Timing is the difference between hitting and missing. Winning and losing. In technology, timing is the difference between products that dent universes and those that languish in return bins. Between features that change lives and those that merely check boxes. Timing requires enormous amounts of audacity and patience. You can't hesitate but you can't rush. Being first is seldom the same as being best, and being late is often the same as being never. 2014 feels like a pivotal year for Apple when it comes to timing, and what's more — that's it's only just beginning.

WWDC 2014 saw Apple senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi knock out the biggest list of new software features since iOS 4. From iOS 8, OS X Yosemite, and the dev tools section, two of them stand out — the new Extensibility framework and the new Swift programming language. For years Apple has been accused of being behind competitors like Android and Windows Phone when it comes to inter-app communications, and the whole "Avoiding Copland" saga has played out over the course of almost a decade.

For inter-app communication, Apple took their time. They built a rock-solid security model, ported XPC, their communications protocol, over from OS X to iOS, separated their windowing service, SpringBoard into SpringBoard (foreground) and BackBoardd (background) and, with iOS 7, completed a massive re-imagining of how mobile interface and interaction should work.

Once all of that was done, Apple built a system that's secure, that respects privacy, that runs off a daemon rather than requiring an entire system to power and maintain it, that persists even if its source app is jettisoned, and that can serve as the foundation not only for moving content between apps but for building a widget system, a third-party keyboard system, an interactive notification system, and more. It wasn't the first inter-app implementation on the market, but it looks to be one of the best.

Likewise Swift. Apple brought Chris Lattner, now head of dev tools, on board with LLVM (lower level virtual machine) and later added Clang. Those technologies freed them from GCC dependency and made them masters of their own compiler destiny. Over the span of years things like blocks and ARC (automatic reference counting) were added to Objective-C and then, when everything was in place, when Lattner and team had gotten to where they needed to be, Apple took the C out of the Objective-C and unveiled Swift.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if there were similar projects going on and similar foundations being set for future versions of iOS and OS X, for new files systems and multi-pane apps and things we've not yet even thought to begin complaining about.

Big changes like the NeXT acquisition, like the switch to Objective-C and OS X are rare. More common are the small changes over time. Pieces get updated one by one. Then, only years later, are the true scope of the changes appreciated.

I've written similar about hardware before. In 2008 we got a 3G iPhone. In 2010 we got a Retina iPhone. In 2012 we got a 4-inch iPhone with LTE. In 2014 it isn't hard to imagine we'll get yet another evolution of the iPhone... or two. Why now? Why this year? Because we're at the end of the last two-year cycle and Apple's put a lot of things in place to scale both its production and its development chains to reach 4.7 and 5.5 or whatever's the next number(s) are they intend to reach.

Consistent gesture navigation, touch-and-release radial controls, constraint-based layout, dynamic text, storyboarding that can span a range of sizes and orientations, the capacity to manufacture more than one new phone a year, high-quality panels that, at large sizes, can be made at the right price and with the right yields to supply hundreds of millions of devices. All of it, put in place.

We've seen how hard Apple pushes technology, how limited supplies of Retina panels, Touch ID sensors, and other cutting-edge components have been in the past. Try to go too early and that technology simply can't be produced at sufficient quality in sufficient amounts, or results in horrible battery life, pentile pixel arrangements, or other usability hits. Go at just the right time and you have 800,000,000 devices sold by a single manufacturer.

Markets have to be ready as well. For the last few years Apple sold more 4-inch and under phones at over ~$500 in the US than all their big-screen competitors combined. When faced with the choice between an iPhone and a bigger sized not-an-iPhone, more than enough people were choosing the iPhone because of, or in spite of the size, that nothing bigger was yet needed.

Now, if the rumors are true, just like when Apple moved from AT&T exclusivity to multi-carrier, and everyone who wanted an iPhone but couldn't or wouldn't use AT&T could finally get iOS on the carrier of their choice, those who want an iPhone but can't or won't use one 4-inches or smaller will finally be able to get iOS on the screen size of their choice.

Timing. Patience.

