Editor's Desk: Setting -- and blowing -- WWDC expectations

I'm sitting across from Moscone Center West where, in around 28 hours, Apple executives including CEO Tim Cook will take to the Keynote stage to kickoff their annual developers conference, WWDC 2013. No period in Apple's recent history has been more competitive for them, with rivals Google and Samsung pushing the mobile pace into damn-nearly a sprint, and no period in Apple's recent history has it been so long between keynotes before, almost 8 months having past since the iPad mini even back in October of 2012. Those twin tensions put a lot of expectational pressure on Apple. Everyone is waiting. Everyone is watching. Everyone wants to know -- what will Apple do, and what can Apple do?

Seeing a lot of the iOS 7 wish-list to date -- including some of my own -- made me realize that way too much focus has been put on the idea of Apple "catching up" to Android. The deep desire for Jelly Bean if only it were as elegant and performant as iOS. And then I realized--

Screw that. If that's the list, just get Android and hope Google gets their butter/ghee together.

When the iPhone launched in 2007 it had nothing in the way of feature parity with the Treo or BlackBerry that dominated in the day. It did something different. It offered something else instead. It leapt ahead, even as it left some very important things behind to do so.

That's what I'd like to see from iOS again. That leap forward. That something next.

Most people will forgive almost any existing feature omission if the overall experience delights and new features are uniquely compelling. That's what happened in 2007, and that's what I'd like to see happen again.

Last year a lot of effort and resources went into iOS 6 and while there was some great stuff for developers, there wasn't much else in terms of moving the state of the art of very personal computers forward. This year iOS 7 is getting a redesign, but will it be only skin deep, or will it once again push the boundaries of usability and delight?

A cosmetic change, sadly, could be more important in terms of mass-market kvetch-control than a re-imagining of core experience. If Apple understands that, the value of a fresh coat of paint, then the new iOS 7 look could likewise have dominated resources this year around. (Those highly iterated assets don't code themselves).

If that's the case, if this year is as much about Apple re-inventing their look as last year was about them taking ownership of their platform, then so be it. But I'll be looking for signs of more -- of where they're headed.

There's going to be a lot to unpack on Monday. I'm here with Peter Cohen and Martin Reisch, as well as with my co-host from Debug, Guy English, and co-hosts from Iterate, Marc Edwards and Seth Clifford. From our coverage in the morning to our (not live, but released soon-thereafter) show in the evening, we're going to bring it all to you.

Now, just to further help set -- or blow -- expectations:

  • Apple didn't provide multitasking, they provided ways for people to listen to music while surfing the web or using turn-by-turn directions. Likewise if they offer something for inter-app communication in iOS 7, it's hard to see them grafting in the overly complex and unfriendly sharing and intents system of other platforms. Rather, I can see them figuring out the most common use cases, and providing a simple way to address them.

  • If Apple does a subscription/streaming music service it probably won't be with every geek bell and whistle imaginable, but one that'll appeal to the 80% of the market who just want to tap a button, hear songs, and if they like them, keep them. And if they have to launch without every partner possible, I don't see them hesitating any more than they did with DRM-free iTunes music or iBooks.

  • Given the realities of battery life, I don't see Retina MacBook Air's in the near future. I do see a Retina MacBook Pro that, thanks to Haswell, makes people who want a Retina MBA think about maybe going 13-inch pro instead.

  • Out of time! I'll be back later with more!

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Editor's Desk: Setting -- and blowing -- WWDC expectations


I would like to see Apple move iOS in the more human and experience oriented direction a la WP, and the UI to be better adapted for touch use, like, well, WP. Moreover, iOs today is too geeky. You cannot do anything on the phone unless you know the exactly right third party app (which, of course, is not localized) to do that task. iOS is a mere app launcher. It needs to become an OS.

That is all the "amazing" new stuff I need. Get the basics right, thanks.

Ummmm......don't you know how smart & technologically inclined you have to be to follow someone else's step-by-step directions on how to "root" a device. They are all the 2nd coming of Linus Torvald!!!! ;)

LOL! Try showing this to the average Android user:

the definition of open: “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make”

They'll run away screaming in a craven techno-moron panic.

it is one click of the mouse to root most android devices. You do not have to compile anything.

Know of what you speak before you speak it

you are falling into the same trap as the rest of the Apple is doomed media by setting high expectations for this event and wind up being disappointed. Just enjoy the ride and see what kind of vision Apple has now that there are new people in charge of the direction. The only hope/expectation should be that Racer X/Stig clone doesn't make another embarrassing appearance.

I suppose Apple has to refresh the 'look' as just about every know-nothing around the world seems to focus on that, for some odd reason. No matter how irrelevant it might be, I'm sure Ives will do a great job of it. I expect that.

As for anything else they announce, I like Rene am hoping for some good core advances which solve real tablet/phone users workflow shortcomings. They don't have to be flashy. I don't need another social network integration (I don't use the current ones anyway). I do need some basic stuff fixed (like duplicating a calendar event, etc.) and workflow stuff, like a useable way to work with files without doing technical backflips. Workflow, workflow, workflow!

