Amid plenty of build-up and anticipation, Apple is will kick off its developer conference today marking what is expected to usher in a new era of 'magic' for the company and for consumers.

Steve Jobs will take center stage at the San Francisco at 1pm EST, taking with him several new technologies that will pave the future of Apple's products, and perhaps the industry as a whole.

Jobs, who described the iPad experience as magic before the product defined and dominated the tablet space, is hoping to rekindle that sentiment with software upgrades to its core products the Mac and the iPhone.

It also has a brand-new service up its sleeve: the iCloud. The new service is a Web-based service that pits Apple against major rivals.

Google and Amazon are taking aim at the cloud space this year as well, but Apple hopes that some key features in the iCloud will distance it from the rest.

The new service will meld together Apple's strengths, exploiting its licensing and digital rights management, consumer friendliness, and a massive existing install base of more than 200 million iOS devices, plus iTunes users.

Of the features, the most anticipated of is a digital locker service, allowing users to store their music and possibly other multimedia into the cloud for access anywhere.

Apple's licensing relationships and 'controlled' platform may appeal to studios/publishers seeking to minimize piracy, while protecting their economics in a hosted model, RBC's Mike Abramsky  said this week. iCloud may also be differentiated via Apple's trademark user experience for convenience, simplicity, and discoverability.

One key strength is the ability for the iCloud to synch with a user's iTunes account. This means Apple can quickly scan customers' digital music libraries in iTunes and mirror their collections on its own servers.

This automatic track mirroring is in sharp contrast to Amazon's Cloud Drive and Google's Music Beta digital lockers. Those services require users to upload their whole libraries for remote access -- a process that could take hours.

Apart from iCloud, Jobs will introduce software upgrades at the conference, including Lion, its Mac OS X computer operating system and the next version of its mobile operating system.

The iOS -- or the operating system that powers the iPhone -- is the maestro that manages all that fancy hardware running, and turns that from a pile of silicon to a rich user experience.

Reports indicate that the new OS for its iPhone, iPads, and mobile devices will have Twitter deeply integrated into the platform, as well as deep integration into the cloud, of course.

Still, observers cannot help but feel the consummate showman, Jobs, may have a surprise or two up his sleeve.

There certainly could be a surprise, said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart, told Reuters. Apple is known for just one more thing.