By Rex Crum, MarketWatch
Apple will kick off its WWDC event with a keynote on Monday morning. In a statement earlier this week, the company said the keynote will feature CEO Steve Jobs — who has been out on medical leave for most of the year — as well as other Apple executives, with the focus to be on the next versions of its iOS and Mac OSX operating systems and a new service called iCloud.
Most analysts do not expect a new iPhone to be announced, which the company has done at past WWDC keynotes. But Apple is well known for springing last-minute surprises at its events.
Susquehanna analyst Jeff Fidacaro told clients on Thursday that he expects the main focus of the event “to be on Steve Jobs returning to give the keynote and highlighting the software updates for the Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 and the launch of iCloud services” which could include streaming music and videos.
“Steve Jobs may also provide some hints as to the expected iPhone 4GS or iPhone 5 product cycles and new features and may disclose the company’s strategy for a low-priced iPhone that the Apple supply chain is working on and may be spec’d [designed] for emerging markets,” he wrote.
Jobs’ appearance at the event is noteworthy, since he has been on medical leave for several months. He last appeared in public for the company in early March to debut the iPad 2. His keynote on Monday may garner as much attention for his health and looks as it will for what he has to say about Apple’s upcoming slate of software offerings.
Jobs is on his second medical leave in a little more than two years, and after battling pancreatic cancer and going through a liver transplant.
The developers conference typically focuses on new software or updates to Apple’s line of Mac computers and this time around is no exception. Apple said it will show off the upcoming upgrade to its Mac OS X operating system. Continuing with naming its operating systems after the world’s big cats, the next version of Mac OS is called Lion.
Apple will also try to appeal to users of its iPhones, iPads and even iPod touches with the debut of iOS 5, the next upgrade to the company’s operating system for those mobile devices.
The item likely to get the most attention will be iCloud, what Apple calls its ”cloud services offering,” but what is mostly expected to be about is a cloud-based version of iTunes. Reportedly, iCloud will allow iTunes users easy access to their musical libraries and replace Apple’s Mobile Me service.
Most analysts expect the iPhone itself to be refreshed later in the year. Brian Marshall, who covers Apple for Gleacher & Co., took down his iPhone sales estimates for this year to 75 million units from 80 million, and lowered his forecast for 2012 to 95 million iPhones from 100 million. Marshall said the change was a result of a belief that the iPhone won’t be refreshed this summer, as has typically been done.
Marshall said he does believe Apple will put out a so-called “4s” version of the iPhone in the second half of this year, and an iPhone 5 in late 2012. Marshall has a buy rating and $450-a-share price target on Apple’s stock.
Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, also expects Apple to release its next generation of the iPhone, likely in September. Munster said in a recent research note that he believes Apple will sell 21 million iPhones in the company’s September business quarter.
Rex Crum is a reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco.