WWDC 2010: Event Horizon

In typical manner before an Apple event, there are many rumors and hypotheses swirling about what our favorite fruit company may or may not say or show off on stage. Also in typical fashion I like to throw in my two cents of punditry. On Monday, June 7, Apple will kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco with a keynote address, where the company has been known to announce or release new products.

The Mac

Mac OS X

I really doubt we’ll hear much about the Mac this time around. One may think this would be the perfect opportunity to give a first glance at Mac OS X 10.7, but considering the session list for WWDC is centered around the iPhone and iPad, along with the Apple Design Awards excluding the Mac entirely, I don’t think there will be much news on this front. I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong.


However, there have been some rumors that Safari will see a proper Extension API added to it. My guess is this would be the chief cornerstone of a new Safari (Safari 5, perhaps?). I could also see Apple using Safari 5 to fully embrace HTML5, such as fullscreen video playback, since the company has been by far the most influential voice in adoption of HTML5.

Also, a while back the WebKit team announced WebKit2, which will bring split process tabs/windows to Safari, much like how Chrome (which is also WebKit-based) does things. The difference is Chrome does it at the application level, whereas WebKit2 will provide this as part of the framework for any WebKit-based app. I can see the next major version of Safari being based on WebKit2.

Needless to say, I would love to see the return of tabs-on-top, at least as an option. Tabs-on-top were introduced during the betas of Safari 4, but the feature was dropped for the release.

The iPad

I’m sure we’ll hear about how insanely great the iPad is selling and how satisfied customers are with it. I’m hoping Apple will also issue a bug fix release of the iPad’s iPhone OS 3.2, as there are a few glitches here and there, and there’s also a pesky issue of poor WiFi reception. I can attest to that personally, as my iPad drops WiFi in my bedroom, whereas my iPhone 3G, MacBook Pro, and my wife’s iPod touch have no problems in the same location. And the router is 20 feet away in the office.

Beyond the trumpeting of great sales and addressing bugs, I don’t see much happening with the iPad until the fall when it receives OS 4, presumably OS 4.1.

The iPhone

There is no question in my mind that the iPhone will be the main focus of attention. Between a new OS, presumably new hardware, and Apple’s habit of announcing new iPhones at WWDC several years running, this is a sure bet.

iPhone OS 4

We’ll definitely get a summary of the new features coming to the iPhone (multitasking, folders, etc) along with a release date. Also, a Gold Master build & SDK will likely be available to developers following the keynote. A decent chunk of the keynote will be devoted to rehashing the details from Apple’s event in April, complete with a few third-party demos. There may be a few additions to the OS, specific to the latest generation of iPhone hardware. We saw this with the introduction of Compass and a revamped Camera app in the iPhone 3GS. I’ll detail my thoughts of what is in store here in the next section.

The New iPhone

This will hardly be a surprise, as we’ve already seen the hardware itself thanks to Gizmodo. But you never know, Apple may have a trick or two up its sleeve. What to expect? Well, a brand new hardware design, the Apple A4 mobile processor, a larger 5 megapixel camera with LED flash on the back, an iSight camera on the front, and a 960x640 pixel display at the same physical dimensions. 

I’d love to see the next iPhone sport Apple’s custom A4 processor, as it performs beyond expectation on the iPad. The A4 has absolutely impressive performance whilst using extremely little battery power. 

The advancements to the screen would be an improvement of epic proportions. At the same physical 3.5” diagonal measurement, a 960x640 pixel resolution would increase the iPhone’s pixel density would increase from around 160 pixels per inch to around 320 pixels per inch. That pixel density would be nearly indistinguishable to the human eye from the output of a laser printer. The next iPhone will likely have one extremely crisp screen. Also, rumor has it that Apple will be employing the use of In-Plane Switching (IPS) which is currently used in the company’s iMac displays and the iPad. IPS provides the ability to have zero color distortion from nearly any angle. 

As far as cameras go, the improvements to the rear camera will be very welcome, and may even provide for 720p HD video capture, whereas the iPhone 3GS captures at 640x480. If this is true, my Kodak Zx1 will be finding a new owner.

The front camera, which I am sure Apple will dub as an iSight like cameras on Macs, will be primarily used for video conferencing and self portraits. And this is where device-specific enhancements to iPhone OS 4 come in. The two apps I can see appearing exclusively to the new iPhone are iChat and Photo Booth. iChat for text IM purposes and impromptu video chats to show Grandma what her silly grandson is up to at this moment, and Photo Booth for taking fun self-portraits of you with your family and friends. These two apps just seem like a natural fit to the front facing iSight.

We should also get a firm release date for the new iPhone hardware. Some purport that it will be available immediately, and that surely is possible, but I’ll err on doubtful.. The iPhone 3GS was released 11 days after the WWDC announcement, which was very fast, in my opinion. However, it was also two days after iPhone OS 3 was hitting existing devices. Apple is likely going to give developers some time to submit apps for iPhone OS 4 before release. That all could change, however, if Apple releases iPhone OS 4 beta 5 this week and invites developers to start submitting apps tested against that beta. This is a possibility since Apple essentially did the same with the iPad release. With the iPad, developers submitted apps built on a beta OS, untested on actual hardware, and didn’t receive a Gold Master until after the iPad itself was released. Apple may do the same with iPhone OS 4, and release the Gold Master and the next iPhone concurrently during WWDC.

Carrier Partners

Perhaps the biggest myth around this time of year for several years running is whether or not Apple’s US exclusivity with AT&T is over and done with. Many folks want the iPhone on Verizon and Sprint’s name has even come up a few times. The largest hurdle to the iPhone coming to either Verizon or Sprint is their CDMA based networks. AT&T, and all of the iPhone’s carriers worldwide, use GSM networks. This means Apple makes one iPhone, and just localizes the software according to its destination. If Apple introduces CDMA compatibility into the mix for the few countries that have CDMA then it has to either make an iPhone with a hybrid GSM/CDMA chip, or it has to make two iPhones, one GSM and one CDMA, which complicates manufacturing.

Another incentive for Apple to hold off on supporting Verizon/Sprint, is the upcoming 4G networks based on LTE. This would knock out Sprint from having an iPhone, though, as they are using WiMax for their 4G network. However, AT&T and Verizon both proclaim that they will have LTE networks in the next couple years, with some markets lighting up in 2011. This would fall more in line with Apple’s simplified manufacturing process.

I have been going back and forth on whether or not I think AT&T will lose exclusivity for weeks. I’m going to go with no. To me, evidence for AT&T keeping the iPhone to itself in the US far outweighs the alternative. I’m sure Apple would love to open the door to more customers, but the question is would Verizon bring in enough customers to warrant the cost of retooling the factory every now and then to make CDMA iPhones. 

I also suspect the iPad 3G’s sweetheart data plan was given by AT&T in exchange for more one-on-one time with their cash cow, the iPhone.

Steve Jobs

After a medical battle in 2009 that required the visionary of Apple to take a leave of absence, one that many thought he may not return from, Steve Jobs is taking the helm once again at WWDC, as he has been for all of Apple’s events since September 2009. I am sure we will also see appearances by Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall during the keynote, as has become custom. I expect we’ll see a great show, and be amazed in one fashion or another by one of the best showmen of our time.