Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference has become one of the most critical dates in the company's calendar, partly because apps and their developers have become an ever-more important part of its business and partly because the event is used by Apple as a platform to announce new products.
This year's WWDC begins on June 10th, and its popularity among developers seems to have soared beyond previous records: The tickets sold out within mere minutes of becoming available. So many developers were left out that Apple has even revealed it'll be doing a conference tour, of sorts, to give more people access to company-level discussions.
The other thing that WWDC does is drive a sudden uptick in Apple rumors. The company's mystique attracts a certain level of rumors all the time--call it the cosmic Apple rumor background--but such is the importance of WWDC that many more surface. Given the date proximity of the event, and the critical hardware and software that Apple may reveal there, these rumors are always fascinating.
iOS7's Flatter Look? iOS was revolutionary when it arrived on the iPhone in 2007 because there was nothing like it--the combination of touch hardware and gesture software was amazing. Apple has kept the OS evolving ever since, introducing new features like the powerful Siri system all the time. But it's also introduced unpopular aspects like skeuomorphic designs, and the OS seen as a complete package is no longer the leading-edge item it once was. Apple, aware of this, fired its head of mobile, Scott Forstall, in late 2012 and placed its chief designer, Jon Ive, in overall charge of software design too.
Now fresh rumors from 9to5Mac.com say that Ive is leading iOS 7 (the next version of the mobile OS that will be on this year's new iPhones and iPads) in a new direction that's "very, very flat." Multiple sources have told the website that iOS 7's design will be much simpler and cleaner than iOS 6, with a level of "flatness" that may even approach Microsoft's Metro mobile OS--which is made of simple blocks of color and clear typography.
This flatness means skeuomorphism may be completely banished, and it may also mean that certain sub-systems or settings in the OS which are currently buried deeply beneath layers of menus and drop-down lists will be more accessible.
Apple's also said to be keeping the redesign familiar to users so there's no new learning curve required (which tallies with the company's long-held "it just works" mantra). And it's also reportedly bringing a more glance-friendly feel to the system so that useful information is more readily accessible at a moment's notice. This aspect of the UI is what the original, if flawed, Notifications service was for--but new rival systems like Google's Now and even, perhaps, Facebook's Home have set a new level for this type of data access.
May 1, 2013. Ive's redesign is delaying iOS 7... or so says the scuttlebutt over at Bloomberg, which amplifies some rumor rumblings that have echoed around the Net for a while.
Bloomberg paints the news in very negative colors:
Jonathan Ive, six months into an expanded role as Apple Inc.’s top product visionary, has embarked on a sweeping software overhaul that leaves the company at risk of falling behind on a new version of the operating system that runs iPhones and iPads, people with knowledge of the matter said.
The article confirms that Ive is ridding the iPad and iPhone of skeuomorphic design elements like faux leather textures, stitching, wooden shelves in iBooks, and even the paper notebook look of the Notes app.
Ive's new position and the push to revamp iOS also affects Apple's CEO, according to Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie. The article quotes him saying:
Tim is a supply-chain expert and he needs to rely on people like Jony to be able to make the right decisions. That doesn’t mean things run smoothly -- because a challenge for Tim not being involved in the detailed product discussions is making sure that gridlock is avoided and decisions are made.
What seems to be happening is that in addition to adding critical new features to keep iOS cutting edge, fresh, and appealing to consumers, Ive's iOS makeover is adding intense pressure to the teams--which are said to be racing toward final deadlines that are closer to the WWDC event than have been typical.
This is exactly the sort of change/pressure/management tension that almost every single company faces on a regular basis. Apple has, with few exceptions like Ping and Maps, valued being right over racing to meet a perceived deadline.
And while noted non-designer, aka Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps may well say "The bar for good design has been raised and Apple is facing fiercer competition,” what she means is that the market has simply matured to catch up with the first innovator--Apple--just as happens in every new market. Some of Apple's smartphone peer OS's are great designs, some not... just as some of the hardware is beautiful, some is not. You can bet that Ive has an eye on all of it, though.
Power users will love OS X 10.9. Apple's said that its Mac operating system OS X will be a major part of WWDC. Fresh rumors suggest that the upcoming edition, codenamed "Cabernet," will probably not be a radical overhaul in terms of look and feel--like earlier 10.X upgrades--but instead will add in more powerful features and incorporate design lessons and functionality from iOS.
This is a trend Apple's been following for a while with its Mac OS, driven in part by multitouch gestures on the Mac's trademark giant touchpad. OS X Mountain Lion also brought less "touchy" features like the Messages app over from iOS.
10.9 may bring iOS's battery- and power-managing background app functionality to the desktop, according to some thinking. This could radically improve the battery life and/or power of Apple's mobile Macs. And there's also a suggestion that Apple's digital assistant Siri may come to Macs, because Apple's already brought some of the same voice dictation services to OS X 10.8. It's worth remembering the company also recently advertised for many new Siri engineering jobs.
