WWDC 2008 Analysis

iPhone 3G

The Presentation

As usual I keep tabs on all the major Apple events using pretty much all the top tech sites that run “live blogs” and the like. This year none failed completely though I think they all were overcome with traffic at one point resulting in a failed load attempt. Not bad. This year I threw twitter into the mix. That was pretty interesting itself. Kevin Rose pointed out a decent audio feed. I did this in the background while I worked.

One thing I did note is that the parade of iPhone Apps got pretty painful after a while. Just wanted to yell out “we get it… cool apps built quickly… move on!”. For those who were following along at home, my predictions were mostly right (yay me!).

iPhone 3G

To me, this was really what the announcement was all about, and I’ll explain why a little later. The obvious big gain is the performance of 3G. This will win over a lot of people who just couldn’t imagine paying that much and surfing the web with EDGE. Another awesome addition is GPS support. It’s notable since geolocation is the “next big thing” [I should note update GeoLocateFox… I was ahead of my time]. I suspect there may be a few other goodies under the hood of this new iPhone that have yet to be revealed due to the suspected chipset. If Apple doesn’t unleash the full power, hackers will. Rest assured.

The real big thing here is that the phone is now much cheaper with a much more reasonable amount of storage on board. $299 for the 16GB model and $199 for the 8GB model. This is substantial for a few reasons. Besides obviously saving some cash, it makes the phone suddenly a possibility for people who would have never shelled out the original sticker price.

AT&T’s pricing looks to be $30 for unlimited data. The cheapest Voice/Data combo you could do would be $69/mo. That’s $10 more than it was for the first generation. Presumably that will help curb the cost of the massive 3G upgrades they are doing and subsidizing the iPhone’s hardware costs.

iPhone Apps

Pretty impressive demos from the screenshots I’ve seen. I’m really interested in more basic stuff should I get an iPhone. SSH, FTP, Email that doesn’t suck. I’d prefer to read/write office docs, but I guess I can always use something like Google Docs, which I’m sure will support the iPhone at some point if it doesn’t already.

Rather disgusted that I haven’t seen anything really change in terms of Application distribution or licensing. Apple is still very prohibitive of what it will allow. Don’t hold your breath on Firefox or Java anytime soon.

Apple will let you distribute Apps for free (how kind of them), but you still need to pay $99 to provide a free Application:

Standard Program $99
The Standard Program is for developers who are creating free and commercial applications for iPhone and iPod touch.

How about no charge for Applications with an OSI approved license Apple? Seems fair. No charge, and you get more software to make your ecosystem look more attractive.

Strikes me as pretty lame that a developer needs to pay $99 so Apple will let others use software for free.

  1. Disable download/install functionality.
  2. Charge $99 to distribute applications, even if they are free.
  3. Profit!

MobileMe

I was wrong regarding the use of MobileMe. Sadly it still doesn’t seem to fit the bill for something worth $99. Google provides most of the functionality pretty nicely. I suspect Google Calendar will get some iPhone sync love in the near future. In my opinion would have been better to just partner with Google and offer something really awesome and let Google monetize it. I suspect they didn’t do this because of the whole Android thing.

Jailbreak

Jailbreak is far from dead. The SDK isn’t open enough to kill off Jailbreak. Expect it to live on an coincide with Apple’s efforts for some time to come.

Mac OS X 10.6

Damn you NDA… would someone start leaking the goods 😉 . There’s some basic info out there, but nothing really juicy yet.

Photo Courtesy of Apple

WWDC 2008 Predictions

And the a tradition continues. Here’s my predictions for WWDC 2008. Steve Jobs will announce the following:

iPhone 3G

Well duh. At this point if it’s not at least announced, Apple’s stock is going to tank. There’s a ton of stuff to back this up including AT&T telling employees not to take vacation in the near future. And mystery shipments of presumed iPhones. I’ve got a good idea what the technical specs will likely be.

AT&T Subsidy

AT&T will likely subsidy the new iPhone when purchased with a 2 year contract to help lower the price and encourage more people to buy it. This is looking even more likely as the economy declines and potential buyers may now be more hesitant.

.mac to become me.com and mobileme.com

.mac will finally die and be replaced with me.com and mobileme.com. I suspect mobileme.com will be free for iPhone users. me.com may be paid if Apple does it in-house, or free if they contract the functionality out to someone like Google (which is likely).

