Some WWDC Predictions and That Whole AppleTV Business

On the second episode of “The Backlot,” Ryan and I discussed the E3 announcements of this past week and the rumors and expectations for next week’s Apple WWDC keynote presentation. There’s a lot swirling around about what Apple’s next move might be, but I think a lot of it is just noise.

Remember, just last week CEO Tim Cook said, “We’re going to double down on secrecy on products.” I think that’s proving to be quite accurate so far. As John Gruber pointed out on last week’s Talk Show, the entire tech press was blindsided by the company’s introduction of their next OS, 10.8 Mountain Lion. No one saw it coming, and it seems Apple’s road-map is proving to be more elusive than ever.

The biggest rumors people are thinking will appear at WWDC are:

  • iOS 6
    • With brand new maps!
  • More Mountain Lion Details
  • New Mac Pros
  • Revamped AppleTV Interface
  • Apple-branded Television

I think it’s a given that we’re going to see a lot of iOS 6 and Mountain Lion at WWDC. It is a developer’s convention after all, and the best way to keep them satisfied is by letting them peek up Apple’s skirt once a year.

New Mac Pros might be a centerpiece of WWDC, but it’s rarely a hardware-centric keynote. The only way we’re going to hear anything about a new Mac Pro from the Moscone stage is if the form factor, which hasn’t seen an overhaul since 2003, is something radically different. If it’s a spec-boost (new processors, perhaps redesigned interiors) then Cook will either make a quick mention of the Mac Pro line or ignore it completely. Then one night the store will go down and when it comes back up there will be new systems to snag.

Now, about all the AppleTV rumors…

I don’t see Apple announcing any kind of updated hardware in this line at WWDC. The newest AppleTV set-top-box was introduced in March of this year. It’s doubtful that they will have a new version of the current AppleTV a mere three months after its introduction.

Now, it’s possible, I suppose, that Apple will introduce a new segment in their set-top-box line, something along the lines of an AppleTV Pro, offering a more expensive, more refined experience. But when I look at what the current AppleTV does for its $99 price-tag, I can’t think of anything it should do that would be worth spending more money on. Consumers have said loud and clear, notably to Logitech with their miserable GoogleTV Revue, that they do not want to spent more than $100 on a streaming set-top-box.

If AppleTV is mentioned at WWDC this year, the announcement will most certainly be software-related. The area where the AppleTV is lacking is in third-party support, which is to say there is none. While Apple has major content partnerships with Netflix, MLB.TV and the NBA among others, not just anyone can come along and stream video through the box. For that, Apple would have to open the platform up and allow developers to build apps. And you can bet that is something that will happen eventually, if not next week.

WWDC seems like the perfect opportunity to bring the company’s wildly successful App Store to the AppleTV. If it does happen, and there’s a major update to the AppleTV’s interface, I believe it will be software only, much like an update to Mac OS X. Current users will be able to update their AppleTVs from home, while new customers will have fresh installs of the new software.

There is the matter of storage, of course. The current AppleTV has 8GB of flash memory inside of it, though Apple doesn’t advertise it. That seems like ample space to hold enough apps to keep the average viewer happy, since all of the AppleTV’s content is streamed and/or cached temporarily. Perhaps future iterations of the device will sport more storage to handle the glut of apps that come to the platform.

I would love to see Apple integrate iOS games more tightly with the AppleTV. Since there is still a storage limitation on the current AppleTV, I doubt we’ll be seeing it turn into a full-fledged gaming console anytime soon. However, any update that includes third-party apps will have to take gaming into account given its success on the iPad and iPhone. Perhaps better AirPlay integration with games will save on storage but still allow developers to offer a unique gaming experience on the AppleTV.

Finally, there’s this whole rumor of an Apple television set. I don’t think this is a product that will be coming out any time soon, and honestly I still don’t see why Apple would enter such a competitive business. Maybe when they actually do introduce a television set I’ll smack myself on the forehead and say, “Oooooooh, that makes perfect sense,” but for now I don’t see the advantages either for Apple or for me, as a user.

Apple’s product lines are notoriously focused. When I think of them building a television, I have to assume they’ll only build one or two sizes, at least to start. But what sizes? 27 inches? 42? 50? Where’s the sweet spot for Apple? The reason other manufacturers offer so many television sizes is that consumers demand it. Depending on the room size and the couch distance and any number of other factors, consumers want very specific television dimensions to their specific needs. If Apple comes in and offers one television with premium AppleTV integration, I don’t know that will be an attractive enough proposition for most people.

My gut tells me that this year’s WWDC will be entirely software focused. AppleTV may be a topic of conversation, but I won’t be surprised if WWDC comes and goes with no mention of the platform whatsoever. Either way, I’m sure we’re going to see some nice improvements next week.

And hopefully I’m wrong; hopefully there will be some big, exciting surprises.