Once again, I won’t be able to attend WWDC. I am very excited though that on Monday we will be able to see what Apple has in store for us for the next few years, because I believe that this event will be more about announcing the foundation of things to come than actual products we will be able to buy in June.
From a developer perspective, Xcode 6, iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 should include enough new functionality to keep us busy for the next few months. Support for larger iPhones will probably translate into a lot of work to prepare old apps for the official launch of the new devices. Something similar is to be expected for Mac developers who will have to deal with a flatter overall design including updated controls. I certainly hope that the changes are more than skin deep, because while appearance is important and having a uniform look and feel across Apple devices can make the user’s life much easier, when I use my Mac, it is all about what I can do with it, great looks come second.
What I would like to see announced at WWDC are improvements around iCloud, namely lower pricing and APIs for Windows, Linux and Android. Writing a cross-platform app that syncs data among devices is not very difficult, there are many scalable document based data stores than can handle this task (Cloudant comes to mind). The problem is persuading customers to pay for the service. Apple on the other hand can do that much more effectively because they already have a large customer base that use the free service or pay for iCloud once a year and get a lot of value by using the service with not one but multiple apps. The value proposition is much better. Sure, there are competing services, like Dropbox, but I like the Apple option better because I can easily assume that all Apple customers have an account.
On the hardware front, I do not have many expectations. Apple has been unable to keep hardware leaks from happening in China in the past and right now we haven’t seen enough credible information to believe a product launch is imminent. If there are any announcements it will be like last year’s MacPro, a simple preview with a launch date, to generate pent-up demand.
I have no doubt that WWDC 2014 will all be about announcing the infrastructure for things to come, namely new services that will be available only to customers with modern hardware (fingerprint reader and the M7 processor as well as future devices) which will generate a need to upgrade old devices and leave the competition in the dust for a while. Apple has had several years to build the infrastructure and plan for this moment. On Monday we will finally understand what Apple has been working on. We may not understand the full reach of these announcements until Apple launches their new devices in the fall, but it will be an exciting event. I will be spending a lot of time on the treadmill next week, watching the WWDC session videos on my Apple TV.
Next Tuesday Apple will unveil a lot of goodies. It is widely expected that the Cupertino based company will unveil new iPads (probably with some new cover), updated MacBook Pros and a totally overhauled Mac Pro, as well as many software updates to both its consumer and professional software offerings. That should be more than enough to justify a lot of excitement among the Apple faithful.
That said, there are still many unanswered questions. Take me for example, I am looking to replace my first generation unibody iMac and would also want to buy a second monitor that I could use both as a second screen for the new computer and as the main screen for my Mac Book Pro when I need to do some work at home. The issue I have right now is that the 27” iMac does not align with the 27” Apple Thunderbolt Monitor. This is a big mistake that is preventing many iMac owners from buying a second monitor. Apple has to know about this issue, since there are complaints on its forums, and will most probably fix it at some point, hopefully on Tuesday.
Right now there is little chat about an update to the Apple Thunderbolt Display, but there are reasons to hope for an updated model. The first reason is that with the release a new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 2, Apple needs to either update their Displays to support it or release some kind of Thunderbolt 2 dock. My money is on the first option. The second reason is that the current design of the Thunderbolt Display is reminiscent of the previous generation iMacs and that a slimmer design is long overdue. If Apple updates their monitors and they align nicely with the new iMacs, my problem is solved.
On the other hand, if Apple upgrades the Thunderbolt Display but does not fix the alignment issue, the solution is to buy two monitors and a Mac mini (or a Mac Pro, but that will likely fall out of my budget range). That is more slightly more expensive and I will get less bang for my bucks, unless the Mac mini is also updated on Tuesday (hopefully with Thunderbolt 2, a new Haswell processor and 802.11ac wireless networking, which would be nice. This is a possibility, but we don’t know for sure if this will happen, since no rumors point in that direction (although it would be logical to expect an update to the mini at this point).
Of course, there are other possibilities. Apple could choose to release new (expensive) 4K monitors for the Mac Pro and not update their current products. That would be great for pros, but would leave me wondering if I should invest my money in products that haven’t been updated in quite a while.