The iCar Cometh? Various car manufacturers are embracing some of Apple's tech in their new models--with particular emphasis on the safety and convenience aspects of having Siri's voice control as part of the driving experience.
But there's now some rumbling that Apple wants iOS 7 itself more closely integrated with in-car infotainment systems. Is this a reaction to the success of novel attempts like Ford's Sync?
What Apple seems to have planned is a much deeper integration than merely being able to control apps on your tablet or smartphone: Instead systems like Maps and Siri would be echoed off your phone and onto the in-car big screen. Thus you'd talk to your car, via Siri's "personality," and see Apple's data on the car's displays.
Is 2013's "cheap" iPhone really a "mid-range" iPhone? The idea of a cheap iPhone--one which uses simpler components than the flagship device, and would thus retail at a lower price--has been all over the Internet for years. This year it's taken on a new level of frenzy as sources claim that Apple really is going to release two iPhones: The glossy new top-end product, and a cheaper plastic-backed one that will combat the many cheap phones in the Android army. But some thinking by J.P. Morgan has added a new wrinkle to this rumor, suggesting that Apple wouldn't make a cheap phone. Instead it will make a mid-range device.
The argument is compelling, and it has precedent: Apple has historically expanded its product range to cover broader price brackets, with the many iPod variants as a classic example and the iPad Mini as a more recent one. But the company has seen its profit margins eaten by the iPad Mini in recent months, even though its sales continue to rise--it would seem unlikely that Apple would tolerate big chunks being taken out of these margins by a truly "cheap" iPhone which would retail at prices in the $200 range, unsubsidized.
Apple has previously covered the mid-range market by keeping the preceding iPhone variant on sale at a lower price to appeal to consumers with less cash, but there's always a slight stigma in the tech world of buying last year's model. If Apple does design a cheaper iPhone, cramming it full of attractive specs and distinct hardware (such as multicolored plastic shells) and then retails it at $350, J.P. Morgan argues it would have a wholly new type of hit on its hands--one that hits market segment leader Samsung right where it hurts.
The Retina iPad Mini really is coming... so says a fresh rumor, which also suggests that the device won't hit until the "second half" of this year.
This suggestion makes it seem like the potential launch of an updated iPad Mini--which will also, the rumors say, have bumped internal specs like its CPU--will be later than expected, and definitely after the WWDC event. But it's worth noting that WWDC is in June, and thus the Mini could easily be revealed at this point and then made available a few weeks later. That lines up with what is, technically, the second half of the year.
Weirdly the same source also says a second updated Mini will arrive in the first quarter of 2014. Though that sounds like a highly attractive idea, the thought that a source would be able to predict Apple's launch schedule that advance is unlikely.
The Retina Mini is thought to sport a screen with 2,048 by 1,536 pixels--four times the current resolution, and exactly the same as the current full size iPad, just on a smaller screen. Samsung is also said to be written out of the updated iPad Mini, and LG is picking up the business instead.
iPhone screen production line to start next month. Sharp is set to begin mass production of the screens for the next-generation iPhone as soon as this June, according to Japanese newspaper Nikkan Kyogo.
Sharp received a big investment from Samsung recently, and has been previously rumored to have won significant cash injections from Apple. Lead Apple manufacturer Foxconn is also known to be in protracted partnership negotiations with the firm.
Along with Sharp, the same sources say Japan Display--a conglomerate that includes big names like LG and Sony--has also had orders for screens from Apple and will make them on the same timescale.
What's interesting about this rumor is that we know Apple's control of its production and inventory schedules is very strict. Tim Cook's team doesn't like having stock sitting on warehouse shelves for long, and if the iPhone's screens are being made in a matter of weeks time from now then it's likely so will the rest of the device. This suggests Apple could announce a new iPhone (either the iPhone for 2013, the rumored "cheap" iPhone or, possibly, both) at WWDC, with availability a few weeks later.
iPhone maker hires 40,000 staff. Pegatron is one of Apple's big suppliers, and the company is now said to be planning on hiring 40,000 extra workers for the second half of 2013--reigniting rumors about a cheap iPhone. That figure would represent a 40% growth on the company's existing 100,000 employees. Production may begin ramping up in July after test production runs in June.
Pegatron's CFO has been reported as saying 60% of his company's revenues would come from the later six months of this year, and though he wouldn't be drawn on exactly why this is so, the figure would tally with a new iPhone line.
Separately French site Nowhereelse.fr, which has been accurate in previous iPhone rumors, has posted photos of a part that corresponds to the iPhone camera and flash circuitry. The part is similar to existing iPhone 5 designs, but shows big modifications--implying at least an evolved design for the motherboard and different camera specs for the next iPhone.