But, my advice would be that if they fail to impress the general populace (which is likely given the hype and expectations), buy their stock after the following drop, as it is currently even underpriced. So, if nothing else, these kinds of events might provide good investment opportunities.

As I read this post, the concept that hit me most is how out of touch the media is compared to the consumer base. I don't honestly care if you think that iOS is playing catch-up with Android or anything else. My purchases aren't based upon competition. They're based upon usability.

With that in mind, I find iOS far more usable and reliable than the myriad of Android products on the market. If you want to switch to Android to get some gadget, so ahead. It's of no consequence to me or millions of other iOS users. We're in it for something else. It would be nice if your reporting reflected our reality instead of your view of tabulated feature sets.

I'm so excited for WWDC 2013, i'm hoping to see a new better ios 7 and a new macbook pro retina and air with retina display

Does anyone else think that the WWDC banner maybe is giving us more than just a minimalist look? The square app boxes are transparent - Could this be alluding to transparency between apps? APIs? Maybe iOS will be more open?

Ever since I saw the WWDC logo this year, I thought there had to be something more to it. That is my guess but I don't know.

Or it could be that apple has come up with a new color and a new screen Technology and only Their screens can display this new color. Sorry that popped into my head earlier and this comment reminded me of it

Sent from the iMore App

That's kind of what I said about Google IO.

"If there's no Android 5.0, then this year's Google IO is a fail."
- Me

So yeah, this year's Google IO was, in fact, a fail. IMVHO.
Two reasons:

1. Android 4.x market share needs to increase before 5.0 can be released.
Launching a "4.3" release would create more fragmentation, a sliver of a sliver
of a sliver of the Android install base pie chart. Also a bad idea. Better to let more
4.2-based devices hit the market. (Read: Samsung Galaxies.)

2. Google IO was all about Google Glass this year. It's their new thing.
Why steal the spotlight from Glass with yet another Android release?
(And wow, what ever happened to Google Chrome? Did the $1300
Chromebook Pixel kill it once and for all?)

On the other hand, Apple will be announcing two (count 'em!) new OSes
at WWDC. Hardly a fail, whether hardware is announced now or next week
or next month or whenever.

MacBook Air + HiRes display = Retina MacBook Pro so there's no way it's going to happen.
Expect the Pro to become slimmer/lighter and the Air to be replaced with a 11" inch tablet because with Intel Haswell we'll get more battery hours. Maybe Apple will still keep the Air for the next couple of additional months so they have a 'normal notebook' in their store but they cannot sell a tablet for 800-900$ (10h, HD, 128GB) and a notebook for 999$ forever. Even with longer battery life the MacBook Air 11" is a device of the past so neither machine (iPad) interest me in it's current form and both are only temporary products. Hint: the time is now because the hardware is available (Microsoft jumped the gun last year with their tablets but they did what they could so I don't blame them).

More likely, a Retina MBA would mean a fail.

First, there are things that need to be retina more than others. Phones, absolutely! Tablets, not as necessary, but really nice. Laptops and desktops... why? Oh, I'm sure they will look a bit better to the super-eagle-eyed among us. But, for Retina to really pay off, you have to be closer than a typical user sits from the screen. (Granted, the current rez might be a bit too low for some, but retina is a whole different thing. Just boosting the rez a bit would solve that, retina is just a waste).

Second, Retina isn't free (in many ways!). It takes more battery, more GPU, more storage, etc. It also adds to the cost. There needs to be good reasons to do it, not just marketing hype. Most users would rather have a usable laptop than to be able to brag about their cool display.

The whole idea of the MBA is to get as portable as possible, but still have a laptop (running OSX). If you just want retina, get an iPad. If you have OSX necessity, then use it like a laptop. You don't want it's abilities diminished just to have a nicer screen.

I'll be around the corner at #AltWWDC, watching a live stream of the WWDC keynote and attending sessions the rest of the day. I expect AltWWDC to be a total madhouse since it's free. But hey, you can't get a ticket for "real" WWDC, you deal with it.

[Update: no live video stream. Will skip Monday's AltWWDC and go from Tuesday on.]

Curious...what is unfriendly about a system when you "share" you have a list consisting of installed apps that can handle the action, as opposed to having a list of the subset of apps Apple has allowed access to the action?

Sent from the iMore App

Exactly. I find the "sharing and intents" system to be one of the most user-friendly things about Android. It helps me get stuff done quicker and I never even really have to think about it. If Apple would implement something similar (not a straight-up copy of it, but at least something functionally equivalent) on iOS 7, along with some Swype-like functionality on the keyboard, I might be persuaded to come back to iOS.

I think you hit it spot on. Apple can satisfy and elate the masses by concentrating on the most common use cases and delivering better experiences for those areas.

