daniel Jalkut, the founder of Red Sweater Software.

More discussion of sandboxing: Apple’s deadline for sandboxing offerings in the Mac App Store arrived at the beginning of this month, and some developers are still grumbling about the development, saying it reduces the functionality of their apps. They expect it to be a hot topic at WWDC.

“I expect that there will be a lot of discussions around how to resolve the inherent clash between strict sandboxing and the powerful feature sets and automation that Mac users have come to expect from their products,” Siegel said.

Other developers don’t expect the conversation to get far, however.

“I’m not expecting any surprises there,” Hockenberry said. “Apple doesn’t want to piss off developers—if you start changing the rules for sandboxing now, you’ll piss off a lot of developers. A lot of developers have worked hard to get their apps in the sandbox.”

Kafasis, though, was hopeful—pointing out that Apple isn’t sandboxing its own apps.

“If nothing else, I hope to see Apple dealing with sandboxing too,” he said. “Perhaps when they have to deal with it, they'll better understand the issues.”

The developers agreed on one thing: As usual, speculation about Apple’s moves might end up completely wrong once the conference gets rolling. “I'm expecting a whole lot of rumor sites to be wrong, and many of them to claim that their sources were right but that something changed at the last second,” Kafasis said. “You really can't go wrong with that bet.”

That’s part of the charm, Hockeberry said.

“I’m sure there will be some other surprises,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a developer’s conference without it--that’s why we love going.”

WWDC kicks off in San Francisco on Monday, June 11 with a 10 a.m. PT keynote.

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