WWDC: What Apple Didn’t (Exactly) Say

From the MacBook Pro with Retina display to iOS 6 to the new AirPort Express (not mentioned in the Keynote but posted online afterwards), Apple announced more than enough new stuff at yesterday’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) to keep us busy for…at least the next few weeks. Even so, Apple revealed more than what was spoken on stage or published to its website. There were “hidden subtexts” to almost every announcement. To uncover these messages, all you need to do is read a bit “between the lines.” Here’s what I mean:

Reading Between the WWDC Lines

The host. Tim Cook was the official “host” of the event, in the truest sense of the word. A bit like Billy Crystal at the Oscars, he was there for the opening and closing…but didn’t do any of the heavy lifting in between. The actual reveals and demos were handled by the likes of Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall.

Apple’s subtext: “This model is working well for us. Tim likes it this way. Expect the pattern to continue for future media events.”

 MacBook Air. At the Keynote, Apple emphasized the MacBook Air as its “consumer notebook” line, using the phrase more than I have ever noticed before. 

Apple’s subtext: “The MacBook Air is our designated successor to the now-defunct white MacBook. If you’re seeking a (barely) under-$1000 entry-level machine, this is it.”

MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro with Retina display is sweet. It lives up to Apple’s hype; it is a complete rethinking of the Pro design — from the jaw-dropping display to the internal hardware. It is truly the “next generation” of MacBook Pros.

Apple’s message: “This is just the start of the next generation. You can expect a 13” model to come along before too long. And prices will drop over time as well. The current non-Retina 13” and 15” models will then be end-of-lifed. For the moment, however, if you want a 13” Pro laptop or can’t afford over $2000 on a machine, you’re stuck with the speed-bumped ‘last generation’ MacBooks.”

Retina Display. The MacBook Pro with Retina display sports a 2880-by-1800 resolution. By comparison, Apple’s 27-inch Cinema Display has a measly 2560-by-1440 resolution — that’s less than the MacBook!

Apple’s subtext: “Be warned. Attaching a Cinema Display to one of these new machines may seem like a step down in quality. True, it’s a larger display, but not a superior one.”

USB 3. Apple added USB 3 ports to its MacBook lines, Air and Pro.

Apple’s subtext: “Thunderbolt adoption is not going as fast as we might have liked. If you need a speed boost and there’s no Thunderbolt option, you can now use USB 3.”

Ethernet. There is no Ethernet port on the MacBook Pro with Retina display. To use Ethernet, you need a Thunderbolt adapter.

Apple’s subtext: “We are committed to ‘wireless networking’ (a phrase Phil Schiller used a couple of times during the Keynote) as the future of communication — even for our Pro users. Ethernet is still faster, but this won’t be so forever. We’re happy to be slightly ahead of the curve here.”

Optical drives. Pop quiz: Are there optical SuperDrives on the upgraded 13” and 15” MacBook Pros? If you don’t know for sure, you’re not alone. Here at TMO, we had an extended debate among the staff while we attempted to sort this out. The answer is: Yes, they are still there. It’s clearly shown at the bottom of this page. The confusion stems from the fact that this is not clearly indicated on many of Apple’s other feature lists and spec sheets. For example, you won’t find mention of these drives anywhere on this MacBook Pro Tech Specs page. Nor were they mentioned in the Keynote, as I recall. Adding to the confusion, the Pro with Retina Display has no SuperDrive built in.

Apple’s subtext: “Optical drives are history. We’re still retaining them on these legacy models for now. But don’t expect them to be around for long.”

• 17” MacBook Pro. Is Apple still making a 17” MacBook Pro? No. Apple quietly 86’d it from the Apple Store, except for refurbished models.

Apple’s subtext: “If you want the real estate that a 17” offers, you’ll have to make do with a 15” MacBook Pro with Retina display. Don’t consider it a sacrifice. Although the image size may be a bit smaller, you can actually fit more on the screen at one time.”

Mac Pro. Apple did a stealth update to the Mac Pro after the Keynote was over. Very stealth. Apple didn’t even note it in their press releases. It was a speed-bump, with upgrades to the processor and graphics card. But there wasn’t the slightest redesign of the model — not even to add a Thunderbolt or USB 3 port. This means you still can’t connect Apple’s Thunderbolt Cinema Display to these machines.