It's a mini adventure as iPad Mini rumors swirl. Walmart has recently cut the price of iPad Minis in its stores by $30. That's just under 10%, and it brings the entry price point for the Mini down to $299. While this isn't an enormous price cut it is fairly far in advance of Apple's WWDC, and has nevertheless fueled rumors that an updated iPad Mini may make its debut at the event. A late June reveal and mid-July availability, or thereabouts, would give Walmart and retailers like it plenty of space to discount the current-gen iPad Mini still further in order to drive sales and shift stock.
More rumors about a Retina screen iPad Mini have arrived courtesy of MobileLeaks. The display will be a 7.9-inch, 2048 by 1536 pixel unit which matches the current size and tallies with earlier Retina rumors. This time we also get a hint the device will have a dual-core Apple A6X CPU inside and an 8-megapixel rear camera. The A6X is what powers the current iPad fourth generation tablet, so including it in the next iPad Mini instead of the current old-gen dual core A5 chip makes sense.
We're not totally convinced by this new source, but the suggestions it makes for the next iPad Mini are indeed very logical. We'd expect the new device to have exactly this sort of spec.
May 20th, 2013
According to reports from Japanese blog Macotakara, Apple has begun sampling screens that measure 1.5-inches from RiTdisplay. The screens are OLED, which is something of a departure for Apple, which usually prefers innovative LCD display tech...though this may explain the "sampling" phase.
The blog says these are for watches, and that Apple had been looking at 1.8-inch screens until deciding that they were too unwieldy.
A skeptic could suggest that screens this size could be for a next-gen iPod nano, and that's not implausible. But it's very believable that Apple experimented with and then ruled out a nearly 2-inch screen for a smartwatch, simply as it would be too clunky a device. The Pebble watch, for comparison, has a 1.26-inch screen while the full Android-function I'm Watch has a 1.54-inch unit.
Is this something Apple will reveal at WWDC? It's unlikely. But you have to admit that as a teaser in a "one more thing" ending it would be a heck of a headline-grabber.
Cook was interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of AllThingsD as part of the D11 event, just as he was last year for the D10 show. In 2012 we learned that Cook was calm, collected and demonstrated as much iron hard control over Apple proprietary information as Jobs had. This year Cook was much the same, even though he faced tough questions about Apple's taxes and upcoming hardware. He really didn't leak much information out in his words...but there were a few key phrases that may hint at Apple's future products.
iOS 7 and OS X
Cook acknowledged that WWDC was going to be all about iOS and OS X, and Apple's "super excited" about what it has to show. When directly questioned about Jon Ive's involvement, Cook confirmed Ive's signature is all over the new code.
So what we did was amp [Apple's innovation] up. We recognized that Jony had contributed significantly to the look and feel of Apple over many many years, and he could do that for our software as well.
We know that Ive is in charge, and recent rumors say that he's been driving a dramatic redesign of iOS--Cook's words just support this.
Cook was in two minds about wearable tech. He acknowledged that the entire field was "incredibly interesting" and it "could be a profound area." But he also said that of the wearable devices he's seen that "are doing more than one thing, there's nothing great out there." In particular there are challenges in getting kids who've never worn glasses or a wristwatch to wear one is going to be tricky. He even threw a bit of a slur in Google's direction by saying that " from a mainstream point of view, glasses are risky."
Cook did, however, say the "wrist is interesting." So while he wouldn't be drawn, and hinted at nothing obvious, Cook didn't rule out an iWatch that had simple, great design and that added value without being too complex.
Asked why Apple hadn't taken a route something like Samsung's multiple devices, Cook said "We haven't so far. That doesn't shut out the future."
Then, without directly saying anything about future phones, he talked about the tricks used to diversify the iPod line: "these products all served a different person, a different type, a different need." This leaves the door wide open for a couple of different iPhone models...if Apple's determined that there's a need for them.
The area Cook was cagiest about was television. He said he didn't want to talk about it, but did say "When you look at the TV experience, it's not an experience that I think many people love. It's not an experience that's been brought up to this decade." That's restating something Steve Jobs said. But he also admitted that while the Apple TV has been selling like crazy--with 13 million units sold, about half of them in the last year--it hasn't answered all the questions.
Apple retains a "grand vision" for TV-related products, Cook said, and refused to say much more. This sounds more than TV as a "hobby"...and could be taken as a gentle hint Apple has TV-related products on the way.
iRadio rumors get turned all the way up thanks to Warner deal. Apple's plans to launch an "iRadio" streaming music service had reportedly stuttered because talks with the record labels broke down over license pricing. Now the New York Times suggests Apple may be making a huge last-minute push to get the service ready for a reveal at WWDC, boosted by a newly minted deal with Warner Music.
