iOS 6: what to expect – and not to expect from Apple’s WWDC 2012
What should you expect in Monday’s WWDC keynote from Apple, and what should you not expect? From talking to developers and other sources, here are our predictions.
You should get…
Apple TV: App Store access and software development kit (SDK)
The rumblings about Apple doing something in TV have been going on for months. However, the expectations that the company will unveil an actual TV set, or that it will unveil some sort of content deal with various TV stations, both sound wrong. What sounds entirely right, though, is that developers will be able to write apps that will bring games and other forms of content to the £99 set-top box that has picked up in sales recently.
Why won’t Apple unveil a TV set? Because there’s no need to, and the sets themselves are the wrong market. Apple focuses on high-margin, high-growth markets (think of iPods, iPhones and iPads), especially where it can get in at an early stage. Selling TV sets, however, is a low-margin, low-growth market.
Nor can Apple realistically hope to do content deals with all the TV channels around the world, which it would need to if it were going to launch its own ultra-amazing all-singing all-dancing TV set. Would it be able, or want, to tie up deals with the BBC for iPlayer, and ITV, and Channel 4, and 5, and write the necessary apps – and then do it again for France, Germany, Spain…
But, equally, smart TV is a burgeoning market, where Google, Samsung and LG are all trying to interest people in the idea of “smart TV” that will be able to connect to the internet and show you YouTube clips, and so on.
So offering an SDK which lets apps run on the Apple TV is the simple way forward. It lets Apple undermine games console makers (notably Nintendo). It lets it sell more games. And developers will be delighted to write apps that will deliver content from TV companies – or the TV companies themselves will.
New desktops and laptops
There’s a great deal of expectation about “retina-capable” laptops and desktops which will have far greater resolution than existing ones; the appearance of apps with those capabilities over the past few weeks has heightened the rumours. Certainly the laptops are overdue for a refresh – so the MacBook Air and Pro are due something new, probably with Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor. The big question is whether the “professional” desktop Mac Pros will get an upgrade; they’ve languished for months.
Android and Windows Phone have excellent systems by which third-party apps can inform other apps (through a sort of registry system) what they’re capable of taking as input and outputs; it means that you don’t have to explicitly connect, say, a Flickr app to the photo gallery in order to be able to “share” it from your gallery to Flickr.
iOS is overdue to get this; it would also simplify the process where at present Apple has to explicitly write in support for a particular social network to the OS (so that adding Twitter at the basic level was treated as a big wow; in Android it’s just a given that you can tweet a picture). Intents will also mean that if MySpace or (lottery ticket alert) Friends Reunited suddenly became a giant social network (again?), it won’t require Apple to do a ground-up rewrite.
This one comes courtesy of Dave Verwer, an iOS developer and trainer, who points out that iOS has had much the same look and feel for its five years – while Mac OS X has changed its appearance, even subtly, with every iteration. Perhaps, he suggests, it will move to something more grey.
Killing someone’s business model
This one via our apps blogger Stuart Dredge, who points out that over the past two years Apple has unveiled something that has killed some third-party product – so the “Reader” element of Safari was a serious risk to Instapaper and Readability, and some of the Game Center tweaking was a big threat to games companies.
This time round, he’s expecting that the UDID (unique device ID) tracking will be tweaked so as to obviate the need for companies like Flurry, which does mobile analytics in apps.
Something different in Maps
The noises about changes in the Maps app – dropping Google’s maps in favour of Apple’s own, or some third party’s – have become impossible to ignore, but the problem here is that any change has to work worldwide. As one developer said to me, it’s no good for Apple to adopt OpenStreetMap – the level of detail in southern Europe just isn’t good enough. There would be a huge defection from Maps to Google Maps (you can bet that would appear in the App Store) and those people wouldn’t return to Maps, perhaps forever. That’s not a risk Apple can (or would) take.
Yet owning a company that does detailed mapping suggests something. Perhaps turn-by-turn navigation. Although in that case, why tell the developers?
What not to expect…
Yes, lots of people have been saying that these are going to come because, well, Siri has been around since October. Two points: first, it’s still in beta; second, how would you drive third-party apps via a voice-driven interface?
Consider that Siri simply turns speech into text; the API problem means this text has to be handed off to the correct app, meaning your problem is now twofold. You have to hand the text to the right app (which could be done, suggests Dave Addey of Agant, by getting people to preface their spoken phrase with the name of the app – which could be provided in phonetic form via an SDK); the app then has to process it.
But if you take Agant’s UK Train Times app, what are the potential entry points? People might want to see where they are on a track. Or find the time of the next train to a particular station. Or plan a journey on a particular day to a station, and then return on a different one. Figuring out quite what text you allow into the app, and how you set up the text-handling interface, would be a hell of a thing; and while developers might well be happy to accept that challenge, for Apple the problem would come if Siri’s speech-to-text translation (which is dicey, and reliant on a fast internet connection) doesn’t quite get it right. That would poison the whole Siri experience, which for those outside the US is hardly stellar anyway (“I can only help you find businesses in the United States…). Apple doesn’t feel likely to do this. It’s still too early in voice recognition.
An actual TV set with Apple’s name on it
A new iPhone
It’s too early. Time was when the announcement of the phone would come, to go on sale later, and developers had a few months to get things straight for it. This doesn’t feel like that time; LTE chipsets aren’t yet ready in high enough volume (in fact they’re constrained) which means that an iPhone announced now wouldn’t have the high-speed mobile internet capability that is being rolled out in the US. True, T-Mobile is testing its 4G connection offering at WWDC this week – but I don’t think this is really a preface to a 4G iPhone.
In general, remember that people almost always overestimate what Apple is going to do – and are then “disappointed” when what is announced doesn’t match their fevered imaginings. Apple has only rarely exceeded peoples’ initial expectations (the iPhone is the best example) – but usually then goes on to exceed their subsequent disappointment too. If in doubt, dial down your excitement. (Some will find this much easier than others.) We’ll find out how wrong (or right) all this is later on Monday.