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Apple's 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference: Much Ado About Nothing?


A big-screen iPhone is what really matters to investors.

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Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Worldwide Developers Conference 2014 begins Monday, and that means it's speculation time for tech sector observers.

I spent some time this morning thumbing (or whatever the virtual equivalent of thumbing is) through dozens WWDC previews to compile an informal consensus of sorts:

1) iOS 8 is a no-brainer, but it's likely to be a relatively minor update in terms of functionality. There's some rumbling about real improvements to Maps and Siri, however. There's also some speculation that Apple will release a serious health-tracking app called Healthbook, as reported by 9to5Mac. If true, we may finally see a wearable device, possible the long-rumored mythical iWatch, that would be responsible for the physical collection of user data.

2) A significant OS X update is widely expected to be rolled out, taking on the influence of the flat design scheme of iOS 7 (which itself will likely continue in iOS 8).

3) Hardware rumors are all over the place. There's talk of a new Apple TV, MacBook Air with Retina Display, an 8GB iPhone 5S, and an iPad with a 12-inch or bigger screen that could also be a hybrid. However, since WWDC isn't a hardware event, it's hard to put much stock into these discussions.

4) Last Sunday [subscription required], Financial Times published a report that Apple would unveil a connected home software platform at WWDC, which makes sense given the slowdowns in smartphone and tablet demand. The gadget industry needs new growth markets, and the so-called "Internet of things" may be the logical next step.

5) Given the acquisition of Beats, there's some expectation that Dr. Dre and/or Jimmy Iovine will pop their heads in, possibly at Monday morning's keynote. It would be ideal to get some clarification on the future direction of Apple/Beats music efforts, but there likely isn't much to say beyond the existing talking points. It's very possible that even the insiders aren't yet set on a course.

There are a lot of "mystery" slots on Apple's WWDC schedule with titles like "This One Is Sealed" and "We're Not Telling," but remember that this is a developers conference -- not a consumer event. Those sessions are likely related to what's announced in the opening keynote, and it's not clear that the new announcements (like iOS updates) will be real revenue drivers.

Odds are there won't be anything that moves the stock significantly. At this point, there's one thing investors need to see: a big-screen iPhone to take back market share from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Android-powered rivals like Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), and HTC (OTCMKTS:HTCXF). And based on historical patterns, the 2014 WWDC is unlikely to be the venue for a new iPhone announcement.

It's especially critical because those same big-screen phones are putting a huge dent in tablet demand. If anything's going to cannibalize the iPad, it should be another Apple product.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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