Monday, Jun 04, 2012
(Note that, as always, these predictions are based on past Apple strategies and current speculation, and are no way informed by people working at Apple)
Apple's World-Wide Developer Conference is upon us once again, running from June 11th through the 14th. This is the best opportunity Apple has to communicate with its developer community, and has been the launching point for most of Apple's initiatives that need developer support for success.
While WWDC has sometimes been the stage for major consumer announcements, in recent years Apple has honed its announcement machine to the point where it can gain more news traction at a Media Event than at a WWDC keynote, so consumer reveals will probably be limited to those necessary to further WWDC goals and, wherever possible, software advancements will be separated from their related hardware announcements.
Here's what I believe is in store for WWDC attendees next week:
iOS things to expect
iOS 6 developer beta
It's iOS preview time, and there's plenty of new functionality that developers will love to get their hands on.
It's easy to forget that Apple still classifies Siri as a beta feature, but they do. Expect that to change with iOS 6, which will include a Siri API for third-party apps.
The biggest risk of opening up Siri to third parties is the dilution and muddling of Siri's carefully curated and regularly updated vocabulary. Expect Apple to address this concern by letting users address apps by name when giving commands. In addition to a 'first class' tier of services that Siri draws upon (currently Maps, Yelp, Wolfram Alpha, Reminders, Countdown Timer and web search) the apps a user has installed can be addressed by name, for example, "Siri, ask Schwab how my portfolio is doing" or more simply, "Shazam, what's this song?"
Each app will be responsible for its own vocabulary (possibly with some stemming and synonym help from the API) and one poorly written app or one with an overly broad vocabulary won't inhibit the usability of other apps via Siri.
Expect a Facebook deal on par with Twitter's current iOS integration. iOS 6 may be the version that lets apps register services so that any app can have the same kind of presence in the 'send' menu that Twitter, Mail, and Message currently enjoy, and Facebook may be shown off as an example of best practices, or it may be another one-off deal like Twitter.
All new Maps App
As has been widely rumored on the web, and hinted at by iPhoto for iOS's use of Open Maps data instead of Google's tiles, it looks like now's the time for Apple to show off their new in-house Maps app. The current Maps app is showing its age and, though it uses Google's map tiles, Apple is actually responsible for building the app, which is why so few of the many advancements that have come to Google Maps on Android (like offline access, 3D view, and route bending) have made their way in to the iOS app (walking directions and street view are notable exceptions).
Expect the new app to use a completely different tileset, and to have a very slick Google Earth-style 3D view that covers every building via algorithmic analysis from Apple's acquisition of C3 Technologies last year. Google's 3D models have historically been hand-drawn in SketchUp, though they are also working on algorithmic analysis for 3D extrapolation.
Google is apparently concerned by Apple getting a two-week media head-start on their own Maps work and, rather than waiting for Google I/O at the end of this month, they're holding a media event specifically to discuss the future of maps from Google's point of view.
While Apple is making a stellar '1000 foot view' with C3's technology, Google is trying to make a huge improvement to the street-level experience using some of the same technology they've been working on for their self-driving cars. These cars, equipped with LIDAR pylons, create a 3D model of their surroundings several times a second as they drive, and the same LIDAR pylons have been integrated into a fleet of Google Street View cars. Realtime depth data, merged with the photo data from the car's ball of cameras, allow for the creation of a rich texture-mapped picture of the surroundings, allowing for a high fidelity street view that can be navigated smoothly rather than frame-by-frame, and could even eliminate transient objects like parked cars or people on the sidewalk.
Presumably once Apple stops using Google Maps tiles for their Maps app Google will be free to submit their own maps app for iOS and Apple would be hard-pressed to stop them, given the government scrutiny they underwent when stalling on the approval of Google Voice and other Google apps for iOS a few years ago.
Expect Google to have an Android Maps app update available this month and an iOS app 'in the works for near release', and Apple to have the new Maps app in the iOS 6 developer build, but not available to mainstream users until iOS 6 comes out in late Summer.