There's no doubt that iOS 6 is getting a bit tired for those of us here from the very first iPhone. It is still perfect for usability but I'm looking for revolutionary changes now to make it feel fresh again. I hope it isn't stifled by backwards compatibility.

As for OSX and MacBook Airs, could we be nearing the moment where a new, pro range of solid state iPads takes over from them completely. Just a thought...

Sent from the iMore App

Apple always says it is a hardware company first and the integration of the OS with all devices and everyday needs is what is the game changer. As we count on our devices more in everyday use is the prize. That's what every company wants. Seamless integration between my Mac, iPhone, and iPad is what keeps me and if that simplicity grows it will keep a lot of people with apple and that is the magic thing that Steve Jobs introduced in 2007 and continued to develop. So Apple has no need to catch up but continue and improve on what they've started while everyone catches up with them. Every product that comes out is compared to apple products and apple products are only compared to past apple products. That's for a reason.

Yea, what they really need to do, IMO, is a cleanup behind the scenes. But, that isn't all so marketable, just the most noticeable in actual use. Basic apps are missing core features. Quality control needs work. etc. A great example I use daily was the Podcasts app. While it still needs some work, the last update was a game-changer for it, even though it was quietly announced. Another example might be not being able to duplicate calendar entries. Or, being able to deal with real-world files without technological backflips. Or, beefing up iCloud so we're not scared to trust it. Or, fixing some of the nerf'd aspects of OSX, while retaining the integration with iOS. None of it is glamorous, but urgently needed.

Or, here is another one if anyone is making a list...
How about the simple ability to control my text formatting. Copy something from most note programs or the browser, and past it into a mail message. It will throw off the formatting, including Mail's screen-wrap, making the email message not only ugly, but hard to read and work with.

A workaround is to first paste the text into Text Expander's note space, then copy and paste into Mail. But, that certainly isn't a workflow of an advanced OS. Apple actually introduced this problem a version or two ago when they 'updated' Mail to include formatting. But like most of the core iOS apps, they don't seem to have a big enough/smart enough team working on them to catch this kind of thing.... or even correct it in a reasonable time frame.

"Everyone is waiting. Everyone is watching"

I'm sure it feels that way over there, but to the general public all this is becoming increasingly irrelevant, since everybody does it several times a year. Even most Apple users have no idea of what a WWDC is and what relevance it has.

And Speaking of WWDC, I remember when Apple fans could make fun of other companies and their acronysms. That has to be the worst Apple name ever.

Many might not know what WWDC is, but nearly everyone will hear about what Apple announces, unless they don't follow the news at all. My parents (who are about as far from following tech stuff as possible) tell me about the stuff Apple is doing after such events.

I bet they know about new iPhones or iPads, but a new iOS? If they even know what that is, they sure as hell follow tech stuff very closely.

In the UK, the mainstream TV media powerhouses like BBC and Sky News will broadcast what Apple announces today. That's a big deal, because average consumers watch the news. When Apple announces something, everyone stops and takes note. They might not like it, but everyone is always interested to see what's going on

If iOS remain the simplistic mini system then I'm going elsewhere and since I don't know what OSX will bring I'm not purchasing anything Apple related (I don't know where they are headed with the Mac so I won't bet everything on their product).

Being a very long time Android hacker and rescent iPhone 5 owner who still owns and uses many top of the line Android devices my wishes with IOS is do something with iTunes, it just sucks. Constantly screwing up, just a real sucky experience. Apple uses it to squeeze every dime it can out of you. Video playback sucks, fix it. The moderators explain that Apple tries to save bandwith and playback is at a much lower level for this reason. I have extremely fast data speeds and my video playback isn't 1/2 as good as it is on the lowest level Android phone, the truth. IOS needs a file management system so iTunes isn't forced down your throat. Don't get me wrong I do enjoy my new iPhone 5 but there is so many very easy things that can be done to make it so much better. My final complaint is their App Store, it is slow and doesn't compare to the Android PlayStore. Please fix the app store.

Slow in what way? I actually prefer the App Store to the Play Store. It feels better organised, sharper and generally easier to use

Great article. I agree Rene if folk don't like iOS then head over to Android. I think this will be a great WWDC. No doubt Apple is aware what is at stake their 'street cred' as the media sees it. Hey I am not counting Cupertino out.

Sent from the iMore App

Apple is still the #1 smartphone maker. In order to keep its current fanbase content and possibly lure in some other os users they don't need to revolutionize the smartphone. All they have to do is evolutionize ios a little more. You don't want to change the whole user experience on the majority of people that are content with the os for the select few nerds that are "tired" of the os.

So, if "iRadio" is a thing (and the WSJ claims it is) then will it be a separate app on iOS as well as on OS X?

And if "iRadio" does become a separate app, does that pave the way for iTunes being broken up into separate apps on OS X?

And will Apple leave iTunes as a big ugly monolithic mess on Windows?
You know, to help drive people to buy Macs instead of Wintel boxes.
Looking forward to tomorrow.