There’s a lot of products rumored for WWDC. I’m NOT a rumor guy, if Apple told me anything, I wouldn’t write about it. But I am a business and strategy guy, that thinks about what I’d do if I was Steve/Apple. And I’ve got a history with Apple and going to WWDC, so I can at least mention what might happen, based on what has happened before (and why).
Apple has released new products at WWDC before, but usually they are laptops or pro-type computers. The supposed purpose of the show is to talk to developers, and get them excited about new OS releases (or hardware changes that are coming), so the 3rd party software developers (and their programs) will take advantage of it. So the products TEND to be focused around things that would excite developers.
That would imply that Apple wouldn’t focus on consumer product announcements. But remember, hardware developers go to WWDC too, and those hardware products are becoming a more significant part of Apple’s business, and will continue to do so. So new iPod platforms, other platforms/devices, or additions to said platforms (like wireless, etc.) would make some sense to show as well, as that would impact many of the people there, and they would need to learn how to use it more.
While WWDC is Apple’s “World Wide DEVELOPER’S Conference”, this has traditionally not only meant developers as in programmers, but included the executives of said companies. (Developers as in companies as well as just the coders). It is also both a meeting with executives at software, and sort of an end run around them. Some point-haired manager types might not fully understand how compelling a technology or Apple/Steve’s vision is; but the show assumes the developers will, and will be advocates when they get back to headquarters, and sell Apple’s message for them. So Apple offers plenty of cool-aide, and Steve puts his reality-distortion field on full. In fact, developers are both harder to sell, as in skeptical and not as easy to dazzle with marketing bullshit. But also easier to sell because they love technology, and if you show a good technology, they’ll buy in, even if it makes no business or marketing sense, and thus is going to flop in the marketplace. Of course WWDC also offers a little bit of training involved to get them prepped and excited about using those technologies as well, but over the years there just hasn’t been enough time to go in-depth, and it is more about quick-intro’s to technologies (and fly-overs) than more formal classroom stuff.
All this doesn’t preclude Apple from releases a radically new iPod or consumer device, it just may not be the best venue for it. The timing is about right for all products to get a refresh; Apple is coming into the Christmas selling season. Apple moved this show to August (from March-May season) for a reason. The reason may be as simple as a one-time slip to let the 10.5 team get the OS more ready (to have more to show), or as strategic as offering Apple another venue for product releases (right before Christmas selling season), or some balance of the two. It seems like if you have 5,000+ advocates near your hometown, and they are there to see you, then they would be a welcoming audience for new releases, and a way for Apple to magnify the hype. And I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to release in time for Christmas sales. So there’s a lot to say that this is where something like this should come out.
However, if I was coming out with a whole new platform (like a Video Pod, or iPod phone, or hand-held, etc.), there’s business concerns. Apple always does gangbusters in the 4th calendar quarter (Christmas). What you really want to do, if you care about the long-term performance of the stock, is flatten the sales spikes. Wall Street doesn’t mind seasonal volatility, in fact, if it is predictable, you can make more money by trading on those swings. But many small investors and even institutional investors do; they’re looking more for stability and smooth growth. So releasing new platforms and products in the 1st and 2nd Calendar quarter would help reduce sales (and stock) volatility by increasing weak quarters. And it would give you the opportunity to try these products out, get your manufacturing and distribution channels in line (before the peak season), understand demand and infrastructure, get any bugs out, and ultimately build momentum for a stellar Christmas season. So if I was coming out with something big/different and totally new, especially if it was going to take a while to get adoption/infrastructure, I’d probably want to release it AFTER the Christmas season, and not right before.
But that’s me. I’m conservative and looking at what is safest. Steve and Apple have been risk takers in the past. I could easily see them going balls out (excuse the expression), and having everything in place to take the market by storm, and own a selling season and gain all that hype of the “hot product of the year”.
So to the point…. what do I expect?
The rumors sites tend to promise more than any company can deliver. And in the past, Apple has been unable to live up to their hype. So if you’re planning on everything you’ve heard about on rumors sites coming true, then plan on being disappointed.
Apple will likely release multi-processor professional desktops, servers and bump the laptops. Leopard is the main focus. Apple was further down the 64 bit path than MS is, so by stressing that support in 10.5 (Leopard), talking about speed improvements (both over 10.4 and Vista/WinXP), power, and stressing/showing the new MP capabilities of Intel processors, Apple steals a lot of hype. Especially if they can show benchmarks comparing OS X to MS in a few key areas.
This also gets Apple’s Intel migration declared complete. Now I realize that is way premature as many key Apps (ahem, Photoshop) aren’t there yet; but Steve hasn’t been bothered about customer’s sensitivities in the past (think declaring the death of Mac OS 9, while it screwed over schools and many others who weren’t close to being done with it). This is still a way to get attention people focused away from Apple’s present risk (and the machines and people that still have to migrate), and towards Apple’s current advantages as well as future potential.
Leopard is probably going to be about MP and speed. They beat MS in this, and they want to stress that. And Steve, the Demo-God, will demonstrate the areas where Apple’s beat other OS’s and other Hardware. But Leopard has to have new features to sexy it up. There are bunches out there being talked about; mapping, sharing, bumping the various iApps, and so on. A key area that Microsoft was talking about for Vista was true resolution independent graphics, sexy transitions and some 3D. While some of that was copying Apple, some of it was bettering them. That has got to stick in Apple’s craw. Apple sees Microsoft as the OS for the tasteless; the pink plastic flamingo’s on the lawn, little gnomes on the doorstep, kinda interface. So I suspect some bigger interface changes than have been talked about. Apple isn’t likely to let MS one-up Apple in UI. Now I don’t exactly know where this would happen, or how, but I just know that strategically, Apple has to be very careful not to let Microsoft be seen as pulling ahead in Interface, media integration or graphics. Thus, that’s where I expect Apple to focus significant resources. Gesture recognition keeps popping up to me as a possibility, especially with all these cameras integrated into machines. But again, the how may not be important as the where and the why.
Any big surprises? I expect to see some incremental iPod or Video iPod stuff. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t. Steve is of the philosophy that you can only get a few marketing messages across at a time, and the rest dilute or confuse the message. New OS / Leopard (speed, power utilization), Professional line of computers, Intel transition completed – that’s nice and clean – throwing in things like new platform or radical change to iPod, radical new device, etc., is starting to dilute things. Why not show that in a month, after people have had time to digest the Intel Transition, new hardware, and new OS stuff a little more? So I don’t expect as many surprises as many do – but I think there will be a couple. So in the end, it if fun to speculate on what’s in the Christmas wrapping, but the best gifts are the one’s you didn’t completely see coming. Apple gets this, thus there’s likely to be at least “one more thing” that makes the other gifts pale in comparison. We’ll find out next week what that is.