That's not to say there aren't the early experiments at Apple as well, the things like Apple TV and Passbook that seed massive markets like television and mobile payments to see where they're going. And also mulligans, like MobileMe and Core Data sync that get replaced with iCloud and CloudKit.

As much as I, as a technology enthusiast, love companies that throw everything at the wall just to see what sticks, I also value those that have patience to counterbalance their audacity, that take their time and pick their shots. I value the ones that wait for the Treos and the BlackBerrys to pass the early adoption stage, the Intents and the Contracts to get hammered on, the Pebbles and the FuelBands to hit the market. I value the ones that wait and see where each product is brilliant and terrible, figure out how and where they can make something better, and then focus on the implementation and the packaging and give me something truly great.

That requires timing. And 2014 feels like the year we get to see a lot of Apple's timing pay off.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Great article! Sent from the iMore App
  • Seems to me this article would be more appropriate after we've actually used this new stuff and are able to declare via experience that Apple's implementation is better. I still believe some of this stuff would not have been approved by Steve Jobs and getting it now is just as much a function of new leadership as it is timing. I have a hard time believing Apple needed 7 years to effectively bring things like quick toggles, actionable notifications and widgets etc. to iOS. And I find it interesting that we're getting this stuff after Steve's passing and Scott Forstall being let go. Perhaps the new regime at Apple is more amenable to opening the platform than Steve was? Perhaps we're finally seeing Tim Cook's Apple, finally free of what would Steve do baggage?
  • Steve Jobs didn't want iTunes on Windows and we got it anyway. They've been working on inter-app notifications for iOS for a while but there were problems that needed overcoming. Getting XPC ported for iOS 6 was one of them. Maybe Forstall or Jobs would have vetoed the feature, maybe it would have gone forward anyway, who knows? The version we got this year depended on several other things being in place, and it looks like a very solid version.
  • I'm very excited about everything we're getting. My argument is I think it's about more than just Apple taking their time to get it right. I think Cook and the current leadership realize Apple was falling behind the competition and needed to improve iOS in a big way. I don't think it's a surprise Forstall was let go after iOS 6 which was a pretty lackluster release. At WWDC 2012 one of the features highlighted was Siri providing sports scores. This year that would have been thrown up on a slide with 100 other things Apple didn't have time to talk about.
  • I don't know whether this post is serious. To clear things first, I like Apple products and use a Mac and an iPad daily. But I won't keep trying to justify Apple's every action as some genius and well timed move that only Apple can do. In what way do you know that Android's indenting system is less secure than iOS or inversely how do you know iOS's is secure? How the actionable notifications in Android is inferior to iOS's? Apple and fans has repeatedly argued that >4 inch phones are not usable and now that Apple is going to release one(or two), your argument is that market is receptive now and Apple timed it right. And we should forget that 'usable' argument existed. I shouldn't complain about adulation at a dedicated site but this 'Apple is always right' posts just pisses me off.
  • This post doesn't justify anything. It just explains a few things. Many people feel Apple is too slow. Many switched to Android or other platforms to get features faster than Apple provided them. We're lucky to live in a time where there are lots of options. But every choice has a cost. You can't have everything all the time all at once. So far Apple's timing has benefited them in many ways and hurt them in very few. Whether or not that continues remains to be seen. (If you're interested in iOS security, go read the iOS 7 Security White Paper — it's pretty amazing.)
  • But in this case Apple has been and IS too slow. Period. I have an Android phone and an iPad. I love both. The fact that I still can't take a photo and share it directly to , say , Instagram or Hootsuite on my iPad, is just insane in 2014. You can write all you want about patience and trade offs, but sharing on Android is fantastic, and iOS 8 sharing is nothing more that barely catching up in this 1 area. Dressing it up as something else - calling it patience and Timing, instead of just being too slow is skewing the truth. There are many cases where Apple's timing and patience are valued, just not in regard to this item. There are many things iOS does better. Sharing is not one of them, and has never even been a close 2nd, and has been a source of frustration for years with iOS users. Painting a smiley "Apple is about TIMING" face on this particular item being a bit disingenuous ..