New screen resolution
The only place where Apple may tip its hand regarding unannounced hardware may be in placing an emphasis on 'vertically agnostic' iPhone app design. By encouraging app developers with a wink and a nod to design apps in a stretchable framework where the shorter dimension is fixed but the longer may grow or shrink, Apple may help developers prepare for a new, taller iPhone screen. Many apps using the iPhone SDK's widgets will already work in a taller environment since most elements are 'stuck' to the top or bottom of the screen, with the middle container simply taking up the rest of the available space.
Reading apps for a wider landscape view may not be as intuitive, but still shouldn't be a big problem.
I'm curious to see just how Apple frames this piece of advice though, since everyone in the room will have seen the leaked faceplates and read the rumors of a taller-not-wider iPhone display.
iOS things we won't see
Even if the new iPhone were ready for imminent release, Apple wouldn't use the WWDC keynote for its unveiling. The new iPhone will come out when iOS 6 comes out, and that will probably be in September.
We'll probably get a 7-inch iPad eventually, but I wouldn't count on seeing it until next February. It'll almost certainly be 1024x768 and be exactly like an iPad 2, but smaller.
AppleTV things to expect
Development tools for an AppleTV app store
For the first time Apple will invite all developers to create apps for the AppleTV. Don't expect iPhone or iPad apps to run on the AppleTV, but expect the application development process to be identical. Just like iPad apps won't run on the iPhone, AppleTV apps will be specifically for the AppleTV.
There will likely be a large number of sessions to set the tone for how AppleTV apps should work and what the OS environment will look like.
AppleTV developer beta
I would expect that when AppleTV With Apps comes out, it will be compatible with the current (1080p) version of the AppleTV, but nothing earlier. There will probably be a developer beta version available to developers that can be installed on these current boxes.
AppleTV things we won't see
AppleTV All-In-One device
As much speculation as there is about a forthcoming all-in-one AppleTV device, expect Apple to say nothing about it at WWDC. There are millions of AppleTV pucks in the wild, and Apple will use that footprint to drive the creation and distribution of third-party apps, creating a thriving AppleTV app ecosystem before any new hardware comes along to take more advantage of it.
When is the 'real' AppleTV coming? Who knows? Maybe this Fall. Probably some time in 2013. Almost certainly before WWDC 2013 though.
Mac things to expect
New MacBook Pros with Retina Displays
In what may be the only hardware announcement at WWDC, I expect we'll be getting a real unveiling of the new MacBook Pro hardware. Slimmer than current models, it'll lose the optical drive and very likely the 2.5" hard disk as well, in favor of an SSD daughterboard. Brand new Ivy Bridge processors will give a good bump in performance.
The biggest change however will be the inclusion of a double-resolution Retina display. Like when the iPhone and iPad got the Retina upgrades, the MBP interface will still look the same, only smoother and crisper. Apps that use text or vector drawing will immediately see the benefits, and it'll be light work to update UI elements to have 2x versions. Apps that want to take deeper advantage of the extra pixels (like all of Adobe's Creative Suite) will need a bit more work, though I wouldn't be surprised if they got early access and show stuff off at WWDC as an example.
Mountain Lion is almost done and will probably be required for the Retina MBPs, so the unveiling will probably be partnered with a sale date in early July, along with the release of Mountain Lion for regular consumers.
Mac things we won't see
Any other Mac hardware
A Retina display iMac is certainly in the cards eventually, but a pixel-doubled 24" display would be quite a feat, and even Apple probably isn't at the point where they can get 5120x2880 pixel displays in a reasonable quantity.
There might be an Ivy Bridge rev to the MacBook Air line, but that's anyone's guess, and not really relevant to WWDC. The MBAs won't be getting Retina Displays on the first go-around, both to help differentiate the MBP and because the new displays need more battery than the old, and the MBP has room for more energy storage than the MBAs do.
Mac Pro towers? Maybe we haven't seen the end of that line yet, but new models never really make big news.
So that's what I expect out of this year's WWDC. A lot of laying the groundwork to let developers prepare for future hardware advancements, while talking about those actual hardware advancements as little as possible. The fact that most of the new developer stuff (Mountain Lion, iOS 6, AppleTV for Apps) works on existing hardware means Apple doesn't have to tip its hand about future plans any more than it wants to.
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