WWDC 2009 Keynote Thoughts

It was odd to be back in Moscone for my fourth WWDC. I was too busy draining my laptop battery and breaking my fingers for the benefit of my colleagues during the keynote, but now that I’ve had a few hours to digest, here’s some more nuanced thoughts.

# Notebook Refresh

With the 13″ aluminum MacBook changing names and joining the other Pros, a significant amount of confusion will finally dissipate – I will no longer be trying to explain why there’s a small gap between the top end MacBook and the low end MacBook Pro. Simplifying the product line helps, a lot.

Price cuts are always welcome, as are performance bumps.

As someone who has never lugged around multiple batteries, and as someone who always has to deal with AppleCare when a battery starts to go anyhow, I am all in favor of integrated batteries. The additional battery life is just icing.

I shed a single tear when they announced the SD card slot, as my Canon DSLR uses CompactFlash.

# 10.6 / Snow Leopard

The biggest news here is the pricing: $29 for a single license, $49 for a family pack. There was a lot of rumbling that 10.6 would not have flown with consumers at the usual $130, since it’s lacking a single compelling feature. (Exchange support might have done it for businesses.) But at $29, this will be a non-painful upgrade for most users.

While Bertrand Serlet is always willing to bash Windows during a keynote, the biggest middle finger towards Windows 7 is the price. Both 10.6 and Windows 7 can be seen as a refinement release, bordering on a major service pack. Snow Leopard ships a month in advance of Windows 7; pricing for Windows 7 hasn’t been announced yet, but I have my doubts Microsoft can limbo under the $29 bar.

Second biggest news: Intel only. I am sure that many tears are being spilled over this one. It was inevitable, and when Snow Leopard ships, all PPC machines will be out of Apple’s support window. Upgrade your hardware, people. (By the way, I was right.)

The hidden gems here are the actual refinements, and browsing through the Snow Leopard site reveals some substantial nuggets. These are fixes to minor day-to-day pains for most Mac users:

* Disk ejecting will become much more reliable, and will actually tell you which application is blocking the eject.
* You can “Put Back” items in the trash.
* Startup, shutdown, and waking from sleep are all significantly faster.
* The Airport menu now shows signal strength for all the networks in the area.
* Machines that are asleep will have Bonjour services proxied by an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule, thus solving the “I have to go wake my machine up before you can do X” problem.
* There’s HFS+ read-only support for Boot Camp users. As a frequent Boot Camp user, this resolves a huge problem in trying to co-exist in two OSes.
* Plugging in a printer will automatically download the newest driver. This may be a killer app for those of us who end up supporting non-technical users. I can only hope this works the same way for network printers.

10.6 is looking good, through and through.

# iPhone OS 3.0

The “Find My iPhone” functionality is very neat, but not enough to save my MobileMe account from termination this fall.

Given that all developers are now required to add a content rating to their apps (for the parental controls), I am crossing my fingers in the hopes that we’ll finally stop seeing app rejections for content.

While I was hoping the OS would come out this week, the 17th is not that far off. Expect a lot of apps to update next week.

# The ///gs

The iPhone 3GS feature list reads as a set of needed improvements. More storage, better camera, better battery, faster CPU. It’s not a sexy update, but it’s a functional one.
While the video recording will be good to have, I’ll still be keeping my Flip minoHD on hand. VGA resolution at 30FPS is good, but not great.

Knowing a number of directionally challenged people, the digital compass and auto-reorienting maps are greatly appreciated. Knowing a number of people who go to the gym, the Nike+ integration is also greatly appreciated.

The hardware-level encryption (and the related “instant wipe”) knocks out a serious concern that I’ve heard from assorted IT folks. Kudos to Apple for chipping away at the pile of security concerns.

I am glad to see the existing 3G drop to $99, but I’m wondering how long the 3G will continue to be sold. Is this a way to empty the channel, or is this a long-term strategy?

# The New Enemy

If anything became clear at WWDC today, it’s that AT&T has become the enemy. As I write this, “AT&T” is trending above “iPhone” on Twitter.
As Scott Forstall ran through the feature list for 3.0 – reminding us of ones already announced, and unveiling a few more – the line became drawn in the sand. For the two of the most requested features – MMS messaging and tethering – Scott reminded us that “carrier support is required”, and when the list of carriers was shown, AT&T was missing. MMS support was promised “later this summer”; but the same list of carriers during the tethering section led to a series of boos. Scott moved on as quick as he could, and with good reason: to announce a feature that’s not available in your home country is ridiculous.

No one from Apple said anything positive about AT&T – instead, they swerved or made jokes. (Note the “if your carrier supports it” joke from Phil Schiller during the iPhone 3GS demo.) Rumors have been swirling about whether or not the AT&T exclusivity deal has been extended, or if Verizon is angling to get the phone on their network next year.

Based on today’s keynote, I can’t believe that Apple is looking to hang onto that exclusivity for any longer than is necessary. Next year should be very interesting.