WWDC 2009 – OS X 10.6, iPhone 3GS, iPhone OS 3.0, MacBooks

I had the Apple WWDC keynote going in the background as I always do so I can follow the madness as it happens. Overall not terribly shocking. The biggest surprise just came a few weeks earlier than I thought.

MacBook/MacBook Pro/MacBook Air

So the big news in the MacBook world is that they are getting rid of the removable battery in the 15″ model in favor of the 17″ style non-removable battery. A little faster, SD card slot (I guess some people really care about this), and finally going to officially support 8GB RAM across the board. In my opinion supporting 8GB RAM is the biggest improvement. RAM limitations seem to be more problematic than CPU limitations. With Snow Leopard (see below) heavily taking advantage of multiple cores and 64 bit computing, extra RAM won’t just be a luxury, it will be a requirement. There is a reason 4GB is the minimum RAM across the board now. I said months ago they needed to do this.

The MacBooks are also “green”, energy star compliant, etc. etc.

The one downside I see is that the MacBook and MacBook pro line is being blurred quite a bit. The real difference at this point is the graphics chipset. For average users the MacBook will be more than enough. If you’re a power user, the MacBook Pro will be your laptop. With Snow Leopard taking advantage of the GPU for computational purposes, having a good GPU is just another performance boost.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Mac OS X 10.6 as John Grubber aid might be a tough sell to consumers. It’s not very feature packed, at least as far as users are concerned. Most of the changes are under the hood geared towards taking advantage of modern hardware, removing cruft from years of API and design iterations. That’s not going to easily convince consumers to spend $129. As a result for Leopard users it’s $29 (family pack for $49) . That’s a good decision as explaining the advantages of rewriting the Finder in Cocca to an average user won’t be easy. I think the biggest actual feature it has going for it so far is Exchange support, which I don’t think will do too well outside the business world, which was never Apple’s strong point.

On the technology side, I welcome our 64 bit overlords. GrandCentral and OpenCL should really help make software faster, and take advantage of the hardware. This will hopefully spur some innovation. The downside of course it that working the GPU for basic application performance will compromise battery life. Right now it’s easy to conserve battery life by avoiding games which tax the GPU to save battery life. I don’t really know if having lots of apps tax the GPU is really going to help or hurt in that regard, or if there will be a level of user control (turbo mode). My only concern is if the GPU is doing extra work, and isn’t well optimized for power savings, this could get troublesome.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is also Intel only. The PowerPC is officially dead now. Kinda stinks for PowerMac G5 users whose computers are still pretty speedy and were expensive, but it’s essential to keeping development sane and forward moving.

Apple’s pricing of Snow Leopard is also going to speed adoption and let developers focus on developing software for 1 OS on one architecture as opposed to multiple OS versions on 2 hardware architectures.

iPhone OS 3.0

Lots of new features, developers have lots of ideas in the works, ships June 17th. Free for iPhone users, $9.99 for iPod touch users. No surprises.

The only interesting software notes are that TomTom will be releasing a turn-by-turn directions app. I expect this to be rather popular as long as it’s not too expensive. There’s also a “Find My Phone” feature for MobileMe customers that is pretty much the “locator” button on your cordless phone and emits sound regardless of your iPhones settings. Kinda handy, useful if you frequently misplace your phone.

Also interesting is AT&T won’t be supporting MMS next week when iPhone OS 3.0 launches. They will start supporting it later this summer. Tethering is also still in the works. This is sure to upset many people. According to Boy Genius Report the MMS delays are due to administrative issues, while the tethering issues are due to the plan still being in development, though I’m guessing they also have concerns about network capacity in NY and SF.

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS is the new hardware. New insides, same classic exterior. Faster (though no exact specs on hardware) OpenGL|ES 2.0, 7.2Mbps HSPDA, 3 MP auto-focus camera. The camera supports 30 FPS VGA video with audio. There’s also a digital compass, voice control, improved battery life, and data encryption. $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB. $99 for original 8GB model.

This is pretty much what was expected. I think the biggest feature is the camera. The digital compass will be handy for a few people, but for most it will be a pretty meaningless thing.

Until a significant market share is using the 3GS, I question how much developers can take advantage of the extra performance without making their apps useless to the 3G and original iPhone users. This might be a limiting factor.

The bigger news is Apple is keeping the 8GB iPhone 3G as a lower cost option. Apple had to keep the original 3G iPhone on the market to keep growing users during the current economic recession. This is good for growing users… but bad for those who want to keep the user base on the bleeding edge. Those new 3G users will be locked into contracts for 2 years. That means at least 2 more years before the iPhone 3G starts to fade out, not 1 more like most were expecting. I think for many people, the 8GB iPhone 3G is actually the better buy.