Mac OS X 10.6 Insights

I don’t think we’ll see it until at least late 2009, more likely early 2010, and I doubt Steve will suggest any faster of a timeline. Remember after 10.3 the plan was slower OS releases. I suspect it will stay that way. I don’t think Apple likes the idea of two Mac OS X branches, the mobile and desktop one. I suspect 10.6 will be an effort to “unify” the platform at least from a marketing perspective. Starting from WWDC 2008 onwards I suspect a “Mac OS X powered phone” will be more common branding. Again Apple’s goal is to sell computers. Using the iPhone as a method to sell the desktop experience is pretty obvious. But what does that mean for the OS? Likely a lot of focus on things like Sync, the future of tech (64bit, multi-core, intel) and blurring the distinction between phone and computer. I don’t think we’ll see much more than a little eye candy and some buzz words considering we’re not far from Leopards release. Just enough to get the press talking about it.

New Desktops / Laptops

I don’t think Apple plans any desktop/laptop announcements just yet, I suspect they will hold off until August as tradition. At that point pretty much all of Apple’s computer lines are due for a major overhaul. I suspect the MacBook Pro may be the first to experience a major design change. Apple desperately needs a mid-range tower to build more market share as the Mac mini is under powered and the Mac Pro is very expensive. If anything is announced I suspect it will be just that.

Special Guests

No idea who the special guests will be. If the new iPhone is based on Atom, I suspect an Intel Exec. Other than that, really don’t know. Likely an iPhone developer or two will make an appearance during the iPhone Apps part. No clue on musical guest.

So there you have it. We’ll see Monday what I got right.

Safari’s New JS Interpreter: SquirrelFish

There’s an announcement on the Safari blog about SquirrelFish, their new JS interpreter. To sum it up:

SquirrelFish is a register-based, direct-threaded, high-level bytecode engine, with a sliding register window calling convention. It lazily generates bytecodes from a syntax tree, using a simple one-pass compiler with built-in copy propagation.

Some performance data can be found here, as well as here, which even tests against Tamarin (slated for inclusion in Mozilla2). I think the motive for this move might have been best summarized here:

  1. I can imagine the “performance per watt� power consumption for SquirrelFish is also much lower. Good for my iPhone’s battery life.

Especially with the iPhone going 3G next week which will consume more power, making a web browser be as efficient as possible with CPU cycles not only makes the experience better, but will save battery life. This doesn’t just impact the iPhone as Google’s Android also includes WebKit.

David Mandelin has some analysis and comparison to the Mozilla work being done on his blog.

It’s pretty interesting stuff.

Usefulness + Speed = Users

As a frontend developer I’ve long argued the magic formula for a good website is:

Usefulness + Speed = Users

This is based on the fact that the best websites on the internet are pretty spartan in appearance. When you look at many of the successful ones (Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Facebook), they’ve all taken the approach of simplicity on the frontend. They keep the user interface as minimal as possible, and they keep the technology and code as minimal as possible.

An interesting quote from CNet:

The same effect happened with Google Maps. When the company trimmed the 120KB page size down by about 30 percent, the company started getting about 30 percent more map requests. “It was almost proportional. If you make a product faster, you get that back in terms of increased usage,” she said.

Emphasis mine.

Just goes to show that faster things become more than useful to users. They become a convenience. Users don’t really care how it looks or they would have switched from boring Google a long time ago. They just find it so convenient and quick they can’t stop using it.

I suspect this is why digital clocks are so popular.

Roman Numeral Analog Clock

Most people find an analog clock to be “classy”, in particular when there are roman numerals. But when you come down to being practical, they aren’t as quick to read for most people since we rarely deal with roman numerals. The solution used to be using Arabic numbers to increase usability and speed:

Arabic Numeral Analog Clock

This is better, but not perfect. Still slow to read, and your estimating the minutes. These days, we have the technology to produce low cost digital time readouts with Arabic numbers. These are more accurate since they show the minutes, and maybe even seconds, and can be read at a glance with almost no effort.

Arabic Digital Clock

Despite hardly looking fancy, this is what you see in most train stations, airports, etc. The older clocks are still around, but mostly for aesthetic purposes. People are willing to sacrifice looks for convenience. That’s why they walk around with digital watches rather than the more classy ones. Both can be found for cheap, but one can easily be read (even with poor vision, and in the dark).

Simplicity always rules. Unless your a nerd with a binary clock (which is cool).

I suspect this rule also holds true for software. If it’s faster, people are more inclined to use it. People moved from IE 6 to Firefox because it’s faster. Given that Firefox 3 is even faster… I’m hoping this trend will be proven yet again with an improved adoption rate.

