Shouting Into Darkness

Crystal Ball Time: Predictions for WWDC 2011

Posted in Apple Predictions, Technology by Chris W. on June 6, 2011

I’ll be honest with you, folks. I contemplated not writing this one up. In an unprecedented move, Apple let the iCat out of the iBag and pretty much told everyone what this year’s WWDC will be about. I, like many other Apple nerdniks who like to pretend like they’re part of the media, thought that the wonder and intrigue of this year’s Developer’s Conference was wasted. The surprise was spoiled. Little Johnny knew what was under the Christmas Tree, and that Santa hadn’t left it there. It was enough to make me want to slam the lid of my laptop in disgust and sulk down to the nearest liquor pit. Maybe if I got drunk enough, I could forget that Apple ruined the speculation for me, and maybe I could use that “head in the iCloud” joke I’d been saving up.

But then, a miracle happened. Instead of extinguishing the flames of speculation, Apple’s reveal fanned them even higher. Everyone knew the broad themes, but they needed details! Some were still clinging onto the hope of a new iPhone, too. There was still room in the online community for rampant, baseless speculation! It was enough to make me jump out of bed like Ebenezer Scrooge. So now, for your speculative pleasure, these are my predictions for 2011’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference.

The Sure Thing(s): OS X Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud – I’m not really going out on a limb for this one, because this is what Apple told us they’d be talking about. Hell, even photos of the banners all over Moscone West are showing up online! Apple is sending a clear message: “This year’s WWDC will be all about the integration and interdependency of the Apple platforms. It’s time for Apple’s operating systems to form together like Voltron.” … Or maybe that’s what my nerdy mind is interpreting it as. The real source of the speculation is what exactly does this mean? That’s what we’ll be spending today looking at.

Probability: 100%

The Slam-Dunk: iCloud Music Streaming – I’ve got my own wish-list for iCloud’s full features, but one thing that we know for certain is that iCloud will be a digital mirror of your iTunes music library. Every song you’ve ever bought, and every song you buy from this point on, will be saved in the iCloud, just like Amazon’s Cloud Player does now. From there, you will be able to stream any song in your library from anywhere you can get Internet access. This feature will be available to iOS users on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, but it is yet uncertain if a browser-based solution is in the works. Since Apple purchased the iCloud.com domain, I would assume that some browser activity will be inbound, but that may be for the MobileMe replacement-services, which we’ll get into. For now, it’s enough to know that Apple will mirror all songs in your library that match up with songs iTunes sells, no matter if they were purchased legitimately or not. No word yet on if personal tracks will get the same treatment. This is supposed to help the user not burn up all his or her bandwidth uploading hundreds of gigabytes of music to iCloud, after all. Any low-bitrate song will be replaced in iCloud with a streamable high-bitrate copy of the same song. This will also cost you a monthly or yearly fee, which many people will not have a problem paying. I will be one of them.

Probability: 98%. It’s safe to go All-In on this one.

The Secret Weapon: iCloud Digital Locker – We know that iCloud will incorporate streaming, but what I’d like to see is the Digital Locker, a place where all my Apple purchases live and can be re-downloaded if I so choose. When I look back at the (literally) thousands of dollars I’ve spent on iTunes media since 2004 and the hundreds of gigabytes it is taking up on my poor external HD, I wonder what would happen if I lost any of it. Yes, there are online backups and I’m actively pursuing those options, but iTunes and Apple are moving towards a business model that allows re-downloading (in some instances) if the original file is lost. The Mac App Store is a prime example; when you buy an App there, it is licensed on all your personal Macs and can be downloaded to any computer you authorize with that iTunes account (which maxes out at five, I believe). Why not do that with your media? I’d like the peace of mind to download a full season of Penn & Teller: Bulls**t!, watch it, remove it from my hard drive, and then re-download or stream it when I get into the mood. This feature is desired by a lot of customers, but the chance of it making iCloud’s launch are nowhere near certain.

Probability: 75%. Might want to Phone-A-Friend.

The Cosmetic Differences: “MobileMe” Rebranded as “iCloud.com” – MobileMe, as a name, sucks. I’m sorry, but when Jobs announced a few years ago that the “.Mac” accounts were becoming “.Me” accounts, I was ready to Elvis my computer screen. “Mac.com” was such a great domain name; it was seven characters total and told whoever was on the receiving end of the e-mail that they were dealing with someone who owned a Mac and was proud enough (or dumb enough) to pay the $100 a year for .Mac. “MobileMe” sounded like a Kindergarten activity. It lost all identifiability with the Mac platform, and certainly didn’t win over any favors with its botched launch. With iCloud, Steve Jobs and Apple see a way to retcon MobileMe out of existence and give users the type of experience MobileMe should’ve always been. All of MobileMe’s features – with some improvements – will be ported over to iCloud. Let’s hope they’re right this time.

Probability: 85%. Good enough to set your clock by.

The No-Show: iCloud Video Streaming – Rumors are starting to brew on the Internet (I know! Unheard of!) that Apple is trying to strike a similar deal with movie and TV distributors as they did with the music business. While Steve Jobs may have wrapped up all the music companies before WWDC, I think that the clock has run out with him on the video half. Plus, the iTunes business model has always been to tread into a new technological venture with music first and then follow with video once the coast is clear. That’s how the iPod happened, and how the iTunes Store happened, too. The technology is definitely there to allow users to buy a movie or TV show and stream it to either their AppleTV or iPad, but the rights aren’t and the implications of streaming all that video over 3G will make anyone on AT&T’s data plans weep. Now, if it does come to pass that video is included in the streaming/digital locker of iCloud, then you can bet that the first partners will be the Walt Disney company. Disney has always been with Apple as the first provider of movies and TV shows on iTunes, and the rest of the industry followed their lead. It will be the same here. Plus, I’ll be willing to bet that video streaming from iCloud will be limited to WiFi in the beginning. Let’s face it; the quality is better with WiFi, anyway.