Scorecard

  • √ iPhone OS 3.0 Announced (100%) – I was right. Announced, release is next week, GM seed released today.
  • √ iPhone v3 Announced (100%) – I was pretty close here too. Faster, 32GB capacity, better graphics, video support, no radio as many suggested. I said 50% chance of dual cores. Looks like still single core.
  • √ Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Announcement (85%) – Right again. September release.
  • √ Lots of demos (99%) – Right, wish I wasn’t. These just get in the way.
  • X Steve Jobs Appearance (65%) or mention (90%) – I’m surprised of no mention at the end. Not really surprised he didn’t appear.
  • X iLife / some other software upgrade 60% – Didn’t happen.
  • √ MacBook Update – I thought this was more likely for July/August in time for the “back to school” season. I didn’t think they would use WWDC for this announcement. It makes sense for Apple to start now given Snow Leopard being released in a few months. More people on faster laptops with more RAM the better.

Overall not bad. More accurate than previous years.

iPhone OS 3.0

I’m rather thrilled with Apple’s iPhone OS 3.0 upgrade. They announced way more than I expected them too.

  • Cut & Paste – Great interface, long long overdue.
  • Push Notifications – Finally! Push notification will make the iPhone a million times more useful. I’m thrilled by this. Way better than background apps since it won’t consume as much power. Background apps sound better than they are.
  • Peer to Peer Support – Oh boy, apps are going “social”. I don’t buy into this too much, though I do think this will make some games much more fun. Wireless Game Link Cable!
  • Landscape Keyboard All Over – This just made Mail much more awesome.
  • Accessories API – This has by far the most potential for innovation. My only hope is Apple isn’t too nasty with hardware licensing. There’s so much room for innovation here it’s scary. Economic struggles will likely put a damper on all the accessory buying though.
  • Search For Built-In Apps – This is a killer feature in mail. I just hope it supports search over it’s own index as well as IMAP and Exchange.
  • Inline (In App) Purchases – Pretty cool but a potential for some serious annoyance. Paying $5 for an app and then realizing it costs you $30 to unlock it to meet the description will quickly become a nuisance. Apple should force developers to note specifically what will be behind a coin slot before the user buys the app. At the very least allow users to document when rating (though developers will hate that and request removal of such comments). This has the potential to be very controversial and abused.
  • Turn By Turn – Apple says it’s BYOM (Bring Your Own Maps). Regardless it will be very good if a large navigation provider decides to participate and plug their data in here.
  • MMS – I’m sure AT&T is thrilled to get to bill users for MMS. Should be a good source of revenue for them.
  • Tethering Support – Cool, but I suspect pricing to use this feature will cross it off the list for all but some business users who can expense it.
  • A2DP – I first mentioned this in 2007. This should be pretty cool but I wonder what the impact on battery life is.
  • CalDAV – Long overdue but I wonder how much use it will get now that Google Calendar can sync via Exchange. How many calendar providers out there support CalDAV other than Apple (Mac OS X Server)?

Lack of video recording is a major bummer. Not that the iPhone is a fantastic video device but it’s still a very cool feature that would be very handy for developers and users.

iPhone OS 3.0 Preview Next Week

Apple has an event scheduled for next week which is presumed to be a preview of iPhone OS 3.0.

Want/Expect:

  • Copy/paste – Duh
  • Push Notification – Apple promised this back in the fall and has yet to deliver. I suspect we’ll at least hear something about it. I’m hoping it will still happen, though I wouldn’t say it’s a guarantee at this point.
  • Email Search – Search would be insanely useful and is a critical link for heavy email users. I think it’s likely iPhone OS 3.0 will have search among some enterprise friendly features.
  • Home screen Update – The current home screen was never designed for managing a multitude of apps that is now common (it was designed before Apple had an API). I see an overhaul in the cards 3.0.
  • WebKit Update – A lot of work has taken place with WebKit/Safari. I suspect some new stuff will trickle over to the iPhone including a JS engine update.
  • Video – The iPhone camera is capable of making video, Apple just doesn’t support it via software. Apple may remedy this now. Jailbroken apps already support it.
  • Tethering – Bluetooth and USB. Very likely since this is additional revenue for AT&T.
  • MMS – Lots of user demand for it (though I don’t really get why). I suspect if this happens video recording support is inevitable.
  • Flash Subset – Either a true subset of flash mainly to allow playing of h.264 video. I still highly doubt we’ll see support to play VP6 simply because it will kill battery life quicker than most users would appreciate. It also needs the ability to disable so flash ads in Safari don’t impact battery life. Apple could also take the approach of having a YouTube like partnership with more video providers since all people care about is video anyway.
  • Tons of little things – Apple always does this. I don’t expect iPhone OS 3.0 to be any different.
  • Desktop Support – As I mentioned before, the ability to run apps on your desktop. Not really expecting this, but I’d like it.
  • Desktop Sync – Lots of apps would like the ability to sync with their desktop counterparts. Currently they have to do this via WiFi and it’s not a great experience.

Those are my top guesses/expectations from the user perspective. From the developer perspective I’d expect a few new API’s to go with whatever happens up above and perhaps a few small surprises. I think the next generation of iPhones is likely to be sporting a multi-core processor though I’m not sure if Apple will say anything next week that would effectively confirm that so they don’t kill any of the iPhone launch buzz.

Edit [3/16/2009 @ 9:40 PM EST]: Added Desktop Sync