With the serious Mac heads on pilgrimage to San Francisco for the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference starting June 11, the online rumors have gone into overdrive.
Not that its been anything but racing speed anyway, with the iPhone due to ship later in June and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard set for release in October.
To make the point (and drive traffic), blogger Wil Shipley predicted the end of the iMac.
“Thus, it would shock many to hear that Apple is, in fact, planning to retire the iMac this year. […] Of course, theyre not. That would be stupid. Still, I bet I could get a ton of other rumor sites to pick this up as news if I kept going with it,” he wrote.
(Remember that Apple is closed very tightly at most times, and sealed airtight before CEO Steve Jobs is due to speak. So, nobody but the inner-inner circle in Cupertino really knows what he will say and announce at the conference. Even then, he has reportedly left announcements and honored guests waiting in the green room.)
Of course, developers have plenty of questions for Jobs about the iPhone, including whether an SDK will be released at WWDC and what will be the market for third-party software for the phones. The iPhone will run a slimmed-down version of OS X and the Safari browser, Jobs said at its introduction in January.
In an exchange at the recent D5/All Things Digital conference, Jobs was asked if the iPhone platform was closed. He said that Apple is working to find a way to allow developers to build applications for it, but that he didnt want the iPhone to be “one of those phones that crashes a few times a day.”
However, one small developer I spoke with, who declined attribution, wondered about the market for these programs, which is after all, a consumer computing product. In addition to the questions on how iPhone owners might receive the software, how would they even know about them?
The iPhone SDK is a “fine idea, but I wonder how useful it would be. It would be nice if third-party software were more “discoverable” by ordinary users than [is currently] the situation with the Mac. We dont know how users will download software to the phone and that will be important,” the programmer said.
Still, the chance for a new platform for OS X applications, whether big or small, must strike the imagination of developers. On June 7, Mac sites were abuzz with news of PiperJaffray research that said iPhone sales could climb to 45 million units per year by 2009.
Meanwhile, the next generation of the Mac OS, Leopard, still has its secrets. While Apple has revealed most of Leopards features in its beta seeds over the past year, Mac developers are waiting on the entire package. When Leopard was first announced, Jobs said the company was holding back a number of features and keeping them secret, or “hidden” for its release.
These must be revealed at the conference, said developers. Apple in an e-mail to developers said they will receive a “feature complete” version.
Leopard was expected to ship this June, until Apple in April delayed the release until October. According to Apple, testing of the iPhone required it to shift engineering and QA resources from the Mac OS X team away from Leopard testing and bug fixing.
However, many developers I spoke with said the Leopard builds are still chock-a-block with bugs.
One suggested that the recent Build 9A410 (release in mid-April) was just a place marker for the “real build,” with all the secret sauce, coming at WWDC. Another vendor found this concept “totally believable.”
“Im hoping to get a more stable version of Leopard, with useful features that will make it easier for third-party developers to integrate with Apples applications and data stores,” said the vendor, who asked for anonymity.
He said Apple provides some frameworks for integrating with Address Book, chat status, but these could be improved. “Integration with iPhoto and iTunes databases should be two ways [and] not just read-only XML files,” he offered as examples.
The exact definition of “secret” may also be questionable. Some insiders claim that certain features now seen in the Leopard previews will turn out to be some of the “hidden” features. They may be considered “hidden” because their APIs arent fully fleshed out or activated.
Resolution independence for displays, which decouples the resolution of OS elements, such as windows and menus from the physical pixel density of computer screens, is likely one of these features. Similar support is now available in Windows Vista Aero, so Apple may want to keep up with the Joneses.
As Ive said in previous columns, ZFSs intelligent management architecture supports plenty of storage goodness such as built-in replication, RAID and self-healing data verification. This would be a significant foundation for the other Leopard Server file services.
Leopards Input Secret
One longstanding rumor for the Mac platform is a new version of iWork, Apples productivity package. Last fall, the Think Secret site said iWork 2007 will feature a new spreadsheet application and updates to the Keynote presentation application and Pages word-processing/layout program.
However, WWDC appears to be an unlikely venue for such a client-side announcement. Still, it may be a way to get the word out in advance of back-to-school purchases of MacBooks in August.
One bit of speculation came from Mac networking vendor Peter Sichel, founder and chief engineer of Sustainable Softworks The company makes a suite of Mac OS X IP networking performance optimization utilities.
But speculation came following the work on Keyclick, Sustainables new Mac OS X tool that adds sound feedback—the “click”—to modern non-clicking “soft” keyboards and keypads. Sichel says that the audio feedback improves the user perception of key input.
He wondered if Apple will extend to the Mac platform the multi-touch gesture technology found on the iPhone. After all, according to Jobs, Apple owns the input technology.
“Steve [Jobs] obviously believes multi-touch is a revolutionary technology and has created the iPhone around it. The timing is right [to bring it to the Mac] because iPhone will ship later this month.
Sichel pointed to the chatter over the iPhone SDK.
“Perhaps [Jobs] just means Widgets, but I think supporting multi-touch applications would be far more significant. Would it be Steve-like to announce multi-touch technology in Leopard at WWDC, some new multi-touch hardware, and encourage developers to write the next-generation of awesome applications using this technology? It just might,” he said.
To Sichel, the recent announcements by Microsoft and Bill Gates of the “Microsoft Surface” touch technology at D5 were a me-too advance response to an expected Apple multi-touch move at WWDC.
I love that kind of thinking. The computer marketing business is a big chess game, isnt it?
My own speculation for a Leopard hidden feature will be support for Intels Robson architecture, given the brand name Turbo Memory.
The latest Santa Rosa chip sets from Intel, now found in Apples refreshed MacBook Pro notebooks, support this cache architecture. However, its not implemented in these machines.
About a year ago, I wrote about Intels progress on the Turbo Memory and the use of flash cache architecture in Windows Vista. Turbo Memory offers a logic-board alternative to the use of “hybrid” flash-enabled hard disks (Vista ReadyDrive) and external flash thumb drives (Vista ReadyBoost).
The advantages Turbo Memory would have over thumb drives and hard disk caches for system acceleration is that its data integrity is trusted between sleep states and even shutdowns. This can save time and creates a better user experience.
As far as Ive heard, as of April, no PC vendor had taken Intel up on Turbo Memory, aka Robson. That reluctance may appeal to Apple.
The enhanced user values sound like something Apple could get behind, even if it means a slightly higher-priced product. Perhaps we will see something on Turbo Memory support in the Leopard briefings, heralding its arrival in some future notebook model.