Maps, better photo-sharing likely from Apple, analysts say

Don’t expect a new iPhone, analysts say. Instead, look for new software and hardware rollouts when Apple meets with 5,000 developers, the folks who create the apps and software for Apple products.

The big development at this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference will be new map and photo-sharing features for the iOS operating system that runs its iPhone, iPad and the iPod Touch, says Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu. Some 365 million iOS devices have been sold to date.

Apple is expected to replace Google Maps on its products with its own mapping program, Wu says.

“They really believe they can deliver a better experience in maps than anyone else, including Google,” Wu says. “Apparently, the Apple Maps app is going to be much sleeker and cooler.”

Google on Wednesday announced upgrades to its Google Maps and Google Earth services as the rivalry between the two companies for the loyalty of customers and developers intensifies. Google said devices that run its Android mobile operating system soon will have access to Google Maps on their devices whether or not Internet access is available.

Apple is also expected to upgrade its devices’ photo-sharing abilities, one of the most popular uses of the iPhone, Wu says. “Photo sharing in iOS isn’t as easy as Instagram or Facebook,” Wu says. “Apple can do better.” Facebook recently bought photo-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion.

Wu and Brian Marshall, an analyst with investment researcher ISI Group, predict Apple will offer refreshed hardware in new models of its iMac and MacBook laptop computers. They also expect the company to spend lots of time showing off new features of Mountain Lion, the updated operating system for Mac computers.

Marshall expects the laptops will have higher-resolution displays, improved battery life and slimmer designs.

The iPhone refresh “won’t be until the fall,” he says. The iPhone 4S, the latest model, was introduced last October.

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