This time next week, we’ll get a very strong indication of where Apple is actually at. The rest of the year, we just guess, closely scan the tech tea leaves and pass more rumours around.
That’s because next week (Monday 13th, US time; so Tuesday 14th for New Zealanders) it’s WWDC: the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. This event started off as a conference for developers of Apple software back in the 1980s: they’d meet, get the chance to discuss things with Apple engineers, and attended talks and presentations. All this still happens, but WWDC has evolved into the biggest Apple announcement platform on Day One – the San Francisco event at which Steve Jobs used to grandstand, show off new hardware, introduce entirely new products and which he’d usually finish with his famous ‘one more thing’: an even more unexpected, or at least yet another, announcement of new hardware.
Nowadays, CEO Tim Cook takes less time on stage than Jobs did and lets other Apple luminaries make the jokes, show the products and enjoy the applause. In 2014, the conference skewed away from grandstanding products to showcase the new developer code platform Swift, which has been transforming system and app evolution since. Not so whizz-bang as far as consumers are concerned, maybe, but we’ve all been reaping the benefits ever since in faster app development and an invigorated developer community.
Over the last decade, Apple has sold way more iDevices than Macs, which used to be the main products – only, really – of what became the Cupertino giant. Meanwhile, Mac OS and iOS have converged – iOS was always a subset of Mac OS, but the look and feel of the two systems have been growing closer. Apple apps like Pages and Numbers have increasingly come to mirror one another on the respective platforms. In the wider world, PCs have been in decline – strangely, Mac sales kept rising over the same period, until last quarter for the first time, when Mac sales saw a small drop. Old-time Mac users like me have a strong loyalty to Mac – I use iDevices, of course, but I find it hard to imagine a mobile device being my primary machine. Since Apple can think up to 25 years ahead (Steve Jobs conceived of the iPhone 25 years before it could be manufactured), who knows what evolution we could see?
Apple’s secrecy is legendary, although it hasn’t been as strong in the last few years as it once was. It’s hard to imagine a presentation of a totally new machine that hasn’t been telegraphed for months before thanks to grainy photos and leaks of possible parts destined for new things – Jobs achieved complete secrecy with the original jelly CRT iMac, and again with the first LCD iMac, but even while Jobs was still at the helm, rumours and leaks flourished. This was despite what I am sure are stellar efforts, with so many more staffers to cope with from Apple’s huge rise over the last 15 years, and because way more suppliers have needed to become involved, it has become virtually impossible to keep the lid on things. This has been spurred on by voracious demand for Apple to produce the next world beater, something never expected of Apple in the decades before it released the iPhone, triggering the smartphone revolution. when Apple followed that up with the iPad, people previously largely unaware of Apple started banging on that it had to ‘keep up’ and keep releasing entirely new things. All of this adds up to very close attention and considerable speculation on what Apple will/might/could do.
For example, if Apple does actually produce a car, nobody will be surprised, although they may be surprised at what form it actually takes. An Apple Car has been speculated on for a couple of years already, and there are many conceptual drawings by non-Apple people doing the rounds. Interestingly, though, I have not been aware of any supplier leaks hinting of an Apple Car. This means either that Apple is still far away from production, or that Apple is not building a car as such.
Although the latest Apple Store in San Francisco has big enough doors to drive a car into and then use like a auto showroom, we actually have no real idea what Apple is doing in this space. We may get a hint of that at WWDC but it’s doubtful, if a car is not near readiness. Expect a full release of Apple’s ‘car’ or nothing.
More likely, we’ll get iPhone 7 being presented, even if it’s not immediately available, some new Macs (MacBook Pro, hopefully) and lots of developer talk.
But soon, we’ll know for sure.