Rumors, like money, make the world go round, and when it comes to Apple, there's no shortage. As the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference gets ever closer to its June 8 kickoff, there's plenty of speculation about what's in store for Apple's mobile platform.
A new version of the operating system that powers Apple's mobile platform has arrived every year since the iPhone's 2007 release. Expect the pattern to hold this year with iOS 9, with rumors pointing to a few specific features slated for the updated OS. Let's take a closer look at what additions are expected to make the grade as well as what some app makers would like to see.
Music: New App, New Service
We've already seen indications that an overhaul of iOS's Music app is in the works, probably debuting even before iOS 9 as part of iOS 8.4. Early developer builds of the release show a redesigned interface that finally incorporates the Up Next song-queueing feature introduced in 2013's iTunes 11, a Mini Player and other improvements.
But the real musical development could be Apple finally leveraging its purchase of Beats Music into an update to its own streaming service, iTunes Radio. Cupertino picked up the Dr. Dre-led music venture last year for $3 billion but hasn't yet moved to incorporate it into any of its offerings. Meanwhile, iTunes Radio has met with a lackluster reception from most users since its 2013 launch and has been largely overshadowed by streaming music rivals such as Spotify and Pandora. It seems a good bet that a Beats-inspired update might show up as part of iOS 9.
Customization: Following Android's Lead
Android continues to trump iOS in the area of user customization. Apple has traditionally kept the look and feel of its operating system uniform across the board, but a major iOS update is always a good place to hope for a change. In comparison to the iPhone and iPad's relatively static lock screen, the arrival of the latest gadget from Apple has some hoping for a change.
"One thing the Apple Watch has shown me is that I really enjoy configuring the complications on the face," Craig Hockenberry of software maker Iconfactory told me via email. "I'd love to see some similar functionality on the iOS lock screen: my new addiction to the Activity app knows no bounds."
Ryan Cash of Snowman, developer of the hit game Alto's Adventure, also advocated for a customizable lock screen for iOS "where I can choose to see weather," also drawing a comparison to the Apple Watch.
Other places that users might also hope to see Apple loosen up its strictures include letting them set other apps as the default handlers for tasks like mail and Web browsing. Cash suggested that perhaps users could even customize iOS's slide-up Control Center and "swap out the bottom tray of apps for your own choices."
Siri: More Open to Apps
The virtual assistant first introduced on the iPhone 4s back in 2011 may get at least a slight overhaul in iOS 9, if rumors are any indication. The most buzzed about improvement is mainly cosmetic -- mimicking the more colorful waveform interface seen on the Apple Watch, as 9to5Mac reports. But that doesn't rule out the chance of new functionality. In the past, Apple has made modest additions to Siri's capabilities in iOS updates, rolling out features like Shazam integration and the ability to adjust settings like Bluetooth and Airplane mode.
But one thing still on the wish list of many developers is a way to integrate their own applications' functionality into Siri. Currently, Siri's compatibility with third-party applications is entirely at Apple's own invitation, and those invitations have been very limited. While you can ask your iPhone to show you directions in Apple's own Maps app, for example, you can't have Siri read you directions from Google Maps. At least not yet.
A Challenge to Google Now?
Of course, if the changes to Siri turn out to be modest, that could be because Apple is putting its efforts into developing a more robust search capability for iOS that not only incorporates Siri but other iOS features as well. A 9to5Mac report says the new program, codenamed "Proactive," will tap into Siri, Contacts, Calendar, Passbook and third-party apps to fashion a rival to the Google Now functionality found on Android devices. The 9to5Mac report bills Proactive as a replacement for the Spotlight search functionality currently in iOS while also expanding upon Siri's digital assistant features to notify you of upcoming events like meetings with reminders and directions.
HomeKit's New Home?
HomeKit, Apple's development tool for integrating smart home products into iOS, has been in the headlines in the build-up to WWDC. In May, Apple denied a report that HomeKit products wouldn't arrive until the fall, saying the first products were slated for a June release. You could be controlling those devices from a dedicated app in iOS 9, if a rumor reported by 9to5Mac pans out. According to the rumor, a new Home app would allow iOS 9 users to control smart devices in their homes from an iPhone or iPad; the Home app would be similar to the Health app introduced in iOS 8. Siri would also gain some smart home control capabilities.
Before you start clearing out space for the Home app icon on your iPhone, though, note that 9to5Mac's sources say that the current build of the Home app offers pretty minimal functionality, meaning it might not be ready when Tim Cook takes the stage for June's WWDC keynote.
Maps: Public Transit Finally Arrives?
Speaking of directions, one area that's been sorely lacking in Apple's mobile platform is public transit directions. When Apple overhauled its Maps app in iOS 6, electing to use its own mapping information instead of Google's, it also ditched support for public transportation directions. Instead, Apple elected to let third-party apps fill that niche.
But over the past few years, Apple has bought several companies involved in mapping technology, including a couple that specialize in public transportation information. Both iOS 7 and 8 were rumored to return this capability to the built-in Maps app, but it ultimately didn't materialize. Perhaps the third time will be the charm, especially if a 9to5Mac report contending that Apple is readying a Transit service for Maps in iOS 9 pans out. That same report also says that Apple is working on indoor mapping as well that's designed to help you find your way through major building and landmarks.
Extensions: Easier Discovery, More Freedom
iOS 8 added in Extensions, the ability for developers to create little snippets of code that could be triggered in other apps -- letting you access the 1Password password-storage app from inside Safari, just to cite one example. It's been a great start, but there's more work to be done.
"I'd also love to see Apple continue with the amazing work they're doing with extensions," Iconfactory's Hockenberry said. "It's currently hard for some users to discover some of these system add-ons, so it would be great if the new iOS made it easier to find and configure these powerful capabilities."
James Thomson of TLA Systems, the developer of calculator app PCalc, would like to not only see improvements to how iOS’s Extensions are currently presented, but expansions of what they can do. "I'd like to see extensions everywhere -- as much of the OS as possible opened up. For example, maybe you want your app to be able to draw something to your app icon like the Clock app does," Thomson said. "Add an icon drawing extension. Want to appear on the Control Center? Add a Control Center extension. Lock screen complications like the watch, indicators in the status bar, Siri integration, you name it. The underlying technology is all there now, let us play with it. Let our apps have equal status with the system apps."
Tune ups: Smoother Performance
Many of the rumors around iOS 9 have revolved around smaller improvements aimed at smoothing over the rough edges and bugginess found in iOS 8. Some have gone so far as to suggest that iOS 9 will be primarily focused on these bug fixes and stabilization, drawing a parallel to OS X's Snow Leopard update in 2009.
Apple also may look to reduce the size of the operating system itself. Owners of smaller iPhones ran into problems updating to iOS 8 over the air, because of the download's hefty size, as well as the space taken up by the existing OS installation. Apple appears to have been attempting to slim down subsequent updates, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see iOS 9 follow in those footsteps.
While a feature-light release might disappoint end users, some developers are rooting for Apple to focus on stability. "I'd hope they'll make the existing features work better, rather than adding new ones," says TLA Systems's Thomson. "Personally, I would be happy if the existing APIs didn't change significantly with this release, and I don't have to rewrite half of my app for the third year in a row."