On Monday, at their Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple will pull away the Cloak of Invisibility concealing their shiny newness. iOS 7 and OS X 10.9 are both nailed on, but what will they bring with them? What hardware might be announced? And could there be any surprises that we just aren’t expecting? Watch with horror as I rub my crystal balls!
For the last few years WWDC has followed a pattern. Tim Cook, CEO, will kick off proceedings, detail some heartwarming examples of developer ingenuity and show off some massive numbers. Phil Schiller, marketing maestro, will come out and toss some updated hardware to the crowd. Craig Federighi, OS X guy, will come out and do his thing. Somewhere in the lineup Eddy Cue, master of content and services, will get to do his bit. And finally Scott Forstall, the man who would be King of iPhones, will roll out what most developers are really there to see: the new version of iOS.
This year, things are going to be different. Scott Forstall is no more, having been tossed out partly for refusing to put his name on an apology for the Apple Maps shambles and partly because he was such a divisive figure in the company that some other executives refused to meet with him unchaperoned. Craig Federighi has taken over software engineering responsibility for both OS flavours. Eddy Cue looks after basically anything that runs in Apple’s servers, such as Maps and Siri. What got Apple watchers salivating was the news that Jony Ive, Apple’s knighted designer nonpareil, would have responsibility for the human interface of software as well as hardware. Things will be different, this year possibly more than any other WWDC in recent memory. What could be in the offing?
iOS hasn’t aged well. Yes it has gotten more functional and more powerful but the various interfaces, so refreshing and new six years ago, have become gaudy and stale. The overt glossiness, texturing and faux-realistic décor seem heavy-handed and out of fashion in a world with a mature Android and Windows Phone 8. iOS needs to grow out of its derpy adolescent phase and blossom into the stunning beauty that it could be. The hardware has never been more simple or graceful. iOS just doesn’t fit it any more.
So torn pages, stitched leather, dark linen, green baize, yellow lined legal notepaper, ultra-glossy finishes and gaudy icons all need to go. Jony famously winced before he could stop himself at the mere mention of the corinthian-leather effect in the Find My Friends app and he will see it done. It’s a given, especially looking at the teaser posters being put up in preparation (see above). But what else? After the visual look, I have three major gripes with the current OS:
- Notification Center needs beefing up. At present notifications are literally just that. You can’t perform any actions on them other than open the app they are for and they are not persistent. Get more than one notification for an app and the others will disappear once that app is opened, never to be found again.
- Default apps need to be able to be supplied by third party developers. In a recent interview, Tim Cook made vague references to easing up a little on the control Apple has and being able to decide which app handles your email, web browsing, weather, notes etc would revolutionise the platform.
- Inter-app communication is non-existent at present as each app exists basically in a vacuum. Letting apps communicate more efficiently between themselves without losing security is a holy grail of iOS app development.
There have also been vague rumblings of AirDrop wifi file sharing popping up in iOS which would make sense and tie in to a patent on NFC-initiated ad hoc wireless communications that Apple was recently granted. Thumbprint scanning for digital wallets is a rumour that won’t go away, along with a general beefing up of PassBook to support it. But NFC and thumbprint scanning require new hardware that almost certainly won’t be announced, so I don’t expect to hear anything about them. Other than that, rumours are scarce. No-one really knows whats coming. It’s exciting!
Mac OS X
Other than a knock-on revamp to visuals that tie up with apps on iOS such as Calendar, Notes and Reminders, not much is known about this new big cat either, not even its codename. There have been reports of more pro-oriented features being implemented rather than anything big and shiny for consumers. OS X Mountain Lion is quite stable and sturdy at this point, so anything is possible, but I don’t expect vast amounts of time devoted to OS X this year.
iCloud needs some attention. In the main it’s good but not perfect, and perfect is what people expect from a major online service from one of the largest tech companies in the world. Messages and notifications need to be rock-solid, customers need more insight into what iCloud is doing and when it’s doing it. Core Data syncing needs to be implemented as promised or torn out completely. Developers need more support and communication with the service at API level. Photo Stream needs to be more like Flickr, a big bucket in the sky that you pour all your stuff into, rather than the confusing pipe it is now.
With the next generation of processors from Intel released a short while ago, pretty much all macs are ripe for an upgrade. The new Haswell-class chips will reduce power consumption significantly as well as beef graphics performance and every single mac bar the Mac Pro will make use of them. Which models Apple chooses to upgrade and when remains to be seen but at the very least I would expect upgrades to laptops to be announced, if not made immediately available. iOS devices have moved away from being released at WWDC and as iOS 7 will need several months of beta-testing I don’t expect any new iOS devices until later in the year.
So that’s all the easy, obvious stuff dealt with. But there are some surprises that Apple could pull out of its sleeve to the delight of all – here are some things I’m crossing my fingers for:
- Changes to the App Store would be most welcome. The ability to try apps before I buy, to refund apps within a short period of time and the ability to get an upgrade price for a major new version of an app I already own an older vesion of would get a thunderous ovation from me, and probably most developers.
- A new Mac Pro is desperately needed. The current machine is getting ridiculously long in the tooth. Apple has been hinting that they’ve been working on something substantial in this regard that customers will be glad they waited for. Macs don’t warrant announcements of their own these days and certainly the Mac Pro doesn’t, so WWDC would be a natural place to release this new beast whatever form it may take. Sadly, the one problem with this is that the new processor it would most likely need won’t be released by Intel until quite a bit later in the year.
- An Apple TV App Store is something I’ve been wanting since forever. The current hardware may not be powerful enough to drive a revolution in Apple TV gaming or other high-performance apps but developers are going to need a run-up to start coding for this new form factor. Even relatively simple content-consumption apps would be enough to kick-start it and get people excited until Apple bulks out the hardware enough to run some heavyweight new apps and make it much more of a mass-market device. The tag-line for this WWDC “where a whole new world is developing” gives me thin hope that this might come to pass.
- iRadio is almost a certainty at this point. News of Apple frantically negotiating with the major record labels has been rife over the last few weeks. The thinking is it would be a Pandora-esque service, free to customers and supported by advertising. It would customise new music for you to listen to as a live stream, based on your current musical tastes. Any new music you liked, you’d get to buy on iTunes there and then. Most of the way I hear music I like is on the radio at work, so I’m already sold on this idea and look forward to it.
- An SDK for an entirely new piece of hardware. This is lowest down the list of possibilities, but Apple has been rumoured to be working on a wearable device for a long while now. An entirely new device will need support from developers, who will in turn need access to a development kit and several months of beta-testing with it before apps for the new device are ready to go. WWDC is the obvious place to announce an entirely new development platform. Sadly, Apple never announces the new platform before the new device, so unless they’re releasing the iWatch tomorrow, this one isn’t going to happen.
All that remains now is to watch with interest tomorrow and see just how badly wrong I was…