The fact is that even though we already know many details of what will be announced on Tuesday, for Mac users there still are many unanswered questions that will keep us excited. We may well be riding a truck in a car age, but what can I say, I still love my truck.
Update: It seems that i was overly optimistic. No new Mac mini and no new monitors. Who knows, there may be new monitors in store when Apple releases the Mac Pro in December. I will wait patiently…
This year, for a third year in a row, I unfortunately won’t be able to attend WWDC. I certainly hope to be back next year though, as I really miss the excitement and the creative energy that you can feel during the week long event. When you are used to attend large customer events organized by corporations like Oracle, IBM or MS, a smaller event like WWDC, filled with passionate developers from all over the world, is a breeze of fresh air.
As a user, I have much higher expectations, though and I can imagine that this will be the case for most of the people who will listen to the keynote tomorrow. There will most likely be some hardware announcements, but given the fact that there have been no serious leaks from Apple’s supply chain, I wouldn’t set my expectations too high.That means no new iPhones, iPads or even iWatch tomorrow. There may be some upgrades to the laptop models, with faster wireless networking and new CPUs, but nothing really ground breaking. The lack of news seem to indicate that the announcements will come primarily from work performed at Apple’s HC in Cupertino, under a shadow of secrecy. That means new system software (we already know about iOS 7 and OS X 10.9) and new services (iRadio, which has now be rumored for months). While I do believe that much time will be devoted to iOS 7 (and a little less to OS X), I think most of the surprises will come from the services side. Apple has spent billions over the last few years on their data centers and we still don’t know exactly what they plan to do with them. While they serve billions of apps, movies, songs, notifications and iMessages every day, in addition to syncing devices and provide remote backups, there is a perception in the industry that the cloud services capacity they have been building is well above what they are delivering right now. As a result, I expect Apple to emerge tomorrow as a new Cloud powerhouse. What does that mean? Well, I am not sure, but I am convinced that they will announce an expanded and improved set of services as well as outline a vision for the future that will be both compelling and credible. Allow users to edit iWork documents in their browsers and offer improved collaboration options? Maybe. Share video on-line? Most probably. Improve syncing? Absolutely. A completely new service? I think we should count on it.
Tomorrow will be an important day for Apple. These announcements should allow them to further differentiate from the competition, making hardware even less important than it is today, while putting emphasis on the ecosystem. Users may be slightly disappointed in the short term, as many of the announcements will not be available immediately, but will benefit immensely as soon as the new OSes are released, in the Fall.
Last Friday I flew from Mexico City to Madrid to spend the New Year Celebration with my parents. I had loaded my iPad with plenty of games and videos to keep me busy during the 10 hours flight. Unfortunately, the plane couldn’t land at Barajas airport because of bad weather and we were rerouted to Valencia. Therefore, with no power left on my iPad, I had to switch devices and start using my iPhone to keep me entertained until we finally made it to Madrid, four hours late. It was a great opportunity to play Karateka, a great game that I first enjoyed on my Apple II as a teenager. The landing was rough and everything I had laying on the seat next to mine fell to the floor. I picked up my iPad as well as my headphones, but failed to realize that my iPhone had also fallen to the floor.
I left the plane, and moved to immigration. When I was searching for my passport, I realized I had left my iPhone on the plane. Since I wasn’t allowed to get back to the plane, I immediately moved to the Aeromexico counter. I explained the situation and they notified the airplane crew. After a few minutes they told me that they hadn’t found the phone, but that the cleaning crew would return it to me if they found it. As soon as I got home, I used Find my iPhone to lock it remotely and get a notification as soon as it was found.
The next day, Aeromexico informed me that the phone had not been found and that the plane had returned to Mexico.
The phone was in airplane mode when I lost it, which meant Find my iPhone would not work until that mode was switched off and after a day, the phone had likely run out of power. I kept checking Find my iPhone twice a day, but the phone kept appearing as turned off. My hopes of recovering my iPhone were quickly fading.
On Tuesday, four days after losing my phone, I was working on my MacBook Pro, while watching a movie on my iPad mini. Suddently, the following alert appeared on both devices.
