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.

WWDC 2009 Predictions

As tradition goes, here are my predictions:

  • iPhone OS 3.0 Announced (100%) – Notice I said “announced” not released. Apple last released iPhone OS 3.0 beta 5 on May 25th. I’m suspicious that they won’t just go from beta to final on developers over the course of 2 weeks. I’d expect some sort of release candidate to sit in between. I think we’ll get a solid date. I’d put the odds of a 3.0 official release being available at about 50%. “Public Beta”? It just seems odd for Apple to go from beta to release like that. Apple did release an iTunes upgrade featuring 3.0 compatibility. Mixed messages? Yea. But a GM release seems a little unlikely.
  • iPhone v3 Announced (100%) – Apple will announce the iPhone 3rd Generation. Faster CPU, 50% chance of dual core or larger architectural change, better graphic capabilities, video support, more memory, more storage, same form factor. I think we can realistically see up to 32 GB capacity. Better (3MP+) camera. Battery life improvements will be minimal at best. The iPhone 3G sold well enough with its battery life making the pressing factor CPU performance. I’m also skeptical about radio as audio can be delivered somewhat low-bandwidth over EDGE or 3rd party FM adapter. Also radio/CD combos never really sold that well, and rarely were offered on mp3 players (notably never the iPhone).
  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Announcement (85%) – Apple will announce the expected release date down to 1-2 month target for Snow Leopard, solid feature set, preview the latest version and provide new builds.
  • Lots of demos (99%) – Apple seems to love to parade developers on stage to show off their apps. Expect to see tons of iPhone 3.0 apps, perhaps even some “look how much faster/better my app is on Snow Leopard” presentations.
  • Steve Jobs Appearance (65%) or mention (90%) – Legend has it Steve is expected to return to Apple at the end of the month in full capacity. I fully expect him to appear in person before the media to prove he’s looking healthy. There is a decent shot he’ll make some sort of cameo appearance at WWDC 2009. It’s also possible he’ll demo something at a soon to be announced event for a hardware refresh in July/August. I think he’ll at least get a mention and official confirmation he’s coming back at the end of the month.
  • iLife / some other software upgrade 60% – Apple likes to bundle upgrades to any of it’s less notable software products into larger announcements so that they get some media attention “also announced was…”, even if it’s a footnote. Because of that, I think there’s a notable chance they will announce some upgrade.

It’s mainly a software event, so I don’t expect any more hardware than iPhone 3.0. I think overall it won’t be as explosive as last year when App Store launched. Then again… Apple may have a trick or two up its sleeves. We’ll know Monday.

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.