Apple's said to be paying 10% of associated ad revenues to Warner as part of the license, which represents more than twice the 4% that rival streaming service Pandora pays. If true this demonstrates how keen Apple is to leverage iTunes to keep music listeners within its ecosystem, and it's also good news for the other labels because it suggests Apple could be a very lucrative streaming music partner.
New skinnier Macs on the way? Usually analyst-sourced rumors don't carry much weight because of their more speculative nature, but KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo has been pretty reliable in the past. This makes a new research note from Kuo all the more interesting, because it suggests Apple may reveal updated MacBook Pro Retina laptops at WWDC. Kuo expects the machines to sport even thinner profiles than in their initial incarnation due to improvements in processor and battery tech. The current non-Retina display MacBooks may also be frozen in terms of specs, but kept on sale in order that Apple can still earn revenues from the popular machines but not expend cash or effort improving them.
Ad Exchange on the way to boost developer revenue. Apple is also said to be planning to expand its mobile ad services beyond its current iAd system, with a targeted ad exchange. The idea would be to enable devlopers and ad partners to deliver highly targeted adverts to iOS users based on their preferences and previous web habits--similar to the targeting that Twitter and Facebook offer.
Speaking at the AllThingsD conference last week, CEO Tim Cook said that while Apple was indeed in the ad business, it was more for the benefit of its developers than Apple itself. The consistency of iOS between devices and the iCloud service means it would be very easy for the company to leverage data for more targeted advertising, and Cook also hinted that developers may see more openness and access from Apple in the future. A simple revenue-boosting ad exchange that benefitted developers, Apple, and advertising partners would align with this ideal, and also act as another hook to keep developers creating apps for Apple's iTunes ecosystem.
Apple's new ads are aimed at a free iRadio. New details about the Apple advertising plan reported by Bloomberg suggest Apple's purported new ad service may also be aimed at its iRadio system. The company is said to have been negotiating with high-profile ad firms so that big-name advertisers can be listed at launch, possibly at WWDC. Ad customers are thought to have been attracted by Apple's offer of highly targeted customer data.
The ad revenues are destined to make iRadio a free service to users, a move that would distinguish Apple's streaming service from its rivals. While it's possible that iRadio may be revealed at WWDC, Bloomberg suggests it may actually launch later in the year alongside the arrival of iOS 7.
June 6th, 2013
New MacBook Airs
AppleInsider is reporting that instead of MacBook Pro updates at WWDC, Apple may be ready to reveal improvements to its hot-selling MacBook Air ultralight laptops.
While little detail is known about what the refreshed Airs may be like, the leading theory is that they'll sport Intel's brand new Haswell processors. The lower power consumption of these chips could allow for either much better battery performance from existing battery tech, or possibly allow Apple to redesign the Airs to shave off even more weight. Newer 802.11 ac Wi-Fi is also tipped for the laptops, which allows wireless connections at significantly faster rates than the older "n" Wi-Fi specification.
Audio Ads In iRadio
The ads that have been rumored to be powering Apple's free iRadio streaming music service may actually come in two formats. AdAge is reporting that both traditional online ads and also audio adverts, which would be embedded in the stream of music between tracks, will make an appearance. Both sets of ads would be managed through Apple's iAd service.
The theory is that Apple can charge a premium for interstitial audio ads because they can be very highly targeted based on what the company knows about a user from their iTunes and iCloud habits for music, apps, and so on. This targeting could allow Apple to charge a premium for the ads--which would return lucrative revenues to the record labels as part of their new music licensing deals--but they may deliver much more value to ad partners. Overall an ad campaign on iTunes may be more attractive than one via a rival service like Pandora because of this precise targeting.
iOS7 Look Leaked By Apple?
Apple's own WWDC app may have given away some clues about the look and feel of the next big software update for iPads and iPhones, iOS7. The app seems to shun some of Apple's traditional app design norms, and instead sports a flatter, simpler graphical look.
With very few gradient shading backgrounds or highlight overlays on icons, and with simple black text on white backgrounds throughout, the theory is that Apple's giving us a taste of how iOS7 will look once Jon Ive has worked his design magic on it to remove skeuomorphism.
June 7th, 2013
iRadio Seems More Certain As Sony Signs Up
AllThingsD is reporting that Sony Music has signed up with Apple to be a part of its iRadio streaming music service. Apple was reportedly able to close some of the gaps in the discussions between the two companies relatively swiftly.
The addition of Sony alongside Warner and Universal means that Apple has three of the biggest names in music onside, and thus seems perfectly positioned to reveal iRadio (or whatever it will be named) at WWDC next week. It's not expected that Apple will make the service available immediately, and indeed the last minute deal making may not have left much room for finalizing the project--but a reveal at WWDC would let the company steal many headlines.
Bookmark this post. We'll be tracking more rumors as WWDC approaches.