Apple’s subtext: “Yes, the Mac Pro upgrade is embarrassing. That’s why we barely mentioned it. But we’re still on the edge of dumping this machine entirely from our product line. So don’t expect to see significant changes here — ever.”

New iMacs. David Pogue, writing about yesterday’s announcements, said: “Many Apple observers also wonder if Apple thinks that desktop computers are dead, since not a word was said about the iMac and Mac Pro. An executive did assure me, however, that new models and new designs are under way, probably for release in 2013.”

Apple’s subtext: “Desktop Macs are not where our money comes from anymore. We’ll upgrade the iMac when we have the time. No rush. As for the Mac Pro, see the previous subtext.”

Maps in iOS 6. Apple revealed the major new features of iOS 6 (due this fall) at yesterday’s Keynote. The feature that received the most attention was Maps. The old Google-based Maps app is gone, replaced with one done internally by Apple. Improving on Google’s app, the upgraded Maps includes 3D “flyover” views and turn-by-turn navigation. Adding convenience, you can access the app from the Lock Screen as well as enter Maps commands via Siri. However, missing from the new Maps will be Google’s StreetView. Also, there is no integrated transit or pedestrian routing. Apple plans to tap into third-party “transit apps” as a substitute; whether or not this will be adequate remains to be seen.

Apple’s subtext: “We didn’t have the time or capability to build all of Google’s features into our app…yet. So, instead, we’ll be piggybacking onto third-party solutions. Even so, don’t expect to see anything like StreetView. And, by the way, Maps’ newest and coolest features are not for all iOS users: Flyover and turn-by-turn only work on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 or later. Sorry.”

Passbook. iOS 6 introduced Passbook, allowing you to combine boarding passes, movie tickets, store cards, and more into one convenient app location.

Apple’s subtext: “We think this is quite cool. Yes, we know it is still not a true mobile wallet substitute for credit cards. There’s no Near Field Communication (NFC) capability or anything like that. But we haven’t revealed all our cards yet.”

Other new features in iOS 6. Either listening to user feedback, or perhaps just its own common sense, Apple has included numerous long-requested features in iOS 6. There’s FaceTime over cellular, a Do Not Disturb feature for phone calls, offline reading lists in Safari, a single-app mode, and the ability for Siri to launch apps.

My in-my-dreams Apple’s subtext: “Hey Ted. Single app mode; Siri launching apps. We do read your columns and take your advice seriously. Really. Thanks.”

Mountain Lion. Apple showed off OS X Mountain Lion at the Keynote. It’s due to ship in July. I’ve talked about the iOS-ification of OS X several times before. In looking over the highlighted new features of Mountain Lion, it becomes clear that Mountain Lion goes beyond a limited “iOS-ification.” We are really looking at the ultimate unification of the two OS versions (not a code unification, but a functional one). Apple’s goal is to allow an almost seamless transition between the OS platforms. From a user interface point of view, learn something in one OS and you know how it works in the other — especially if you stick only with Mac apps from the App Store. Mostly, this unification comes from making OS X more like iOS, but it can go in either direction.

More specifically, take a look at the list of highlighted new features in Mountain Lion: iCloud (including Documents in the Cloud), Reminders, Notes, iMessage, Notification Center, Dictation, Sharing (Twitter and Facebook), AirPlay Mirroring (which I assume is coming even though I couldn’t get it to work on my MacBook Air running Mountain Lion), and Game Center. Every one of these features already exists in iOS 5 or will be included in iOS 6. Take away these iOS-derived features and there’s virtually nothing of note new in Mountain Lion.

Eventually, there may be push-back from end-users about Apple’s moves in this direction. Apple may then have to back-pedal a bit. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Apple’s subtext: “iOS has been a spectacular success for us. It gives us more control over what third-parties (and end-users) can do on our devices than we ever had with the Mac. We like this. And consumers seem to love it. So we’re going to do out best to make the Mac work the same way. Heck, with Mountain Lion we’ve almost already done the job.”

Television. The one big thing that Apple did not mention —  at WWDC or on its website —  was television. There was no upgrade to Apple TV announced, no mention of support for third-party apps running on the device, no gaming on Apple TV previews, and especially no Apple television SDK.

Apple’s subtext: Tim Cook already told you: Apple is ‘doubling down on secrecy’ when it comes to product releases. You’ll know about Apple’s television plans when we want you to know about them. And we don’t want you to know about them yet.”

Image made with help from Shutterstock.