Meandering Thoughts on Dub Dub
It’s the eve of WWDC 2013 and San Francisco is alive with developers, designers, and journalists pulling into the city in taxies and heading to the nearest bar to see friends. Friends that they probably only see once a year in person. It’s a scene that is completely lost on those that have never been to Apple’s only annual conference; those on the outside simply witness the new products, the keynote and that’s it but for attendees of WWDC (even without a badge) it’s the centre of the Apple world for 5 days. Everyone and anyone that covers, comments, or is associated with Apple is in San Francisco this week (except myself, ironically).
Also different is this coverage of WWDC from the author. Unlike previous years this will not be presented as a comprehensive rumours roundup but more of a thought journey. There’s two reasons for this, primarily because there’s more than a dozen rumour roundups already out there but second because of secrecy.
Tim Cook said this distinct line at the AllThingD’s opening keynote in 2012 “we’re going to double down on secrecy on products.” In a way even I scoffed at this a little and I wasn’t alone. In the weeks and months that followed this comment from Cook we saw much of what Apple was working on, upon revealing the design of the iPhone 5 was no surprise to anyone and the existence of the iPad mini was well known.
Fast forward to now and we’re a little over 24 hours to go before the WWDC keynote and all we have rumour wise is a cacophony of silence. And when I say rumours I mean those product leaks that make it clear what’s coming and those rumours that pinpoint the details so well that it takes all the buzz out of the keynote.
Whatever Cook set out to do he is achieving, it’s not easy to set out and change the mindset of a company the size of Apple. The business of publishing Apple rumours is a lucrative one and that no doubt translates to staff being under pressure for information or for them sometimes feeling the desire to leak. But surely and slowly the holes are sealing up; Apple will never be water tight but this is as close as I’ve seen the company for years.
The other aspect to be considered is that Apple has always been excellent at keeping secrets on the software side of the business. The reasons are obvious: the software very rarely leaves Apple’s campus where as hardware will inevitable end up in the hands of a dozen or so manufacturers and assemblers. The scope for leaks on the hardware side is considerably larger.
WWDC has in the past been a stage for Apple to unleash new hardware. There have been new Macs and there have been new iPhones. For reasons that I’ve outlined a few times, Apple is beyond iOS hardware before the fall (late-September, October) but Macs aren’t out of the question.
There’s a number of signs pointing towards Mac refreshes. Last year at WWDC Apple refreshed the entire MacBook lineup with Ivy Bridge processors and unleashed the first Mac with a Retina display. Intel has had its latest architecture on the market publicly for a few weeks now—it’s known as Haswell.
So not only is there an upgrade path available but the precedence of Mac hardware updates at WWDC also exists.
As stated expect those updates to include a push to Intel’s Haswell chips, we may also see the introduction of 802.11ac WiFi chips. It’s still not quite the time for a Retina MacBook Air so those waiting will probably have to wait another year.
The question is whether Apple will update the long overdue Mac Pro. The top of the line workstation was updated last year but immediately criticised for not bringing the latest technology to Apple’s expensive desktop machine. Apple took the unusual line of confirming that a bigger, better update would come “later in 2013”. We’re now nearing the halfway point of 2013 so the update is surely nearing but despite being a great stage for showing off new Mac Pro hardware Apple’s growing focus on the consumer market with the WWDC keynote will push it a little further out.
Here in the UK we’ve been lucky enough to have had access to Spotify for a number of years. It was when such a product comes along that you begin to wonder why the largest seller of music around the world can’t supply a similar, amazing service. However it’s because of Apple’s size and dominance that bringing a streaming music service to market has been troublesome. The first problem is the reach that Apple would be going for, Spotify and similar services are available in a handful of markets, Apple would be pushing for hundreds. The second is concern that Apple would be eating its own music store sales (concern from music labels that is) and that is what I’m guessing has led to what I suspect will be a massive compromise.
We’re working off conjecture here but iRadio as it has been dubbed seems more in line with Pandora than Spotify or Rdio. For those unfamiliar with these services the distinction is quite large. Radio services work like a custom radio station, learning over time and supplying songs based on tastes or genre, often punctuated with adverts but limited by an inability to skip too often or select a song. Services like Spotify are just giant catalogs of music able to be streamed.
If Apple goes the streaming radio route as the rumours suggest then I see it not being the success that Apple will be hoping for. Primarily for the reasons that Apple dislikes the current status quo of television is that it’s a linear stream that cannot be changed. iRadio won’t be this extreme but I do enjoy being able to pick a song and play it over, and over, and over again. I’ll hold judgement for when it’s in the public though.
On Apple TV
The rumours have dragged on and on about what Apple will do in the television space. Any interview or investor call involves some mention of the TV space and how Apple will enter. Almost all of those occasions include an executive answering by talking of the continued success of Apple’s current offering, of the growing sales.
