Apple just unleashed a barrage of new products at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week in San Francisco. But the one thing that most fans were speculating about in the months leading up to this event—Apple’s expected push into the TV market—is nowhere in sight. During a two-hour keynote on Monday, Apple executives said not a word about TV.
That’s a massive bummer, because (a) TV needs to be reinvented; and (b) Apple makes the best user interfaces in the world and is uniquely positioned to do something creative and exciting in this space; and (c) although the iPhone and iPad are still booming, they won’t be forever, and Apple must conquer a new market and get working on the Next Big Thing.
That said, there are still some exciting (sort of) new things coming out of Cupertino. Here’s a rundown of new products, and some lessons we learned from this week’s announcements:
1. Apple just announced the best computer it has ever made.
The new 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the flagship of Apple’s product line, boasts a gorgeous screen with a mind-blowing 2,880-by-1,800 pixel count. It may be the most beautiful display ever created, nicer than the one on the new iPad. The new portable is almost as thin as a MacBook Air, weighs 4½ pounds, runs a super-fast quad-core processor, and uses flash storage instead of a hard disk drive. Downside: all that goodness comes at a pretty steep price—$2,200 for the cheap version, $2,800 for the high-end model, which has a slightly faster processor and more storage space.
2. Apple is making desktop and portable computers look more like mobile devices.
A new flavor of Apple’s Mac operating system, code-named Mountain Lion, takes on more than 200 new features, including some that make a Mac look and feel more like Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS. Apple has tossed out iChat, its IM system, and replaced it with iMessage, an SMS-style app originally created for the iPad and iPhone. There’s a new notification system that alerts you to new email or Twitter messages, and a dictation feature that lets you do things with voice commands, the way you can on an iPhone with Siri. There is a built-in connection to iCloud, Apple’s online storage service, and built-in links to social networks, so it’s easier to share stuff on your social sites. And it will be easier for a Mac to share documents and photos with Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Mountain Lion ships in July.
3. The iPhone and iPad are getting new software.
The next version of Apple’s mobile operating system for the iPhone and iPad, iOS 6, will be out this fall and represents another push forward for what is already arguably the world’s best mobile operating system. Biggest news here is the integration of Facebook into the operating system, meaning when you find something on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll be able to share it more easily on Facebook. There’s a feature called Passbook that acts like a digital wallet to hold things like boarding passes, shopper loyalty cards, and movie tickets. Another big change: Apple has dumped Google Maps and replaced it with its own mapping and navigation system. Apple is not doing this because its own system is better—arguably, Apple’s solution is worse than what Google provides. Apple is cutting off Google because Google had the temerity to get into the mobile space with a rival operating system, Android.
4. Desktop computing is dead.
Well, maybe not completely dead. But almost. How do we know? Apple spoke not a word about the iMac. And after the keynote Apple quietly updated the specs on its high-end Mac Pro and called it “new,” but the changes were so small and so ridiculous that hardcore Mac fans were outraged. The Mac Pro, which can cost nearly $4,000 in some configurations, hasn’t really been updated for two years. For Cupertino watchers, this non-update update is a signal that Apple believes traditional PCs are obsolete and the action has moved to mobile. That’s no surprise, considering the vast majority of Apple’s revenue—roughly 75 percent in the most recent quarter—come from the iPad and iPhone.
5. Apple really, really wants to hurt Google.
How else to explain the decision to pull Google Maps from iOS? And how else to explain the opening of the keynote where Apple had Siri deliver a bunch of Android-bashing jokes? Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs was furious when Google created Android and entered the mobile phone space, competing with Apple. He’d be even more furious today, as Android now has three times as much market share as Apple in smartphones, according to the latest numbers from IDC, a market researcher. Jobs vowed to wage “thermonuclear war” on Google. Until now that seemed to involve simply hurling patent lawsuits at Android phone makers like HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. But now Apple is going further. Its new alliance with Facebook is an attempt to gang up on Google, which regards Facebook as a threat. Killing off Google Maps is also an attempt to hurt Google. One cautionary note: when companies start making product decisions based on a desire to hurt their rivals rather than a desire to help their customers, they’ve entered dangerous territory.
6. It’s a good thing Google created Android.
The reason Google entered the mobile space in the first place was because it could not trust Apple to keep using Google’s search and mapping software. All Apple had to do was yank Google’s software out of the iPhone, and bam—Google would be nowhere in mobile. Thus Google, to defend its search business, developed its own operating system and gave it away to phone makers, ensuring there would be plenty of mobile devices running Google’s search software and other apps. Apple’s decision to remove Google Maps from iOS only confirms that Google did the right and necessary thing when it created Android.
Apple still could be working on some kind of TV product. There’s just too much smoke
around the idea of an Apple TV for there to be no fire, somewhere, at some point.
7. Apple TV isn’t ready for prime time.
This is incredibly depressing, but it is all one can conclude from the fact that Apple has nothing to say about its expected push into the TV market. For months now rumors have swirled that Apple is working on a television with a unique new user interface. In the run-up to the show, Apple bloggers and rumor-mongers speculated that Apple would introduce an “Apple TV operating system” at WWDC along with tools that would let independent software developers create apps for Apple TV the same way they create apps for the iPhone and iPad. Apple blogger John Gruber pored over the WWDC meeting schedule and a map of the Moscone Center and found hints in those tea leaves that Apple would indeed be introducing a new developer platform for Apple TV.
Another blogger picked up on Apple CEO Tim Cook’s use of the phrase “stay tuned” when discussing Facebook and interpreted this to mean that Apple and Facebook are working on a project that would involve Facebook and Apple TV.
Sadly, all this turned out to be just the usual foaming-at-the-mouth fanboy blather, based more on wishful thinking than any real information or insight into Apple’s business. But who knows? Apple still could be working on some kind of TV product. There’s just too much smoke around the idea of an Apple TV for there to be no fire, somewhere, at some point. Whether Apple creates a TV or just a new spin on the current hockey-puck Apple TV device remains to be seen.
For now, however, Apple fans will have to be content with some very nice updates to Apple’s existing product line. If this were any other company, we’d all be overjoyed. But this is Apple, and from Apple people expect more than just updates—they expect miracles. They expect revolution, not evolution. Well, a revolution could still be looming, just around the corner. As Tim Cook said: stay tuned.