Monday, September 08, 2014

Predictions for Apple's big announcement event tomorrow

So, Apple has scheduled some new product announcements tomorrow, which will certainly include a new iPhone (it’s the right time of year for that). There’s a lot of buzz on the internet about the event, based on oblique references from various Apple employees that this event is about much more than just a new iPhone.

Despite the fact that I haven’t worked there in a decade, some people have asked me what I think Apple’s going to announce. For everybody’s amusement, here are my predictions, so we can all have a good laugh about them tomorrow. But first, some background:

I’m really bad at this

As many of my friends and family already well know, I have a history of really, really bad predictions of what Apple will and won’t do. A couple of notable failure in the past include:

“Apple wouldn’t buy NeXT. That would make no sense. They might license some of the technology”
When I said this, Apple was actually currently in negotiations to purchase NeXT, which ended up being their largest acquisition value-wise, until they acquired Beats Electronics this year.

“Mac OS X will never ship. It’s a doomed project”
This was while I was working on the OS X team, and more than a little depressed at the level of infighting and backstabbing going on between various teams. It took almost another year, but OS X 1.0 did actually ship,

“Clearly, the Mac will be transitioning to a new architecture again. It won’t be X86, though”
I had assumed X86-64 on AMD processors was the new target. I take some satisfaction from the fact that Apple relatively-quickly obsoleted the X86 processors in Macs, for 64-bit capable ones.  I *almost* got this one right, but I underestimated how much influence non-technical factors would have on the decision.

That’s a common theme amongst many of the times that I mis-predict what Apple is going to do - because I’m this hyper-logical engineer-type person, it always surprises me when they do something that’s not the “right” decision technically, but makes sense economically or in some other way.


Okay, so here are my logical predictions, almost none of which will likely come to pass.

What I think of the popular rumors

iPhone 6
No doubt that this is going to be announced. It’ll be lighter, better battery life, faster. Rumors are that there will be a physically much-larger model, with a 5.5 inch screen. That’s totally ridiculous. We’ve all seen someone using one of those massive Android phones, and I think we can all agree that they look like total dorks. No way that Apple is going to make an iPhone that you have to use both hands to use.

Not a chance in hell that Apple will produce a smart watch like the Galaxy Gear or Moto 360. Again with the “dork” factor - who even wears a watch those days? I haven’t worn a watch since I got my first  Palm Pilot, back in the day. My iPhone goes with me nearly everywhere I go, already. I look at higher-end wristwatches, and I can appreciate the craftsmanship, but I have no more interest in wearing them than any other piece of jewelry. If Apple does introduce a piece of “wearable technology”, then it won’t be a conventional watch. I could see something playing up the health-monitor angle, but a wristwatch? No way. A $300 accessory for my iPhone that saves me the effort of pulling my phone out of my pocket to read the calendar notifications? Ridiculous.

”Obvious” things, which I haven’t seen rumors about

New Macs
Weirdly, there’s not much buzz about this in the rumor-sphere. There was a little bit of buzz about that early on, given that the event is at the Flint Center, where the introduction of the original Macintosh was held, as well as the iMac, the machine that saved the whole Macintosh line. But the rumor mill died out, partly due to lack of information, and I think partly due to people being unable to figure out how a new Mac development would be any kind of big deal.

What kind of announcements could they make about the Mac that’d revitalize that line, and the company, again? There are a couple of “obvious” things they could do, based on the technology that Apple’s products are built on, and recent changes in their products.

A new Macbook Air, based on a 64-bit ARM processor
The 64-bit ARM processor in the iPhone 5s and iPad Air is this close to being a capable desktop replacement, and we already know that OS X runs on ARM (after all, iOS is basically OS X with a few additions/deletions, and maintaining processor-neutrality is something Apple’s been focused on since the Intel transition.

What would you get with this new Mac? All-day battery life, at least, but given that you could then run both iOS and OS X on the same hardware, it would make even more sense to unify them. There are already *far more* applications for iOS than for OS X, and integrating iOS app support would tie in nicely with the changes to full-screen mode that we’ve seen in recent versions of OS X.

The Mac App store already exists, so for people writing OS X apps, it’d be a simple re-compile to target the new architecture. Also, the most-recent Mac Pro was a design focussed much more on exploiting the GPU, rather than being dependent on the CPU. Any apps that are optimized for the Mac Pro will run great on an ARM machine with a proper GPU. All in all, the pain of moving to a new architecture will be much lower now than it was for the Intel transition in 2005/2006.

30th Anniversary Mac
Oh, and it’s the 30th anniversary of the Mac, so a “30th Anniversary Mac” seems like a good bet. Not sure whether that’d be a new iMac (to keep with the all-in-one form factor), or a laptop (the most-popular Mac form factor these days). Unlike the much-mocked “20th Anniversary Mac”, I expect this to actually be a product that the average Mac user would want, and that they’ll actually be able to buy.

Apple TV finally “grows up” and stops being a “hobby” for Apple
As someone who’s worked on Smart TV software, I can tell you that the problems with the TV watching experience today aren’t really the sorts of things you can solve with better hardware and software. They’re structural problems in the way TV content is produced, delivered, and consumed. Why does your fancy digital cable box take 2 seconds to switch channels? Why is your DVR’s interface so ugly? Why can’t you watch back episodes of your favorite show for any reasonable price, until they’re released on DVD? Why is it so *much* more convenient to pirate content than it is to pay for it?

It’s all down to *lack of integration* - the cable company, the folks making the set-top box, and the people making the content that makes having cable worthwhile all work for different companies, with different goals.

Apple has enough money in the bank to outright buy AMC, CBS, HBO and Netflix with cash. They’d have to borrow a little bit to buy Comcast, but not actually all that much. That’d change the TV landscape a bit, I think.


Based on my previous track record, here's what I think you should expect:
  • iPhone 6, with a comically-large screen. In a year, I'll deny I ever mocked "phablets" as a bad idea.
  • An iWatch (not with that name), which is a "me too" smart watch. People will buy it, because it'll be oh-so pretty. But in a year, nobody will be wearing one anymore.
  • No new Macs, except for an utterly-unremarkable "30th Anniversary Macintosh", which will be a gold-plated turd, just like the 20th Anniversary Mac
  • Apple TV continues to be that weird box that your Apple fanboy friend / relative has, that you just don't "get" why they have it.


danduderino said...

nicely done~DL

She Fights Like a Girl said...

Boy, you really ARE bad at this. ;)