If you ask me this is Apple’s way of saying “we’re happy with our hardware offering”, or for the benefit of Gene Munster translated roughly to “we’re not going to make a TV”.
Here’s where I see Apple going next and I’m going to annoy people and read a little into Apple’s pre-WWDC marketing. There’s a banner outside Moscone West (pictured above) in San Francisco that reads “Where a whole new world is developing”. Does that suggest a whole new leg for the stool? A whole new platform?
In my view Apple tackles the TV space with software, with the obvious combination of hardware to complement but doesn’t lead with it. An Apple TV SDK would put both Microsoft and Sony on the backfoot with their expensive, gaming and TV focused games consoles that they’ll be attempting to pedal later this year.
Of course for Apple to break into the gaming on TV space then there will need to be a controller sold separately, and I’m not in the school of thought that Apple will rely on iOS devices for control.
Do I see Apple TV development being Apple’s big announcement, a whole new world of developing, something to fill all those empty sessions on the WWDC schedule? Yes I do. (Do I also have a hat at the ready to be eaten? Yes.)
It all comes down to this. The rumours have focused on it (with limited detail) and the eyes of the world are focused on it. Apple’s most successful platform relies on iOS edging ahead of the competition that has admittedly done an amazing job of catching up and in some cases careering ahead. iOS of 2012 does very much feel like the iOS of 2007 and that’s a problem but I suspect it’s a problem that is being tackled.
iOS is not just in need of a visual overhaul though. The way it works needs a rethink too, we’re in an age of faster hardware, faster connections, more pixels and bigger batteries. iOS doesn’t take advantage of this and remains in the mindset of the slow, RAM limited, slow connection world of 2007.
So whilst a visual refresh led by Jonny Ive is welcome I also wish for a rethink of the concept of iOS. The problem for Apple is that whether it be Android on one side or Windows Phone on the other it’s extremely hard to innovate in this area and innovation is something everyone expects from Apple. However, I trust that they’ll nail it.
I also see problems. Android has the power of Google’s services and with that has been able to produce Now an amazing service that can seamlessly fit in with day to day life supplying a constant stream of data about traffic conditions, public transport links, the weather, and what’s happening around you socially. It’s possible because Google has that data. iOS has Google Now but it’s tucked away behind an icon, an icon that I have to actively click on to get the information.
Apple doesn’t have this data to do their own solution, their mapping is poor, their data sets are worse and they have no understanding of social. I’m interested to see how they tackle this problem, if they don’t even bother to do that then expect many to start looking at other mobile solutions.
On OS X
Last year Apple took the unprecedented step of showing OS X off to journalists before an official announcement. The first time they showed a live demo of OS X Mountain Lion was during the WWDC keynote, several months after the announcement.
This year things are far quieter. Rumours point towards Siri, multiple monitor support for fullscreen apps, Maps integration and possibly a refreshed Finder. But as with many software rumours, details are scant.
The general expectation is for this version of OS X to be a more of an incremental update. The UI changes that often filter down from iOS will do so in the following years.
On Product Cycles
Last October I wrote up my thoughts on Apple’s product cycle. I never published those thoughts, they seemed a bit crazy. I was proposing the idea that Apple would spend the first six months of 2013 without releasing a single product. That they would break from their March iPad release and that Apple’s season of product releases would be four months long and start in June.
The prediction was nothing new, for years I’ve been baffled by Apple releasing new iPad hardware three months before showing off a brand new version of iOS. Now the cycles are set, in fact they’re almost like clockwork.
iOS and OS X refreshes kick off the season with a mix of new Macs dotted along the way. The new iPhone (and a possible variation in product line) and new iPads will come in late-September or October when iOS has completed its developer only beta testing. It’s simple really.
This does present problems for Apple in terms of manufacturing, keeping the marketing message clean and also what it does in the those quiet six months at the start of the year. But challenges I’m sure that the company is on top of, having had a pretty decent practice run in 2012.
So another WWDC is upon us and considering the amount of rumours out there we’re going to be in for a real surprise filled showed. As is common Apple looks unlikely to live stream the keynote so those not lucky enough to be in the room will have to rely on text and photo streams. [Update: Apple is video streaming the Keynote on the Apple TV and on the web.]
The keynote kicks off at the following times on Monday, June 10th:
10:00AM – Pacific
11:00AM – Mountain
12:00PM – Central
1:00PM – Eastern
6:00PM – London
7:00PM – Paris
9:00PM – Moscow
2:00AM – Tokyo (Tuesday 12th)
4:00AM – Sydney (Tuesday 12th)
World of Apple will provide analysis after the keynote and during the week. Follow myself @alexbrooks on Twitter for regular updates on WWDC goings on and the keynote and follow @worldofapple for major announcements.