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  • The 10.6 Report: An Unexpected WWDC Surprise?

    May 27th, 2008

    This isn’t going to be your standard WWDC prediction article, because so much of that so far has focused on what form the next iteration of the iPhone will take, and what apps will be available for it on day one. What’s more, I’m sure you’ve heard quite enough on that subject already, and you’d rather wait for the main event, and discover the truth or falsity of the expectations.

    That’s true even if you have given up trying to locate an iPhone for sale now. In fact, I suggest you wait for the  new model before you decide whether a possible closeout on the original — if you can find one — makes any sense.

    There is also some speculation that Apple might debut new form factors for the aging MacBook and MacBook Pro note-books, but they are incredible sales successes, so where’s the incentive? But even if new models appeared for the summer and fall buying seasons, the internal hardware wouldn’t be all that different, so it wouldn’t be so revolutionary.

    However, there is one element of Apple’s product portfolio that analysts and rumor sites just aren’t talking about, and I think you see where I’m going.

    As we all know, Leopard went on sale at the end of October of last year, a few months late, allegedly because Apple needed to move a fair amount of its development resources to the iPhone.

    Regardless of the truth of the announced reasons for that delay, Leopard came out approximately 30 months after Tiger, which is rather longer than Apple has separated its operating system reference releases in recent years. It was meant to be a 24 month gap originally.

    If Apple were to return to that schedule, it would mean that Mac OS 10.6, with an unknown feline designation, would appear in the fall of 2009. Now Apple has to give developers a fair amount of time to play with prerelease versions, and three or four months from WWDC to possible release is far too short for a proper development process.

    So, if that schedule is truly being considered by Apple, when would they first deliver preliminary information to developers?

    Yes, it would come at the prior WWDC, which just happens to be debuting the second week of June of this year!

    So if this schedule passes the logic test, it would mean that Apple is poised to unleash the next great version of Mac OS X upon developers who are simply not expecting that news. Now I wouldn’t expect it to get more than a very basic presentation, with a profile of some key new features, and perhaps less than an hour of keynote time. It is quite possible, in fact, that the actual developer’s releases wouldn’t arrive until the fall, but Apple needs to prepare WWDC members to be ready to consider the wealth of possibilities.

    Certainly it would be presumptuous of me to suggest what features Apple might be considering for 10.6. I’ve made some references to improved Help systems and other elements that are missing from Leopard. The improved use of 3D in the standard interface is another idea that ought to be considered, since Apple’s enhanced graphic support could be readily harnessed and exploited on any recent Mac, even the Mac mini.

    Beyond that, I just don’t know whether 10.6 should be just a general refinement of the features that first debuted in Leopard, such as Time Machine and Spaces, or offer something far more compelling.

    Certainly, the pressure isn’t so high on Apple when it comes to operating systems. Windows Vista hasn’t done the job for Microsoft, and its successor, known as Windows 7, is not expected to arrive until 2010. As far as new features are concerned, Microsoft has already demonstrated their own version of Apple’s Multi-Touch capability, which appeared on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro after originating in the iPhone and iPod touch, and even a Dock alternative. I suppose Microsoft’s imitative tendencies don’t need any explanation. Maybe they still call it “innovation” because they live in a bubble.

    However, the scope of the new features publicized so far seems mostly limited to wizzy special effects. MIcrosoft, after seeing many of its key features depart from Vista during its over-long gestation process, is evidently trying, for once, not to make promises it cannot deliver. Today’s Microsoft cannot get away with such shenanigans as easily as in the past, when they delivered demos of new technologies, only to cut back on features or abandon them altogether before they ever saw the light of day.

    Does anyone, for example, remember Cairo?

    Apple, however, isn’t in the business of delivering less than it promises, and it usually manages to keep close to the timetables it publicizes, with a few rare exceptions that we all know about. So while I really think there is a decent chance that we’ll get the first digs on Leopard’s successor at WWDC, the new iPhone will still be the star of the show.

    Or am I just way, way off the mark here?

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