WWDC 2009 Preview Part 2: iPhone OS 3.0 & Snow Leopard

In the case of iPhone OS 3.0, we already have a fairly good idea of its feature set, performance, and reliability from the series of developer betas that have been released over the past several months. Although Apple has not yet made an official statement as to its final release date, there has been none of the hedging that we’ve seen with Snow Leopard; we wouldn’t be surprised to discover that some type of delay, or a “Final Beta” similar to Snow Leopard’s, will be announced today….but the most likely outcome is a release in the near term if not actually today.

Obviously, we’re very excited about that and we know all of you are as well. If we’re forced to wait for one more round of debugging to be carried out and for developers to test their apps against a set of new features, we’ll live…but many things about the dev process thus far, and the state of the mobile operating system itself, suggest that a release is imminent without significant further delay.

Despite Apple’s statements at the iPhone OS 3.0 Event in March that the new system would focus on features and new APIs for developers to leverage — notably, Background Notifications & In-App Micro-Purchasing among a thousand-plus others — the performance of the latest beta offers several noticeable improvements over the current OS v2.2.1. App launch times, user interface rendering, 3D graphics, nearly all aspects of picture-taking with the built-in camera, and countless other areas have seen quite significant optimization.

Given that debug code tends to bog down developmental Apple operating systems right up until the day of final code freeze (AKA “Golden Master”), we can expect at least some further performance improvements from the final release….and a lot of work has gone into iPhone OS 3.0 since the last developer beta. Free for all iDevice owners except first-generation iPod Touch models (for whom it will be a $10 purchase, well worth every penny!), with any luck we’ll be able to post an analysis of exactly how existing iDevices will benefit from the upgrade in the very near future.

As for Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard,” there is somewhat more certainty about its release status — Apple quietly admitted a few weeks ago that we should only expect a ‘Final Beta’ release for developers (there had been some question about a “Public Beta” for the adventurous power user, but that is considerably less than likely given Apple’s history in this area)….leaving the final release to take place some time in late Summer — no later than September 15th, according to internal documents provided by reliable sources to Rumors.

With any luck, it will come sooner — the end of August, or perhaps even earlier — but given that we’ll most likely be given an official date, even if only in approximate terms, today….it seems pointless to speculate further with only a few hours left before the Keynote.

The big questions on the topic of Snow Leopard are its features, and exactly which Macs will support its full feature set (some early Intel Macs have graphics processors which only barely support OpenCL, and early Intel embedded “GMA” series GPUs may support few if any OpenCL features) — or, in fact, be supported by the new OS at all (PowerPC).

On the subject of SL’s feature set, we know that Apple has emphasized 10.6 as an “under the hood” upgrade with few visible new features….but as its development cycle has lengthened and the challenges that Apple faces in the marketplace (Windows 7 being only one of many) have continued to evolve, so has the roadmap for Snow Leopard.

Rumors has previously reported that a Finder overhaul, which is not entirely in code but also at least subtly in appearance and functionality, has been in the works since late last year….and many rumor-mongers have dished dirt in recent months about “Project Marble,” a purported revamping of the Mac OS X user interface to make it more consistent — not only within itself, but also with its iDevice & AppleTV cousins.

We continue to believe that these projects are an integral part of Snow Leopard, but as to how visually apparent they will be….based on our previous “sneak peeks” arranged by sources at these features and various internal builds of Mac OS X 10.6, the differences are largely subtle. But it’s been several weeks since our last in-depth look at those projects, and it’s entirely possible that the visible impact of the Cocoa Finder and Marble have been punched up.

It’s also possible, as has frequently been debated back & forth both within the walls of Infinite Loop and elsewhere, that the new Finder and perhaps even some elements of ‘Marble’ will be held back for the Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” release slated for next year. Several other “above the hood” projects in the works have been shifted to the Lion roadmap this year, including a pervasive Multi-Touch interface overhaul making it possible for touch-screen Macs to be used without any other input devices by scaling up the size of many UI elements such as window widgets and menu bars such as the Bookmarks, Navigation, and Tab bars in Safari.

Stay tuned to Rumors for LIVE Coverage of today’s WWDC Keynote address — which may include a surprise appearance by Steve Jobs if word from outside the Moscone Center at this moment proves to be true! — and ongoing coverage of the developer conference all week long. Don’t forget to follow @MacOSRumors on Twitter for even more of the hottest breaking news & dirt!

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