  • Which case? You can't cherry pick one feature and say "Apple was slow to do that there for Apple is too slow period!!" That's specious logic. I switched from a Galaxy S to the iPhone 5 and one of the things that I have missed is the customizable sharing sheets. I'd have preferred them to be in iOS6. But they're coming soon and that's a good thing. People in the comments seem to be interpreting Rene's article as "Apple's timing is always spot on" and I don't see that. Apple isn't always spot on. Sometimes they're too early or late and some things (iOS8 for example) are a mix. Some of the features are a bit late, others a bit early but the package as a whole seems to be at the right time. Put in fewer words, Apple tries to deliver features that are incredibly well thought out and polished and to ship them when there's a match between what technology can do and what the market is ready for. Keep in mind that Apple shipped a poster product for being too early, one that was a harbinger of the touch screen present - the Newton. Brilliant in some ways, but far, far too early both technologically and for the market. RIM/Blackberry is an example of a company being too late to that same new paradigm of tiny, touch computers.
  • Sharing was used as an example. It is about the poorest example of "timing" I can think of on iOS, other than maybe cut an paste. (and I didn't say Apple is slow, period). I read the article as talking about - and giving examples of - why Apple takes their time and why that is a GOOD thing. Sharing was given as an example, and IMO that is not the one to use to support this point at all.. I like Apple products and own apple products. There isn't a need to overthink a lot of this. It is possible for some features Apple releases to be both good - AND ALSO VERY LATE . Just saying ..
  • "For the last few years Apple sold more 4-inch and under phones at over ~$500 in the US than all their big-screen competitors combined." holy crap, that's a tight definition. Anyhoo, I don't think that is correct as there are very few smartphones in the US that sell for less than $500 (i.e. the Galaxy S3 still sells for $500) and Apple only has a around 45% marketshare of the US smartphone business. The only thing we know for sure is that Apple that the smartphone market is growing faster than Apple (meaning Apple is not keeping up) and Apple must change. I do agree that timing is everything but Apple also has a long history of throwing things out there and letting the customers test them out (*cough* iOS7). As for rushing, I'd argue that the largest acquisition that Apple has ever done (Beats) was rushed.
  • What Rene is referring to on selling more in the US than >4" are reports from AT&T that say 9 of 10 smartphones sold were iPhone, 7 of 10 on Verizon, etc. Sent from the iMore App
  • You're talking market share.. I think you are anyway in the first sentence.. It's badly written.. Apple doesn't work off market share.. If thats not clear to you after 7 years, well.. ha! it will never be.. iOS 7 was great, had bugs.. but a 1st gen remix of ANY software will have bugs.. You never know until you give it to consumers.. consumers always seem to find them. Most of iOS 7 was on the board before Forstall left.. It was the UI redo that was added. Most like it.. I do.. Beats; ah, if you ACTUALLY watched the interviews, rather than just spreading rumor, you'd know Eddie has worked with Lovine for YEARS. Lovine approached Eddie and Apple many times over those years.. Hardly what I would call rushed.. Apple just waited until it was ready.
  • "You're talking market share.. I think you are anyway in the first sentence.. It's badly written.. Apple doesn't work off market share.. If thats not clear to you after 7 years, well.. ha! it will never be.."I agree, but Rene brought it up, so you should be pestering him (I will say for a company that doesn't work off marketshare, they seem to tout it every chance they get), and I have a feeling Rene knows more about Apple than you do. "Beats; ah, if you ACTUALLY watched the interviews, rather than just spreading rumor, you'd know Eddie has worked with Lovine for YEARS." First off, his name is Iovine (an I not an L) and yes, I read the interviews and I don't recall Iovine never talking with Cue, only Jobs (why would Iovine deal with a chump like Cue?), and they never worked together.
  • Well, segmented market share. Apple has 0% share of the under $400 phone market, so that skews things considerable. They have a very high share of the over $600 phone market. Likewise, Apple has a high share of the U.S. phone market. It's disgraceful how poorly segmented phone industry metrics are.