As you can see, Messages was asking me if I wanted to add a new phone number to my iChat identity. I had the phone number of the person who had found my phone! Not only did I have his phone number, I had his full name (probably obtained from the SIM he inserted). I immediately used Find my iPhone on my iPad to try to obtain the location of this person, but the phone had already been turned off. I tried to call him, but nobody answered the phone.
At that point, I didn’t know if the person who was in possession of my iPhone was a passenger, a member of the crew or an employee of some company in charge of cleaning the plane, but I decided to go back to the airport and present the information I had collected. From there on, the events unfolded very quickly. The Aeromexico person that listened to my story knew the person who had my phone. He was a contractor working for the cleaning company. The manager said he would take care. The next day, they sent me my iPhone home. The only thing missing was my micro-SIM, which I assume was thrown away. I am very pleased with the way Aeromexico handled the situation.
I think this is an interesting story because I was able to recover my phone without using Find my iPhone. I fact, I never got an e-mail notification that my iPhone had been located from the iCloud service, nor was my phone locked remotely, probably because the person who “recovered” my phone removed its SIM. However, Messages notified me as soon as a new SIM was inserted. In this case, Messages clearly saved the day.
On Sunday I will fly to San Francisco to attend WWDC. This will be my fourth WWDC in a row. From what I see, most of the sessions will be a rehash of what we saw last year. That isn’t too bad as it will allow me to focus on what is new in Snow Leopard and iPhone 3.0 and spend more time at the labs.
People seem to have very high expectations from this WWDC, which isn’t unusual. Most expect new handsets and a hopeful handful still expect the mythical Apple Tablet to be finally announced. I am not that interested by new hardware. New handsets will come at some time, that we know, and since we know that they will be running iPhone OS 3.0, which is already available for current devices, I really don’t care if they are announced at the show or two months from now. As for the tablet, my guess is that we will have to keep waiting.
However, most people seem to be much less interested by Snow Leopard. That is probably a mistake. Apple has deliberately set low expectations for this release and is probably set to over deliver in several areas, even though nothing has been announced. Regarding the new features that we know about, like Grand Central and OpenCL, we have no exact idea what kind of impact they will represent in terms of performance gains. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Like last year, I will keep my finger crossed for Windows and iPhone versions of iChat which would make the Mac version more useful.
On the iPhone front, I have high expectations for significant third party hardware device announcements that can be controlled from the phone. Building a strong ecosystem around the iPhone is key to its long term success and Apple has been very clever to open the development of non-trivial hardware extensions to third parties. It would be nice to see Arduino work with Apple to allow hardware geeks easily create new hardware gadgets for the iPhone. That would open a new market for the phone in universities all over the world.
When Apple announced the iPhone OS 3.0 last week, most users where pleased. This new version addresses most of the problems that customers have been complaining about since the launch of the 3G iPhone. Features like cut, copy and paste or the ability to finally sync the Notes application with a Mac or a PC will definitively make a lot of people happy.
However, despite all the improvements that Apple has included in this new release, it is clear that this is just a transition product that will improve the user experience but that nobody can seriously define a revolutionary. Those who expected the iPhone OS to run on new types of devices, like a larger tablet or a smaller, cheaper phone are probably disappointed. There seems to be nothing in this release that allows existing applications to run on different form factor devices. That doesn’t mean that we won’t see a new generation of iPhones relatively soon. In fact AppleInsider has already reported on some of the features the new phones are expected to sport when they are released this summer. However, these products will be evolutionary (better camera, improved speed, etc), not revolutionary.
So, what should we think of those rumors that tell us that Apple has been shopping for 10” LCD screens? They might be still be true, but they just won’t be for a device running the iPhone OS. That probably means that if Apple chooses to release a Netbook later this year, it will most likely be a Mac, or at least a device much closer to a Mac than to an iPhone.
Earlier today Apple sent out invitations to the media for a special event next Tuesday to be held in the Apple Town Hall on Apple’s Cupertino campus to discuss the upcoming iPhone 3.0 software and SDK.
Immediately rumors started to fly about possible new features to be included in the new version of the OS. While this update may bring us some new features like cut & paste support or tethering that users have been clamoring for over the last few months, this is not likely to be the most relevant part of the announcement.