Another upcoming test of this principle will be the Apple’s 3G iPhone. Will the average number of minutes browsing the web increase with the additional speed of a 3G network? Will faster performance make people use the device more? I suspect so. I also think it will increase adoption as many people were turned off on the idea of spending that much for EDGE. For 3G, that’s a different story.

It’s really pretty interesting stuff. People often associate usability with user interface design, and never performance. But that data really does seem to point to performance being one of the easiest ways to make a product more usable.

Images: Grand Central Terminal clock © 2004 Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Clock in Kings Cross, LCD Clock Grey via Wikipedia

iPhone 2nd Generation

So more is coming out about the next iPhone, which we all know is going to be 3G. Someone found evidence of it in the recent update to the iPhone SDK. The SGOLD2 chipset will be replaced with the SGOLD3, which supports 3G networks (as we all expected). Looking at the specs some interesting things come out:

  • ARM 926 CPU capable of running up to 312 MHz – This isn’t that much more than the existing iPhone which is said to be underclocked to preserve battery life. Don’t expect much change here.
  • 5 Megapixel camera support – Capable, but don’t expect to see 5MP. I suspect it will be upgraded to 3MP and no higher to conserve costs.
  • MPEG4 / H.263 hardware accelerator – Sigh, no H.264 support. That’s a bummer. Apple could still use hardware support via another chip.
  • Support for video telephony, streaming, recording and playback – I wonder if Apple plans to utilize this. Video telephony could work over 3G networks (AT&T already did it with an LG CU500v). But it would require a potentially reworking the location of the camera on the phone.
  • 3G upgradeable with WCDMA coprocessor – Very interesting since this could allow Apple to offer the iPhone on CDMA networks, though the largest (Verizon) is going to become LTE a varient of GSM. That’s the largest CDMA network in the US. Still CDMA support will be needed for Japan.

Walt Mossberg initially said this is going down in 60 days, but now he’s retracted that statement. I still think a June timeline sounds about right. WWDC 2008 is June 9-13, 2008. Sounds about right.

iPhone SDK & Enterprise Offering

Apple announced it’s Enterprise offering as well as the long awaited SDK for the iPhone today. A few thoughts:

Enterprise Offering

Pretty impressive, at least the way it sounds. I have a feeling they are dead serious on this one. Exchange support, and the administrative stuff will be very big wins. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the line ends up splitting so there’s an enterprise line of iPhones with a more business set of features, and a “personal” line. That will help them compete more on both sides by being able to focus more. Software likely will be identical among them.

The one thing I can’t figure out is cost. I have a strong feeling a price drop for the current EDGE based iPhones will come in June, as the new 3G models are revealed. It’s still a hard pitch for enterprises to buy iPhones when Blackberry’s are getting cheaper and cheaper. Not to mention they can shop for prices among wireless providers. Because of this, I think there’s a price drop in the works to bring the iPhone to where it can really compete.

SDK

I can has SDK? Still can’t download it. Apple’s on Akamai, but their developer stuff is generally not. That really sucks. I’ve been trying all afternoon.

I wonder if the $99 one time fee (setup fee) applies to open source projects? I’d hope they provide an avenue for them to signup at no charge. Especially considering Apple’s involvement in open source.

Other Thoughts

Still no Apple SSH client? I really hope terminal.app is available for download when this thing actually ships.

More when I actually get my hands on some SDK bits.

No Flash For The iPhone

Via TechCrunch I noticed that there won’t be flash player for the iPhone anytime soon. I’m not surprised. I said this before.

Apple doesn’t want the iPhone to get the reputation of having poor battery life. Apple is said to have avoided 3G thus far because of power consumption reasons, instead opting for a lower powered EDGE chip. When Apple moves to 3G later this year, they will want to at a minimum keep the same battery life. Having Flash on the iPhone will mean a likely drop in battery life. Something they don’t want.

I suspect in 12-18 months when H.264/AAC is a more common encoding scheme, I think we’ll see a Flash component for QuickTime that can take advantage of the hardware on the iPhone. Right now there’s too much vc6 stuff out there.

Apple doesn’t want anything released to drain battery life or it will be accused of misleading consumers about average battery life. Keeping the CPU idle will help keep that time up.

I suspect the SDK will have some limitations on CPU cycles an app built can consume before it’s throttled in some way. For the exact same purpose. That’s fine for most things, most users won’t notice, but for video, any slowdown or bottleneck becomes very visible.