  • Apple is not only keeping up, they're surpassing their real competitors in the market (those at the high end of the market). Apple doesn't need to keep pace with the low end - they don't cater to that market segment. Do you think Bang & Olufsen gives a crap about Insignia? Or Mercedes gives crap about Kia? Different market segments; neither affect the other. Apple doesn't sell low-end, low-margin devices therefor they'll never compete in that market. For some strange reason Apple believes in making a profit so they can continue to push forward; unique manufacturing processes and materials, custom designed processors, developing their own developer tools, developing their own OS, etc. You have to make a profit in order to fund research.
  • Great article Rene! Timing and Patience are the 2 words that stood out the most to me. puts things into perspective. Definitely 2 things Apple is great at, IMHO.
  • Great article Rene. One of the best I've read in a while.
  • I am curious what Rene (or others) think Apple will say this fall when the new, bigger iPhone comes out? Are they going to pretend they never made the "comfortably use with one hand" argument?
  • Oh no, it will be turned into a big "genius" argument, on how Apple knew how to wait for just the right moment, and to do it just the right way, after everybody else "rushed" their products. Apple never makes mistakes, haven't you learned that yet?
  • Naw, he brought up the failure of CoreData, MobileMe, and has often talked about the love/hate relationship devs have with iCloud.
  • People make this argument as if it's compelling. It's not. There is an advantage to one-handed use but any good product person watches how people use their devices. If a substantial segment of the market that you're interested in finds that one handed use isn't as important to them as other things that a larger screen enables you'd be daft to ignore that. People like you seem to want to play "Gotcha! You changed your mind!!!" as if that was a bad thing. Being open minded, though, is a good thing. What's not good is being so openminded that you never make a decision and throw everything out there because you don't have a point of view (Samsung for example...). Put more succinctly, great product people start out with a strong, opinionated view on how a product should work but remain open to the possibility that things change or that they might be wrong in a given opinion. Far from being a weakness, this willingness to learn and adapt is a huge strength.
  • A larger screen does not have to equal any kind of concession on that argument. The Moto X is valid proof that you can have a big screen that is easy to use with one hand. If Apple goes the 4.7 route the argument is still very valid. Feel free to make fun of Apple for how they market that later ("first" "best" and the like) but the one handed bit can still be entirely true.
  • Rene, looking back at your iOS8 'wants' list and what you've seen so far since WWDC, has Apple pretty much covered it all off or do some of those 'wants' still stand? I'd love to see a follow-up article.
    When the iPhone first launched, I had my own wish-list and over the years, every single one has been ticked off. However, your list goes much deeper so I'm really interested. Sent from the iMore App
  • Pretty good article. I liked it a lot. Good job Rene!
  • Revisionist history. Anyone can look back at decisions and say how each led to failure or to greatness. This is just the authors version on how they wish to see things. Means nothing. An android fan could show how this was all faulty timing and how badly Apple has lost worldwide share because of this. Just opinions. Governments do this all the time.
  • I liked this article except for one part. The inter-app argument. There is no excuse for the time it took to implement this. No excuse whatsoever. The tools used have been available. It's not like this magically appeared in the past months or so. So I just can't, and won't, accept that. Overall, I'm happy that it's finally there. But there's really no excuse as to why it took this long to implement it.
  • I agree that Apple's hardware/software/services release timing is unconventional and very methodically planned. With that in mind I'm very intrigued by the idea of a full-blown Apple television, and am convinced Apple is so far along that it may already be in its second generation. I'm also convinced that Apple can release that device right now. But they won't. Because it's all about timing. Apple probably wants a set amount of hardware/software/services in place first. This would include robust TV/cable licensing, a working home automation system, game developer support, and advanced graphics power. Once all those pieces (and I assume a lot more) are in place, Apple can then release a truly game-changing TV product: an incredibly simple, gesture/voice driven giant screen that would replace your TV, Blu-ray, game system, stereo, and even home computer.
  • "Observe due measure, for right timing is in all things the most important factor." (Hesiod, ~700 BC)