Why do I believe that? I will start with a disclaimer, I do not have sources within Apple. This is just logical reasoning, based on what we know. So, what do we know? Apple could implement tethering, MMS support or cut and paste without having to release a new SDK, months before launching a new device. There is more to this announcement than building excitement for the next OS release. Apple needs the developer community to start working on their applications to provide a smooth migration path for users.
I can only think of three reasons that could explain this urge from Apple to mobilize its developer community. The most obvious reason is that it includes major changes that require programmers to test their applications for compatibility. The next one is that it includes significant new capabilities that the developers could leverage to create new applications. Finally, Apple could be releasing a new version of the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that would make development much easier for unexperienced programmers.
So, what does this mean for the average user? Well, it depends on which of the previous options turns to be true.
What would require widespread testing of all current applications? There has been much discussion over the Internet about new form factors for the device. Some wish Apple would release an iPhone nano, while others are waiting for a larger iPhone tablet. Right now, this cannot be achieved, because the GUI is not scalable. Applications are designed for a 480*320 display. If Apple is planning to release new models with larger or smaller screens, this will have to change and it will require significant work from developers. Look for “Resolution Independence”. Other hardware changes, such as a higher resolution camera or expanded sound capabilities could also require changes to the APIs that would require less but still significant testing. We may not know how the new iPhone models that Apple will certainly launch later this year will look like, but we will have a pretty good idea as to what to expect feature wise.
There is no doubt that the App Store has been a total success. With over 25,000 applications released since its inception, the iPhone is now the mobile platform that offers the largest software catalog. Still, many enterprises find it difficult to hire the talent to create business apps. If Apple wants to fully crack the corporate market, it needs a simpler development environment for those reluctant to learn Objective-C. I do not really believe that Apple is moving in this direction, but it is a possibility.
Finally, there could be significant new APIs added to the SDK. For example, currently support for SOAP and REST services, as well as XML, is spotty at best. These new APIs could open the door to a whole new generation of applications without requiring Apple to release radically new products.
The good news is that these options are not exclusive, and therefore, we may see all of them turn true next week. However, that is probably wishful thinking. On Tuesday we will know.
Last year over 5,000 persons attended WWDC. At the time it represented a new record for the annual Apple developer event. The result was fueled by the imminent launch Mac OS X Leopard. This year, with 25 days to go before Steve Jobs addresses developers at the keynote speech, Apple has announced that for the first time ever, the conference has sold out.
I am sure that most do not realize the significance of this announcement. In the past, Apple has used many dirty tricks to artificially increase the number of attendants to WWDC. For example, there used to be a separate conference for Quicktime content creators. I believe that Apple cancelled that event two years ago and folded it within WWDC. Last year there was a session track for web developers, presumably to pave the way for new web applications targeting iPhone users. The result was that if you engaged in conversation with people you didn’t know you were likely to find out that they had absolutely no clue about Objective-C or Xcode.
This year things are likely to be quite different. Apple no longer needs tricks to fill Moscone West up. Gone are the tracks for web developers and video content creators. There still is a track for System Administrators but the rest of the sessions are designed exclusively for developers. This means that even if attendance only grows to six thousand (the Convention Center was already packed last year), this will still represent a very significant increase in the number of real programmers attending the event. It is a clear sign that many of those 200,000 persons who downloaded the iPhone SDK are actually using it and want to be prepared for the launch of the app store at the end of June. This is going to be the best WWDC ever!
The 2008 Consumer Electronic Show is winding down. As usual, there were lots of announcements, although very few were actually significant. Following that trend, Bill Gate’s farewell keynote was fun but light in content. This certainly marks the end of an era. We will miss you, Bill.
In fact the most discussed topic during this week at CES was the decision taken by Warner to abandon the HD DVD format. It is widely expected that this announcement will quickly lead to the demise of this format. This is certainly a victory for consumers, even though Blu-Ray is more expensive than HD-DVD, and sends a clear message to the CE industry (Sony included) about the need for standardization.
Many have been quick to point out that Blu-Ray’s victory may be short lived and that in the near future digital downloads will replace physical media for high-end video. No need to be a rocket scientist to know that this is true. Still, it will take a couple of years before most people in developed markets can download a 20GB file in less than two hours (the average movie viewing time). That means that there is an opportunity for movie studios to make some real money out of HD media over the next five years or so.
