June 2, 2012

Applesauce: All Things Apple

Michael Harper for

Standing At The Precipice

It´s been a big week for Apple news. A huge week. The only thing to make it larger would be more, actual real news from Apple themselves, but we´ll take a lengthy interview with Mr. Cook. That should be enough to hold us until WWDC in a couple of weeks. Stay in bed for another few minutes, kiddos. Let´s get cozy and have some Applesauce.

“Yes, sir, a veritable age of reason.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this week in Apple news is the amount of news thats been flowing through the pipeline. While some of the news is expected, what with WWDC less than 2 weeks away, the iPhone leaks and rumors coming through the pipeline suggest a release sooner than the expected fall release date. And yet, who´s to say what will be announced during the developer conference? Tim Cook and Crew will certainly be announcing iOS 6 and probably release a beta for the developers to get their apps ready.

What kind of announcements will be joining WWDC could change the current rumor completely. After all, if the next iPhone is going to have a 4-inch screen, there will be some sort of hint in the new OS software. The developers, of course, will be bound to an NDA, but this usually doesn´t stop a few leaks from emerging from the pipeline. The only actual real news to come from Apple this week was the announcement of the WWDC keynote where Cook is expected to announce something new, software or otherwise. This year´s WWDC Keynote will take place on Monday at 10 AM PST. The date and time of the Keynote isn´t all that shocking. After all, the Keynote has traditionally occurred on the first day. If Apple is going to make an announcement and release new software OR hardware, the developers need to know about it first. After the press is whisked away from the Keynote, the developers normally head to another presentation to get down and dirty and discuss all manner of geek as they learn how they can take advantage of APIs, codes, software protocols, etc. (Obviously, I´m no developer) So what makes this year´s Keynote so different? One little acronym: TBA. On the same day Apple announced the Keynote presentation, they also released a new iOS app for all WWDC attendees, with a list of events, talks and presentations. Normally the topics to be covered by these events are planned and announced in advance to give the developers a bit of an itinerary of where they should go during the day, especially helpful if you´re traveling with a team and want to make sure someone hears something from each event. This year, there are plenty of TBAs where the topics should be. As one reads through this list of presentation topics, replete with TBAs, the voice of Cook lingers like a ghost when he said, “Only Apple could deliver this kind of innovation in such a beautiful, integrated, and easy to use way. It's what we love to do. It's what we stand for. And across the year, you're going to see a lot more of this kind of innovation. We are just getting started.”

We are just getting started. This statement, paired with Cook´s most recent statement at the All Things D conference about “doubling down on secrecy” is doing plenty to fuel excitement for this years WWDC. Apple has been rumored to be announcing anything from a new Maps app to new iMacs and MacBook Pros during this years Keynote. So, no matter what they decide to announce, Apple´s new dedication to doubling down on secrecy is keeping Apple developers and watchers in stitches. Of course, it´s just as likely Apple isn´t going to announce anything too exciting during the Keynote, and simply want to make sure everything stays a secret before the event actually happens. But it´s simply not as much fun to follow that train of thought, now is it?

“We're mass communicatin´.”

So what about these new Macs? As far as designs go, the current Mac line has looked largely the same for a few years now. The current unibody MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs have had the same design stylings since 2008, give or take a few ports on the side. As far as aluminum and glass are concerned, these portables took their cue from the aluminum iMac, introduced in the same year as the original iPhone. Of course, each of these Macs have gone through some internal changes, including different, faster processors as the years progress and different internal configurations, adding Thunderbolt ports as they move forward. In fact, the iMac hasn´t been updated since May 3 of last year. The MacBook Pros, on the other hand, are still within their refresh cycle, as their last update was just last October. Rumors have been steadily mounting that they´ll get a slimmer form factor and the now famous Retina Display. In fact, 9 to 5 Mac posted some Mock Ups by Guilherme Schasiepen this week and, if Apple releases anything like them, they could be the most beautiful Macs ever.

This week, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray Analyst Group fame released a note listing his predictions for what Apple could announce at this years WWDC. In it, he spends much of his time focused on the various iDevices as well as the Rumored Apple Television. As for the Macs, Munster predicts the company will release “meaningful updates” to the personal computers, including, but not limited to, Retina Displays and quad-core Ivy Bridge processors. According to the analyst, Apple will reinvigorate these devices to boost sales of the computers. While these computers have continued to sell well, they´ve slipped in recent months. Stephen baker of the NPD group agrees with Munster, telling the Wall Street Journal “We continue to see more households that, when they do change a computer, they add a Mac. For Apple, it´s definitely a positive business that is chugging along.” Yes, friends“¦this year´s WWDC could be very exciting indeed.

"It's all about the money, boys!”

