WWDC 2012: Four insights into Apple's future platform plans

By Jonny Evans

It's the morning after the great big Apple [AAPL] WWDC keynote platform-love-fest and while things seem pretty interesting in the fruit-flavored garden, I can't help but feel a little emptiness in its wake. What's new in Apple's platform strategy as it sets out its stall for the year ahead? Here's four signals from yesterday's announcements:

[ABOVE: A short clip from yesterday's Apple keynote. You can watch it in full right here.]

Last days of the Mac?

Yesterday was all about the notebook. Sure, the Mac Pro came in for a slight upgrade, not that the company paid much attention to it, but the iMac got no love in the heart of the city.

This has led some to cast a clarion call declaring the death of the desktop, but I'm wondering if the absence of the consumer desktop from announcements yesterday isn't instead a reflection of the company's need to increase Retina Display yields from its Japanese manufacturers before it can bring a high-res desktop (and a Retina Display display for the Mac Pro) to market in large quantities.

That's why my eyes glanced with interest at reports this morning which suggest we may need to wait until 2013 for significant improvements in Apple desktops. True or false that these claims gain any credibility at all absolutely reflect just how little attention the company appears to be paying to its desktops and how this is impacting the collective consciousness of industry watchers.

Given the continued integration between OS X and iOS -- Notifications, Game Center, iMessages, added touch-based interface additions and more -- it's now crystal clear that Apple's betting its future on its mobile vision. That integration between devices and Macs isn't just a little extra dressing for your fresh and crunchy Caesar Salad, it's a strategic exercise that eventually lays the ground for the evolution of device-agnostic computing experiences.

Those iCloud improvements yesterday -- and developers will be wailing at the seeming lack of iCloud SDKs -- are just the tip of the iceberg. In future apps will be cloud-hosted services, and you'll pay subscription fees of per-use rentals in order to use the things on all your devices, with content available across all authorized devices. Of course, such a future requires bandwidth, which is why...

Facetime for cellular is good for carriers

You don't need to scratch too deeply to figure out that carriers aren't going to be offering iPhone (or any other smartphone) users all-you-can-eat data plans for the rest of time. The demands on their networks are increasing exponentially; the cost of creating those networks is climbing; transitions such as that to LTE/4G pose extra challenges.

While in truth carriers are posting healthy profits, as you'd expect with mobile pretty much becoming the only growth industry around in our austerity-blanched survival attempt of an economy, they have shareholders and shareholders want value which means they want more, more and more again.

So how can Facetime for cellular help with this? It doesn't, at least, not in the short term. Here's the killer punch: this service is certainly not going to be available to every iPhone user on launch of iOS 6 when the iPhone 5 appears in September/October. Carriers will be able to choose to enable or disable Facetime traffic across their networks, and this they'll choose to do. At least, they will at first...

Carriers need applications such as Facetime over cellular, YouTube, and apps which drive healthy to-fro traffic between the device and the app server. Why do they need this? In the short term it makes no sense, as these implementations drive up data traffic. In the medium to short term, it gives carriers the opportunity to offer tiered data plans...

With this in mind I suggest the next year will see more iPhone carriers moving to offer different data packages, for example:

  • Video everywhere: all the video assets you can up/download, for a fee.
  • Available anywhere: Free texts, calls, VoIP, video conferencing and Facetime calls, for a fee.
  • The basic package: The usual sort of thing: 500MB data, 1,000 texts, 20 hours of calls for a set monthly fee.

So how might this affect Apple's strategy?

The LTE/4G debacle surrounding the introduction of the iPad proves the power carriers have to stymie the company's mobile vision. The existence of the carrier-friendly Android OS has somewhat blunted Apple's achievement in making carriers more open to different solutions not invented by them. (Don't neglect the iPhone as a signal moment when those lousy feature phones limited in usage by carriers became less popular).

Today Apple knows it has made its point, wants carriers to implement 4G networks worldwide and is willing to offer software solutions carriers might be able to supplant within their future plans for tiered pricing models aimed into different consumer market sectors. These compromises may be painful, but they're necessary because Apple's mobile adventures will sink or swim on the rubber-clad altar of bandwidth. We need bandwidth for the Midsummer Night's dancing dream of mobile devices and iCloud integration to really come into its own.

Going, going, Google

Make no mistake. Google shook the wrong tree when its then leader, Eric Schmidt, fouled up his relationship with Apple. Apple's move to introduce its own Mapping solutions within iOS 6 is a bigger deal than just maps.

It means Google will be unable to complete its mission of gathering the entire world's location, usage and travel data in order to make every human life as historically searchable as any other form of data. This impacts Google's future vision for growth, and its bottom line.

It is also interesting that Apple is partnering with TomTom to make its mapping services possible. The leading GPS mapping tool provider has been hurt by Google Maps, and there's no doubt at all that this new partnership between Google enemies is a strong conjunction, perhaps almost as strong as last month's transit of Venus, if you believe in anything astrological at all (unlikely).

Then you have Siri. This now offers restaurant recommendations (via Top Table), Sports Results, turn-by-turn driving instructions, support for more languages and much more. It's amazing. And, as I wrote some time ago, will serve to slice a chunk out of Google's search business. All those ads which never get shown. All that data which is never collected. Moves which will leave Google increasingly isolated moving forward.

Apple's walled garden isn't so walled when you consider its Siri and Maps partners now include: TomTom, Wolfram Research, Yelp, Open Table, Rotten Tomatoes and many more. That's not such a walled garden, really, is it?

Apple is now fighting Google in mobile devices; in Maps; in search through Siri; and, as an added value option, is taking a small but probably significant chunk of high value advertising income from AdWords through use of the iAds system. Put it all together and that's got to hurt...

Then there's the Twitter and Facebook alliances, moves which also leave Google exposed as the company that doesn't know how to make -- and keep -- its friends.

Eyes to the East

In this case, the Asia-Pacific. Make no mistake: Apple's got its sights set on China. The plethora of China-focused improvements in both iOS 6 and Mountain Lion prove this. These include a new Chinese dictionary, and integration with popular internet and social networking services including Baidu, Sina Weibo, Youku, and Tudo.

The company knows its future economic heartland is in China, and not the US of A. It knows in future a supercalifragilistically huge slice of its income will come from there, and from surrounding places in the Asia-Pacific: Korea, Japan, and more. You'll see more Apple retail stores, more iPhone carriers, more activity across the gamut of its activities that reflects this. This is why Siri will soon speak Chinese.

I'll continue to ponder Apple's WWDC announcements in hopes of gleaning additional insights into the company's plans for the coming year. Meanwhile, over to you -- what else did you learn during yesterday's Macs and software-focused keynote speech? And, is the Apple television a unicorn or a plan in progress?

Also read:

WWDC 2012: Facebook integration, Apple Maps for Fall's iOS 6

WWDC 2012: With Facebook integration OS X Mountain Lion -- $19.99, ships July

WWDC 2012: Retina Display reaches MacBook Pro

WWDC: iPhone in the wings, expect software surprises

Apple WWDC: iOS 6 says farewell to Google Maps

iPhone 5 release: Apple's September launch, what to expect

Apple TV: exec says it's coming 'soon'

Computerworld's WWDC 2012 topic page

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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