What is interesting, is that unlike previous revolutions (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray), digital downloads will not compete with previous the standard by offering higher quality but instead will focus on convenience exactly like the iPod which offered less audio fidelity than CDs but was much more convenient. Right now we still do not have the iPod equivalent for digital video. Sure, media centers and next-gen consoles like the XBox 360 and the PS3 are attractive for those who get their content illegally and store it on a collection of big hard drives but what about the average user who wants access to a large library of content, potentially all movies ever made? The solution is clearly a video on demand (VOD) system and not a media centre.
Apple, Microsoft, Google, cable companies and many others seem to have understood that trend perfectly well and are racing against each other to be able to be the first company to provide a viable solution. Right now cable companies offer a very limited amount of titles and CE companies until now had no rentals, which is key to succeed in this market. That will change quickly, starting next week with Apple expected announcements. However, competitors will follow quickly as this is in the best interest of content owners. Since there is no standard for video rentals we can expect competition to be as harsh as the blood bath we witnessed during 2007 Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD death match. However, in this case the consequences for consumers may be much more beneficial. Since rentals disappear after viewing the movie, the is no concern about losing your investment. Consumers will take their decision based exclusively on price, ease of use, media quality and library size (as well as product availability and awareness).
Who will win this war? Google, Apple and Microsoft are already well positioned as they have demonstrated that they know how to handle large collections of digital media. In the short term Apple has an edge with the popularity of the iPod, while Microsoft can leverage their huge XBox installed base. Right now I am discounting Sony which is in my opinion more focused on making Blu-Ray a complete success than in competing in this emerging market. In the end, it will come down to each company’s ability to partner with content producers as well as creating attractive, reasonably cheap devices. Since this will be a long war, expect the company with the most focus to ultimately win.
Yesterday the Mac press was abuzz with a new patent filing from Apple regarding an iMac-like notebook docking station. While many companies patent ideas just to prove to shareholders that they are innovating, many seem to believe that this patent is indicative of things to come next week at MacWorld Expo.
I am not convinced, although the idea seems intriguing. Having a laptop that can dock behind a large monitor could allow Apple to sell more monitors and make MacBooks more attractive to potential customers who want to enjoy more screen real estate at their usual workplace. It is an incremental improvement over existing solutions. The problem is that Apple rarely settles for incremental improvements, they tend to prefer radical new designs. So, what if that laptop was not really a laptop but instead an Internet tablet, a larger iPhone if you prefer. This device would work as a standard Macintosh computer when docked and as a portable internet device when used as a stand-alone product.
I have been thinking about how such a device would work and it is clear to me that in order to save energy, this dual personality is required. When docked, the processor could run faster and be refrigerated efficiently using any of the technologies described in the patent. Undocked, with the processor running at lower frequencies, no refrigeration would be required, just like in the case of the iPhone. However, customers are not likely to accept a device that runs their existing Mac applications slower when on the move. That is why such a device would need to behave as a “super-iPhone” with a multi-touch UI and not as a Mac when not connected to the dock. This may seem a weird idea. After all, the reason we buy laptops is to have our computers with us at all time, right? Yes, but most of us do not use our laptop the same way at home or at the office as we do while traveling. At the office I generally create content, outside I display content. That means that I usually need more horsepower at the office than outside. In fact, I would argue that if that such a device allowed me to display presentations, read digital books, browse the Internet, watch videos, listen to my music and update my blog, that would cover most of my needs while on the go. Sure, I would lack the capability to work on my projects with XCode at a Starbucks but that is something most users do not care about. The nice thing about such a design is that it could transform tablet users into Mac users with just the purchase of the dock (which would presumably be optional).
So, can such a device be built today? Sure, if you open a laptop you will see that it does not contain much circuitry. Most of the space is used by the HDD, the optical drive and the keyboard which can be replaced by flash memory, eliminated and substituted by an on-screen equivalent respectively. The question is if such a device would be successful with customers. I am not sure, while early adopters would probably rush to buy such a product, this concept still represents a major paradigm shift and Apple would need to educate the market on how to use such a device, which is both difficult and costly. That is why I do not believe that such a device will be introduced by Steve Jobs on January 15. However, you never know…