168 Hours Until WWDC 2010

With just over a week left until Steve Jobs takes the stage for the keynote address at this years annual World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, I am thinking about what we might see. After every keynote there is always a short-lived euphoria that results from being inside the reality distortion field followed but a postpartum depression. There are usually two results from a WWDC. Either you are blown away by something that no one knew was coming or you are disappointed because all the crazy rumors did not come true. In the age of Vietnamese product leaks, the latter is becoming all to common. What is always the best part of WWDC is what is not openly said.

Years ago when the iPhone first came out there was a recurring them that was reiterated with the first iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). Apple quietly recommended to developers that they should write their apps to work regardless of the screen size. The SDK like the Mac OS SDK has tools to let the programmer check to see how big the screen is when it is running and move icons and graphics to the center of that space. That hint 3 years ago came true this year. The result is that if you program according to this recipe, when the iPad showed up you wouldn’t need to rewrite you application for the larger screen.

There’s a difference between what I think we will see and what I want to see at WWDC this year. First let me start with what I expect to see. Of course we will get a release date on the iPhone OS 4.0 and the 4th Generation iPhone. Once can look at a calendar and pick the candidate dates for the release. Apple likes to release these kinds of updates on Saturday. I assume that is to protect their stock and to let people update at home rather than at work. This also gives Apple the weekend to do damage control before the Monday news cycle starts up again if there are problems. Apple also generally does not like to release their hardware and software at the same time. And there is typically an update to iTunes in advance of any major iPhone release if there is new functionality in the OS that needs it. So there are the constraints. There are only three Saturdays after WWDC left in the month. I expect the 4th Generation iPhone to be released on June 26. That means we can expect the iPhone OS 4 to come out on the 19th. I do not expect it any sooner because I think it will require an updated version of iTunes.

I think the focus of WWDC this year will be about the mobile experience. Now we are getting further into the realm of prognostication when I talk about changes to MobileMe and iTunes. MobileMe is Apples online suite of tools for synchronization, online email, calendaring, address book, and picture hosting. Apple also has iWork.com but the two don’t play nice with each other. While iWork.com is free, you have to pay for MobileMe. The $99 price tag ($71 on Amazon is a great value when you consider all you get for an entire year. The Family Pack version is 50% more and supports the family with multiple iPhones. The problem is that even at less than $10 per month, its hard to compete with free. Google and to a lesser extent Yahoo and Hotmail offer competing free services. Apple could own this experience for mac users by doing a couple of things. First, redefine MobileMe as the collection of services centered around your Apple ID. This does not necessarily mean the me.com email address. I have an Apple ID that is not my me.com email address. I should be able to use MobileMe sync services like I use iWork.com. Sync is the most important strength of MobileMe. Making it universally available to all users would make the iPhone experience a no-brainer when it comes to setting up a new device.

Second, Apple should move the sync and configuration part of the iPhone/iPad from iTunes and move it to the cloud. Since all of my Apps are there anyway, why cannot I use MobileMe to configure, sync and backup my iPhone.

The biggest problem with this ideal is the size of my music and video library that I want to sync with iTunes. So iTunes would still need to be part of the mix or there’s no reason to have a 64GB iPad. But iTunes should sync your configuration with MobileMe. You should be able to make configuration changes for your devices from MobileMe. This goes right along with the remote wipe features.

There are rumors that iTunes will become cloud-based. I think this would be interesting. Apple already knows what music I have bought for them. Unlike application purchases once I download a song the burden is on me to back it up and keep it safe. I should be able to go back to my catalog in the sky and play any song that I have ever bought from iTunes.

On to wish list items. I would like to see a new iPod Touch based on the rumored 4th generation iPhone. if historical patterns stay constant, we won’t see this until early September. Hopefully it will be before September 7th when the back-to-school promo ends but my money is on that not happening. I would want the new iPhone to use the new A4 processor and have all of the features of the iPhone except of course for the cellular radio. I really do not expect the GPS in the iPod. I really would like to see the camera(s).

As you can see I expect a lot about the iPhone but I don’t think there are any big surprises left in the OS or the hardware. The only opportunity for a big announcement would be in the form of a business model shift in the way MobileMe works. The recent me.com email beta is a teaser in that direction.

The Mac OS got its stabilization and 64-bit update last year. I expect we will see 10.6.4 released soon. The big black hole of questions is what will be in 10.7? There has been a complete void of speculation. I would not be surprised if we got a developer preview out of 10.7 that would dovetail right into some new hardware hook. And that is where the story gets really muddy. I would expect 10.7 for a Spring or Summer 2011 release. What’s next in the OS? I would imaging the future updates would also dovetail with a change in MobileMe.

Microsoft at WWDC? Actually I expect some announcement from Microsoft next week. There are two possibilities. Either they will announce that docs.com works on the iPad or they will announce that Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad will be out for Christmas. Both seem like equal possibilities. Microsoft has rolled the Mac Business Unit (MacBU) back into their office team. While reorgs are common at Microsoft this one seems focused on standardizing the MS Office experience at the expense of Mac-specific features.

What about AppleTV? I’m a fan of AppleTV? I find it a great way to watch movies. I use it slaved to my iTunes library. The internal hard drive is too small to be used for anything more than caching. I do not expect Apple to ever update my AppleTV even if there is an updated OS. Apple typically does not dwell on backwards compatibility so any update would probably use the A4 processor and the iPhone OS. I could hopefully take advantage of whatever the MobileMe strategy announcement is. I would love to see NetFlix integration so I would not have to switch between my AppleTV and Roku boxes.

New Macs. I think the MacBook Air is due for a refresh. I’m not a processor geek but it sounds like the i3 chip was designed perfectly for the Air. If Apple can deliver an Air with a 10 hour battery it would be the natural upgrade from an iPad for people who need more power on the go. I don’t think it is time to refresh the rest of the MacBook line. The Mac Pro line and Mac Mini lines are both due for refreshes. I do not think Apple would waste its time at WWDC on the Mac Mini. The Mac Pro would only justify the timeslot if they stuffed 32 i7 chips and it and taught it to hover. We’ll see.

It should be an interesting show. The clock is ticking.

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