WWDC sneak peek: Don't let iOS 6 blind you to the real action in iCloud

Apple has launched many cloud services in the last year that would make sense to integrate into the iCloud platform

I usually hold my nose at Apple rumor stories since 99 percent are simply made up or otherwise false. As Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in mid-June approaches, we're getting the obligatory rumors of an iOS 6 reveal, as well as the perpetual rumors of both a 7-inch iPad and a completely new design for an "iPhone 5."

The 7-inch iPad ain't gonna happen. Although Apple might conceivably refresh the iPhone design this fall and show it at WWDC, it won't be for the sci-fi tech the rumormongers are speculating over, such as liquid metal and rounded glass. (I am betting on a four-inch screen and an LTE 4G radio.) And new Intel Ivy Bridge-based MacBook Pros, probably including an Air-like thin version, are all but certain to debut at or before WWDC.

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Still, it's very possible we'll hear about iOS 6 and the next iPhone at WWDC. Apple has regularly used the conference to unveil new versions of iOS and often to showcase new iPhones, so that speculation has a basis in history. As part of that, Apple would likely reveal its own mapping capability to replace Google Maps -- Apple advertised the engineering positions some time ago, so of course Google Maps will be replaced at some point.

But my tea-leaf reading suggests that even if we see iOS 6 and a new iPhone, the real emphasis at WWDC will be on iCloud, which spans iOS and OS X. It's a consumerization technology that will affect everyone, more deeply than a new iPhone model or MacBook model would.

The constellation of iCloud components is coming together
We already know that the forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion supports a new iCloud capability called iCloud Documents, which lets apps open and save documents directly in iCloud.

iOS 5 apps such as the iWork suite already do that, so bringing it to OS X is a no-brainer -- except the OS X Mountain Lion approach integrates iCloud into the formal file system, making iCloud usage much easier and thus more common. For iOS 5 apps, iCloud integration with their Mac counterparts is tenuous and nonobvious, as any iWork user can tell you. That'll change in OS X Mountain Lion, and don't be surprised to see it become even more prominent in iOS.

With the new iCloud Documents capability, I expect we'll finally see new releases of the iWork suite -- Pages, Keynote, and Numbers -- that have remained essentially unchanged for three years and are showing their age. iWork on iOS integrates with iCloud well, but the integration is invisible on OS X. Your iWork documents already sync from your Mac to your iOS devices, but getting them the other way is a dark art that requires opening a hidden iCloud folder on your Mac. Either at WWDC (or in the run-up to it) or at the release of OS X Mountain Lion, I fully expect a new version of iWork for OS X that puts iCloud Documents front and center.

I suspect we'll see other iCloud services debut at WWDC, as Apple continues to develop iCloud from what started as a syncing waystation to a platform in its own right spanning syncing, storage, and services. For example, Apple has alerted users that the iWork.com beta website for document sharing will go dark on June 30 -- you have to know this will be part of iCloud 2.0. Apple has also invested in photo album and printing services for its iPhoto, which recently got an iOS version. You can expect photo sharing and distribution to be rolled into iCloud as well.

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