Crazy how time works, isn´t it? One day, you´re sitting in your room, listening to your dad´s old records and trading Baseball cards with your brother, the next day you´re idly surfing the internet when you come across an eBay listing for some of the very same records you remember using as projectile weapons when a certain card deal went awry. What was once commonplace or even taken for granted can sometimes find greater value as time marches steadily on. That´s the trouble of eBay and other auctions: They are often the bloke responsible for introducing you to cruel mistress hindsight, and she–as they say– is always 20 20. I can´t help myself, I must speculate just a bit here and wonder aloud if Steve Jobs´ parents ever tried to persuade him to stop fooling around in the garage with his buddies and his “tinker toys?” (I imagine they called them tinker toys“¦) Of course, we all know the story, and now, Sotheby´s auction house has gotten a hold of one of the very first Apple computers and a memo– complete with handwritten cover note– from Jobs during his Atari days. Both of these items will be auctioned off this month, the memo expected to sell for $10,000 to $15,000 and the Apple I for $120,000 to $150,000. The Apple I is said to be one of the last remaining 50 of its kind and only one of 6 that are still operational. If you´re feeling frisky and have $150,000 burning a hole in your trousers, you can rest at ease knowing that the logic board comes with the original Apple cassette interface, operational manuals, and a BASIC user´s manual, for brushing up on your programming prowess. The memo and hand-written cover letter come from the time Jobs spent at Atari. Other than a brief glimpse into the way computers were built and arranged, the most interesting thing about this note is the way Jobs signed it. Stamped at the bottom of the memo is the name of his favorite commune at the time–All One– and the buddhist mantra “gate gate paragate parasangate bodhi svahdl.” I don´t claim to know anything about business politics, computers, corporations, the West Coast mentality or the inner teachings of Eastern religions, but this seems like the act of a smug young brat to me. And, if you´ve read anything about Steve Jobs (just start with his Issacson bio) then you know he´s been called worse by better. Listing his favorite hippie farm and naming his religious affiliation just screams, “HEY! ASK ME HOW INTERESTING I AM!” much like wearing a fedora out in public these days says, “Ask me about my band.” But, those were different times, I suppose. Simpler times. Maybe this was perfectly normal behavior of the time, what with the free love, rock-n-roll and copious amount of experimentation with mind-altering drugs.

"Do not seek the treasure."

Tim Cook took the stage at the All Things D conference this week at Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Appearances such as these can act not only as a breath of fresh air, but as a calibration system as well, a plum line to our shaky House of Rumors. It´s always good to hear information and news right from the source, and when Cook reinforces the Apple philosophy, it allows us to cut the cruft and move forward knowing that they do one thing: Make great products. Cook was asked straight away about Steve; What he had learned from him and how his management style differs from Jobs. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, hosts of the evening and tech journalists at the Wall Street Journal, then began to ask questions that no CEO in their right mind would answer. You know, questions about unannounced products or big-time acquisitions. Stuff that Cook wouldn´t announce on the All Things D stage if he actually did have something to reveal. Which makes Cook´s statements just perfect, saying Apple is going to “double down” on secrecy on products. Of course, this seems impossible. Apple is already something more than notorious for hiding new products behind thick, black boxes and multiple locked doors. The whole “double down” comment was uttered on the same day as an alleged “leak” of future iPhone products, however, bringing the validity of these rumors into question. Did Cook decide to say they were doubling down as a way to throw us off the scent? Or, in another, tin-foil hat kind of thinking, are the leaked parts completely fake and released by Apple to keep us guessing? It´s been rumored that Apple has done this sort of thing before with other products, so it´s likely they could do it again. Siri users will be happy to know that Tim Cook also wants to double down on the smart virtual assistant and integrate more functionality into her servers. “I think you´ll be really pleased with some of the things coming over the coming months. The breadth of it. We have a lot that Siri can do,” said Cook. So will we see any Siri announcements at this years WWDC? The oh-so-coy Cook only had this to say: “We´re going to introduce some great stuff. I think you´re gonna love it.” Oh Tim, you tease.

“You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell.”

Don´t take those tin-foil hats off just yet, you movers and shakers. It´s time to talk rumors. Of course, there were those aforementioned part leaks which occurred earlier this week, showing alleged back and front panels of what the new iPhone could look like. These parts could also be for a prototype iPhone as well. One never knows. These parts didn´t reveal anything we didn´t already expect: 4-inch screen, thinner body and revised dock connector. These parts also had ports for a bottom-facing headphone jack, which would be another first for Apple. The iPod Touch is the only device with a bottom facing headphone jack. Moving this jack on the iPhone could be problematic, of course, as many third party docks, jacks and the like could get in the way. Although, if Apple also changes the dock connector, then these third party devices wouldn´t work anyway. If Apple is going to make such a huge change to the way the iPhone works, such as a new dock connector, they might as well take care of anything else they´ve wanted to do for a while as well. These back and front plates aren´t, however, made with Liquidmetal. Whether or not that quiets the rumor is yet to be seen. These new pieces also suggest the next iPhone will finally boast a 16:9 ratio, something that could act as a unifier of other Apple products, existing or otherwise. This year´s WWDC could be the most exciting in years, that´s for sure. After Tim Cook–or whomever–takes the stage for the Keynote, it´s likely manner questions will be answered. What will iOS 6 look like? Will there be a change in the way native apps look? What features will iOS 6 have? Will there be a new, in-house Maps app? Will there be new Macs to act as flagship models when Mountain Lion is launched? Will there be some hints towards a TV?

In watching the All Things D videos which were just released yesterday, I was struck with some similarities between the Apple of 2003 and 2004 and the Apple of today. Even in 2003, people had expected Apple to do a PDA. Or a phone. Or an iPod with a phone in it. This was, of course, a good 3-4 years before the original iPhone was launched. The tech press and analysts expected Apple to do a phone. It seemed so obvious at the time. And yet, while everyone thought they should be building a phone, it turns out Apple was already on the iPad, only deciding later to start with a phone. They were already miles ahead of what everyone thought was “obvious.” These days, everyone thinks TV is the obvious direction for Apple, and as we stand on the precipice of what could be one of the most important WWDC Keynotes in their history, it will be interesting to see just how far off we are.