That WWDC Thing

Wow – June again. So soon! It seems like it was just May! Whatever. June means that it’s time for WWDC, the highlight of the developer year and the epicentre of juicy tech. It also means it’s time for the usual slate of WWDC predictions and punditry, so without further ado … on with the show.

WWDC 2015 logo featuring s silhouette of the AppleTVApple TV: This is going to of the real stars of the show … you only have to look at the logo for this year’s conference (yes, that’s it over on the right) to see what the company’s plans are here. The Apple TV starts it’s transition from a “hobby” to the centre of your personal digital experience. Some people are of the mind that the next generation Apple TV will not see the light of day today because of holdups with licensing from network broadcasters, but with HomeKit already in the wild (see next item) I doubt that the company will hold the hardware back. And for the first time, look for a full SDK to allow developers to create apps that integrate and work from the data coming through your video streams.

HomeKit: The second star. HomeKit hardware has been out for a couple of weeks now, and this will be the first time we get to see the entire infrastructure as a fully-realized integrated entity and as the centrepiece of the new AppleTV-powered home. There will be the full release of the SDK, and I would be incredibly surprised if there wasn’t the debut of some sort of system-wide control app that lets you connect to every HomeKit device from a single interface. As it stands now HomeKit control is a hodgepodge of apps and user interfaces (the vast majority of them terrible) that you have to juggle to move from one device to the next. If Apple has a sense of humour they will name this über-all “HAL”.

WatchKit: The third of the big stars of the show today. As of now, the only native apps on the Watch are the ones that are baked into the OS. Everything else is just an extension of something running under iOS and it gives the watch some serious lack of functionality when the associated phone is out of range. That will all change in the fall when fully native Watch OS apps become available to the masses. As a prelude, it’s a guarantee that the full untethered WatchKit SDK will be handed out to developers today, and there will no do doubt be a couple of cool demos to boot.

Accessibility: Apple has long been proponents of accessibility in both devices and software. With the new AppleTV being positioned as the “control it all from one device, possibly via voice” centre of your home, and the Apple Watch extending accessibility via voice and haptic control to the wrist, it would not surprise me at all to see Tim announce a renewed or extended corporate commitment on this front.

Watch: Nothing new here, I would think. The expected evolution of the Watch from a tethered extension of your iPhone to a true stand-alone computer on your wrist is at least one year away, and probably two. There are just too many hurdles regarding battery depth and connectivity to be solved in the first generation. That said, the Watch is still selling faster than Apple can make them, and extending the production grid at this time would be illogical. Any non-functional additions – bands/finishes/et. – will come down the pipe in the fall, possibly at the iOS 9 launch event. Which brings us to …

iOS 9: Expect the full demo today, even though version 9 is at this point more of a technical update than anything. Performance, stability, and extended cross-device integration will be the main thrust of this release. Lots of happy news for developers, which is the whole point of today, but a real ho-hum for the average Larry on the street.

Proactive: I think this will emerge into the daylight today. In a nutshell, it’s an overview technology that brings together your local/personal search history, the status of your apps, and some basic contextual awareness – time of day, location, upcoming appointments, whatever – to give Spotlight searches across all of your devices an intelligent “boost” to return results with enhanced relevance. The end game would be to extend this sort of AI “precognition” to functions beyond Spotlight … for example, raising your arm to look at your watch when you are at the mall will add an arrow to the time display that points to the store whose web site you were browsing at home on your laptop before you went shopping. This is somewhat analogous to the upcoming “Google Now” infrastructure, with the main point of differentiation being that Proactive works on from your personal and private data, and neither the data nor the results are shared with anyone. Speaking of Google and data privacy …

Maps: There is something under wraps regarding Maps. If we hear about it today, it will be an “enhanced reality” kind of play. But I hear that the product isn’t ready for prime time yet, so I will guess that we don’t see this one. Yet.

