Behind such an obscure acronym as WWDC, there lies the beginning of the biggest overhaul at Apple since 1997, when the board that had fired Steve Jobs decided to rehire him in order to save the company. But the difference between these 15 years is colossal. Back then, everything was going from bad to worse; now, the worst one can say is that things aren’t going from good to better.
The World Wide Developers Conference that begins today in San Francisco is just the kind of gathering where CEO Tim Cook can start delivering on what fans and sharks alike keep expecting of him.
To rise to the challenge, Cook will announce a series of new products and services that represent a break with Apple’s sacred, unwritten rules. These initiatives would have been unthinkable during Jobs’ time: for instance, introducing some degree of openness in its operating system (iOS); or creating a second-hand market for iconic products such as the iPhone, or launching a new ad-based music service – and late, at that. All of these examples imply a certain dose of humility, an unheard-of concept in Apple’s philosophy, and a sure sign of some market weakness.
The process is similar to what Microsoft has undergone in the past. Once untouchable when its absolute control of the PC market also meant control over technology, after Microsoft ceased to be the role model for internet, smartphones and tablets it became the most amenable of the tech giants, and the easiest one to reach a deal with.
If 2012 was the year of Microsoft’s overhaul - the biggest since Windows 95 (launched the same year that Jobs returned to Apple, 1997) with the release of Windows 8 for mobile devices and its foray into the tablet market with Surface - then 2013 is the year of Apple’s revamp, featuring the largest release of new products and services in its entire history.
Ranked from most likely to least likely, these are the main announcements that Tim Cook might make at Monday’s WWDC keynote address:
iOS 7 (10 out of 10)
The new version of the operating system for mobile devices is here. Its revamp will pave the way for a slew of new products and updates of old ones. It will also be a test for top Apple designer Jonathan Ive, who until recently focused solely on hardware but now has a date with software. His approach seems to favor a cleaner design and fewer clicks in exchange for more gesture–based commands.
New Mac computers (9 out of 10)
The success of the tablets has cannibalized its own computer sales, which remain a fundamental symbol for Apple despite representing a minority share of the business. No doubt we will be seeing improved battery life and processing power, and all screens will come with a Retina display.
Changes to OS X (8 out of 10)
The computer operating system needs a facelift, if only to patch recently discovered holes and vulnerabilities.
iRadio (7 out of 10)
Finally, an Apple music radio service à la Spotify or Pandora is here, although it comes late in the game. The company is unhappy about that, which is why it resisted the idea of following in the competition’s footsteps. No doubt, Steve Jobs is to blame for this situation. He preferred to have people shop at his iTunes store, although in hindsight, the few seconds of free streaming Apple gave us to decide whether to purchase a song or not now seem ridiculous. What rules these days is streaming music, either subscription-based or in exchange for accepting ads. It is likely that Apple will offer an ad-based service, in the hopes that fans will end up buying the songs on iTunes, which will be completely integrated with iRadio and any wearable devices to be launched in the future.
A more open operating system (6 out of 10)
Nobody should expect iOS to turn into Android and allow any old brand to modify its system at will, but we can forecast some degree of flexibility. It is not an easy move to make, because its exaggeratedly closed system also guarantees brand quality. Once a door is opened, even just an inch, it’s likely to get drafty inside.
An iPad 5 (5 out of 10)
Ever since the Mini came out in October, consumers have been shunning its bigger brother. The iPad needs some freshening up and some attractive new features, mirroring the transformations that the iPod went through in all its different versions. A more lightweight tablet (there is talk about 25 percent less weight) and, above all, greater connectivity, would be good enough reasons to reconsider buying the regular-size slate again.
Social networks (4 out of 10)
Apple is absent from the social networks. So is Yahoo. Two giants in trouble – only makes sense that they should join forces to have a presence on mobile social networks. Mayer is moving fast, Cook is not. The time is ripe for some sort of far-reaching alliance.
The intelligent watch (3 out of 10)
The iWatch will come, sooner or later, although we shouldn’t hold our breath yet. Big corporations are running in this race, which is basically the race for wearables, or personal accessories with embedded technology. There is absolutely no doubt that Apple has one up its sleeve, but it might be waiting for the new iOS before releasing it.
Television (2 out of 10)
Television is one of Tim Cook’s obsessions. He believes it hasn’t evolved since the advent of the remote control. And what he has in mind is not exactly an updated version of the iTV box, which continues to lead its uneventful little life, but something more akin to an iPad for the living room wall.
New iPhone (1 out of 10)
There are rumors to suit all tastes, including the possibility that Apple might announce new cellphones at the San Francisco conference. But it would make more sense for these to be released at the fall gathering in September-October.
Between this month of June, which focuses mostly on programming, and October, when several product launches are expected, from tablets to watches, Apple will undergo the most frantic and exciting six months in its entire history. Never before did it have so many products and services out in so many countries, servicing so many clients. But the days of single-crop farming - be it called Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad - are over. And the plethora of new releases offered by Tim Cook today addresses Apple’s excessive dependence on one product, the iPhone, even as the competition attacks on multiple fronts. Still pending for Apple are issues like the advertising world, mobile social networking and music streaming; at the same time, it needs to prevent the competition from doing with the iPad what it did with the iPhone. As of Monday, Cook brings renewed hope to fans and sharks alike.