SAN FRANCISCO — Drawn to San Francisco by the lure of a pumped-up Apple Inc. operating system and other product-line surprises, software developers from across the country and around the globe descended on the Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 on Monday.
Among this year’s announcements: a thinner MacBook Pro notebook with a high-definition retina display, a map application to challenge Google’s popular Maps app, and new versions of Apple’s Mac and mobile operating systems that will bring Apple’s Siri voice-recognition system to the popular iPad tablet.
In contrast to years past, when Apple would participate in a number of fan and developer powwows, the developer’s conference now serves as the major opportunity for the Cupertino, Calif.-based software brain trust to build on its partnership with the far-flung developer community.
“This event is special because you get the best Apple engineers and developers together in one place,” Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said. “Apple can then completely lay out the road map for the next 12 months so that the developer community knows what’s coming and how to improve on it.”
Apple says its iOS 6 software will sport more than 200 new features, though some won’t be available on all devices. It will be a free upgrade for iPhones released since 2009, as well as last year’s and this year’s iPad models. It will also work with newer iPod Touch devices.
Without providing a specific date, Apple said the updated software will be released this fall. Apple typically upgrades its mobile software around the same time it starts selling a new iPhone. Last year, it happened in October to take advantage of the holiday shopping season. A preview version of the new iOS was made available to application developers starting Monday.
Here are some highlights of iOS 6:
Apple’s mobile devices will have a mapping program, built in-house.
In the past, Apple has given prominent billing to Google Inc.’s mapping app. But the two companies have increasingly become rivals as people buy more devices running Google’s Android operating system. Google also has been keeping some features, including turn-by-turn directions spoken aloud, exclusive to Android.
Apple’s new Maps application will have a voice navigation feature. It will have real-time traffic data and offer alternative routes as traffic conditions change.
It will also include “flyover” three-dimensional images taken by helicopters hired by the company to fly over major cities. Google said last week that it has been dispatching its own planes to produce similar 3D images that will soon be available on its mapping service.
Apple’s map program will be integrated with its Siri virtual assistant so that you can ask for directions and pose other questions.
The new software promises better integration with Facebook. The idea is you enter your password just once, and you can post to Facebook from a variety of apps. You can also post about websites directly from Apple’s Safari browser.
Facebook will be integrated with Apple’s online app store so that you can declare that you “like” specific apps there, as well as songs and movies in iTunes.
Events in Facebook’s calendar and birthdays of Facebook friends will also appear on your phone’s calendar.
IOS 6 will have enhancements to Siri, which interprets voice commands and talks back to the user. It is also coming to the iPad for the first time.
Since Siri was introduced in October with the iPhone 4S, Siri has been “studying up and learning a lot more,” says Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president for iPhone software. Siri’s sharpened intellect will be especially apparent when the voice assistant is fielding questions about movies, restaurants and other things, according to Forstall.
He demonstrated that by having Siri tell whether LeBron James or Kobe Bryant is the taller basketball player. Siri replies, “LeBron James appears to be slightly taller” as the cards of both players are displayed on an iPhone screen.
Apple says it is partnering with Yelp Inc. so that Siri can include ratings and prices of restaurants when you ask her about places to eat. The company is also partnering with OpenTable Inc. to make reservations.
Siri will now be available in more languages and more countries.
Apple also says it’s working with car manufacturers to let you use a button on the steering wheel to talk to Siri, allowing you to keep your hands on the road. Apple says General Motors Co., BMW AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes are among the automakers that have promised to offer Siri integration in the next 12 months.
Don’t want to be disturbed?
Apple’s new software will give you more options for preventing messages and text notifications from disturbing you at night, for instance.
You can control how and when you get back to people. If you can’t call someone back right away, you can set a reminder to call that person back later or have a text message sent directly to the caller.
There’s a “call when you leave” feature that reminds you to call back when you are leaving a building or office. The phone can detect when you are leaving.
Apple’s new Passbook feature will be a central place to keep your boarding passes, tickets and gift cards.
When you get to a Starbucks, for instance, the device will bring up your gift card if you have one and if you have the location feature turned on. Likewise, when you get to a movie theater or baseball stadium, the ticket will pop up. Passbook will also alert you to gate changes and flight delays once you have a boarding pass stored.
Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin suspects Passbook will be the foundation for a digital commerce hub that Apple is trying to implant on its mobile devices starting with the next iPhone. “This looks like a harbinger of a digital wallet that could handle a variety of transactions,” Golvin said.
Patrick May, Troy Wolverton and Jeremy C. Owens of the San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.