Photos/iCloud: A lot of people are of the opinion that Apple needs to make fundamental changes to the Photos/iCloud structure now that Google Photos gives people nearly unlimited storage for “free”. The iCloud data tiers seem outdated, quaint, and downright expensive in comparison. That said … don’t expect any changes on this front. Apple has doubled down on the idea of your data being your data, and yours alone … on your device, in transit, or in the cloud. That – at least at this point in time – precludes any sort of endless storage without cost. If there is any mention of this subject at all, it will simply be a pointed reference to the fact that, like every Google service, Google Photos is not really free at all since the usage agreements give Google full rights, licenses, and access to everything you upload. You pay one way or the other, but the choice of currency – cash or privacy – is up to you.

OS X 10.11: Like iOS 9, the next update of OS X will be a performance and technology release. Developers will get their first full version and the associated SDK today, and you can look for the user release alongside of the iOS release in the fall.

Xcode: There was a time when Xcode was the cream of the crop when it comes to integrated development packages. That time, sadly, has come and gone. Xcode is getting long in the tooth, and after today could be responsible for managing code development and cross-device integration for OS X, iOS, WatchKit, CarPlay, HomeKit, HealthKit, and AppleTV. Whew. Add to that the ongoing multi-lexicon support for Cocoa and Swift, and the thing becomes a complete kludge. I fully expect an all-new Xcode to be debuted today, one that provides a “create once, curate everywhere” type of development experience. I also expect the final retirement of the much-beloved Cocoa framework … Swift is definitely the future, and Apple has never been a company to shy away from pulling the plug on the old and jumping in with both feet for the new.

Apple Music: Digital downloads are on the wane. Streaming is the new wave, and Apple start to turn the page on the iTunes store today when they release Apple Music. Expect an “all you can eat” service across all of your devices for a monthly fee, and a free tier that features promoted content from artists and publishers, and iTunes Radio as a free option without curation or individual song choices. Where Apple hopes to make inroads against the existing services like Spotify and Pandora is in the curation of your streams. The technology that came along with the Beats acquisition will drive this part of the venture in tandem with actual flesh-and-blood programmers and music directors.

Newsstand: Newsstand, I think, is done. Expect the end of the line for this today, and a replacement that riffs on the concept of Dave Pell’s NextDraft … something that concatenates and curates stuff that’s relevant to you in a single readspace (a la Flipboard). And yes, “readspace” is a legit buzzword when it comes to digital publishing … I know because I just made it up.

Apple Pay: Expect official Apple Pay rollouts in Canada and the U.K. to be announced today. Also expect Tim to step up and add more pressure to big retailers to adopt Apple Pay. There is a lot of reluctance in the big retail world to adopt the system – partly because a lot of merchants are tied to the Walmart-controlled MCX consortium that forbids any use of Apple Pay until 2016, and mostly because Apple Pay denies retailers access to a customer’s personal information as a result of the transaction. The MCX consortium is already starting to crumble – Best Buy has already defected, the MCX-approved “CurrentC” infrastructure still doesn’t work, and test market consumers have universally rejected the CurrentC app as unusable – but taking customer data away from retailers may be a hurdle is too high to overcome. Large retailers are addicted on the revenue they get from harvesting customer data from electronic payments, both for their own marketing use and for mass sales to partners and third parties, and customer privacy and security comes a distant second in their minds, if it enters their minds at all. Despite having proven over and over that they cannot be trusted with your data, they merchants going to dig their heels in on this one.

So – nutshell summary: A definite yes for HomeKit, AppleTV, WatchKit, Apple Music, Xcode iOS 9, OS X 10.11, and the demise of Newsstand. Strong maybes for Apple Pay in Canada and the U.K., a new and widened commitment to accessibility, and Proactive. Probably not for the new Maps technology and any sort of iCloud tier changes. And not a fucking chance at all for any Apple-branded Television Set or Apple Car, because despite the ravings of Gene Munster, they aren’t things. Period.

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