Probability: 5%. Don’t stay up waiting for it.

The Coin-Flip: OS X Lion Available Right Away – I really hope this prediction will be true, and since Apple has released the Gold Master of OS X Lion, it has the potential of being true, but I’m not quite so sure. Apple has yet to announce that a new OS is available while an executive is on stage. Plus, a big part of WWDC this year will be Lion, and they want to give devs a chance to play around with the software, get some facetime (no pun intended) with Apple to iron out those last few kinks before submitting their application. They are the ones who need that software now. People like me are just impatient.

My best guess is that Lion will be available this month as a Mac App Store download priced between $15 – $30. This is what sells the App Store to the people who haven’t already joined the hivemind yet. Apple will be delivering an entire operating system update to the end-user via one click. No retail stores going out of stock, no waiting until you get home to install that shiny new OS. Just one click and it’s upgrading you to the latest and greatest. Plus, it means that any updates to the OS are done via the App Store, as well, also with one-click. This is the model Apple wants their users to become attached to, so how better to do it than by updating their entire system through their new digital distribution system. It’ll help keep the cost down, be more immediate for the customer to use, and hopefully, the servers won’t explode from the high demand.

Probability: 50%. Call it, friendo.

The Ringer: Completely Revamped iOS 5: Another year, another iOS update. You wonder what more Apple’s code monkeys can do with that operating system. It started out supporting just 15 apps on the Edge network and now it runs 500,000 apps on three different devices and defines mobile computing for some users. Still, do a casual search and you can see that there is still room for Apple to improve. Most people are expecting widgets and a new notification system on the OS, which would be welcome. I don’t have too much of a problem with the notifications now, as long as I’m not using my phone and only one thing happens. But if I’m watching a video, I’d like the phone to let me decide if a spam tweet is worth pausing my episode of “Doctor Who” for, thank you! The notifications should bend to the will of the user and allow him or her to walk away from the phone for an indeterminate amount of time and quickly get through whatever is requesting him or her. I think we’ll see those as well as enhancements to the Mail app (like a “mark all as read” button and better spam filters). Honestly, all I’m looking for is custom text message tones. How hard can that be, Apple?!

Probability: 63%. Might not get ’em all, but you’ll get most.

The Question Mark: Time Capsules as the Heart of iCloud – I’ve read this on several websites, and I still can’t wrap my head around how it’s supposed to work. According to inside sources, the data-portion of iCloud will be handled by a retooled Time Capsule, Apple’s proprietary wireless backup hard drive/WiFi router. It’d work by constantly being connected to the Internet, and the user could access any data held on it from anywhere, merging the idea of cloud computing with local storage. On paper, it looks fine, but maybe I’m missing something. It sounds like an improved version of “Back to My Mac” which basically was the same thing. You log on to a computer remotely and control it as if you were standing right there. The idea of cloud storage is that local backup is merely insurance, your real data lives in a server hundreds of miles away and yet still accessible. I guess that users would like the idea of the future of cloud computing, of Dropbox and Google Docs, local storage seems antiquated. I honestly have no idea to call this one because I don’t quite understand the idea behind it. We’re about twelve hours away from the conference, so we’re about to find out…

Probability: ?

The Due-Not-To-Appear: New iPhone, MacBook Air – Like I said earlier, there is a subset of people who still think Apple is following a rigid schedule of hardware release. It’s usually true that Apple’s hardware refreshes happen around the same time every year, but this year looks like it’s the exception. All the evidence is pointing away from a new iPhone being unveiled this year. It’d make a great “One More Thing,” (like the 3GS did a few years ago) but with Apple’s focus on software and the future of their operating systems, a new iPhone would steal the thunder from everything it had planned for today. Unless this is the mother of all setups, be prepared to hang on to your iPhone for a few more months.

As for the MacBook Air with a Sandy Bridge processor, if they come out this year (and I hope they don’t. This computer I’m typing on is only a few months old), you’ll read about it on Apple.com’s front page. The hardware upgrades wouldn’t be significant enough to give it precious real-estate at a Jobs keynote. The Fall is the best timeframe for both of these products, not at WWDC.

Probability: .99%. You feelin’ lucky, punk?

The “One-More-Thing” Roulette: This is the part of the article I was most looking forward to: picking Jobs’s customary “One-More-Thing” to end the keynote on. It all comes down to the structure of the event. What will he choose to open the event with? Will he lead strong with iCloud and then let that momentum carry through to the other topics, or delay the audience what they all want to see? My guess is that, after the usual numbers updates (how many apps downloaded, how many new stores popped up like dandelions, etc.) Jobs will start with iCloud, the topic everyone wants to know about, and close with iOS 5, the topic with the least amount of hype until this day (nobody knows what iOS 5 looks like, so that carries a lot of potential surprise). iOS 5 also has to go through a beta period with the developers, so it has the longest time between WWDC and release.

But is that enough to put “One-More-Thing” status on it?

If there is a “One-More-Thing” at this year’s WWDC, it’s a big feature. Last year was FaceTime, so they have to be thinking along the same lines. My official prediction: Jobs will withhold the announcement about streaming music and exactly how it will work until the end of the show. That’s the only thing I can think of that will be a bombshell announcement, yet an announcement that everyone expects.

Probability: 15%. You’re probably better off listening to someone who isn’t this tired.

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