Apple introduced solid upgrades to the iPhone, its Mac operating system, and notebook lines at the WWDC, but that isn't enough for some Apple fans. Why not?

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

June 12, 2009

11 Min Read

Apple iPhone 3G S
(click image for larger view)
Apple iPhone 3G S

Let's say you're a kid. You've convinced yourself that your parents are going to get you a pony for Christmas. Instead, they get you a pair of rollerskates.

You really like those rollerskates. You have a good time rollerskating every day. And your parents never were going to get you a pony. But, still, you convinced yourself you were getting a pony, and so you're disappointed.

If you're an Apple fan, you're probably like that kid. You convinced yourself that Apple was going to announce amazing new technology at its Worldwide Developer Conference this week. In the time leading up to the conference, the rumors were flying on the Apple blogs -- as they always do -- that Apple was going to announce a new tablet computer, an iPhone Mini, that Steve Jobs was going to put in a surprise appearance. You expected those things. And, when none of them materialized, you were disappointed -- even though the announcements Apple did make were solid, with significant improvements to iPhone hardware and software, the Mac OS, notebooks, a new version of the Safari browser, and more.

By any reasonable standard, that's a pretty big array of substantial announcements. But Apple fans are disappointed. For example, Nick Mokey writes at Digital Trends: "Apple iPhone 3G S Disappoints at 2009 WWDC." Lance Ulanoff writes at PCMag.com, "Apple Delivers iPhone 3G S and Leaves Out Much More." Why the disappointment?

Partly it's the rumor mill, which inflates expectations. But there's something else at work here: Apple has delivered the pony many times in the past (so to speak). In the 12 years since Steve Jobs came back to work at Apple, they've delivered eight amazing announcements which revolutionized existing businesses, threatened established industry leaders, and changed the way people think about technology. 8 Revolutionary Announcements

1997: The Return Of Steve Jobs
Everybody knew how a tech entrepreneur's career was supposed to go. He introduces a brilliant innovation as a young man, makes buckets of money and revolutionizes the industry, and is washed up and ousted while still a youth. A lucky few, like Ken Olsen at Digital Equipment Corp., stay on at the company they founded for most of their lives, consolidating and building on their initial genius. Either way, there are no second acts in American tech careers; a tech entrepreneur's life's work will be substantially finished before he or she has even fully grown up.

Unless you're Steve Jobs. He had his flash of genius, then flamed out and failed before he was 31, following the script for American tech entrepreneurs.

Then he went and founded another computer company, NeXT, a technology success but a business flop. He founded Pixar, which revolutionized a completely different industry -- movie animation. He sold NeXT to Apple, which brought him back to the company he'd founded. Apple was failing at the time, but Jobs pushed out the current CEO and took command of the sinking ship, patching the holes in the hull, repairing the engines, and turning it into an innovation juggernaut.

1998: Introducing The iMac
In the 1990s, personal computers were just plain ugly. But the iMac turned the PC into something pretty, an object you could enjoy looking it. It had a funny rounded shape, like a piece of candy, and came in multiple candy colors. PCs were always fun to play with, now they looked like fun too.

Apple advertised the iMac as a device that made it easy to get on the Internet, which was revolutionary at the time. The company also declared that serial ports and floppy disk drives were unnecessary, and left them out of the machine. This was a controversial decision at the time, but proved to be prophetic. 2001: Introducing OS X For The Desktop
Macs ran the same operating system from 1984-2001. To put that in perspective: Microsoft takes a lot of heat now because many users are still running Windows XP, which is eight years old. Mac OS was more than twice that old, it was just plain obsolete and had been for a long time.

Mac OS X was a huge step forward, and added features that we now consider standard in desktop operating systems: Preemptive multitasking, which is the ability to gracefully run two or more programs simultaneously, as well as memory protection for stability. It's based on BSD Unix and NeXTStep, and still the standard for Macs today, as well as running on iPhones and iPods.

2001: Introducing The iPod
There were digital music players before, but you had to be a geek to figure them out, downloading and installing software from multiple sources. The iPod made it easy for consumers to digitize their music, by using free iTunes software, introduced earlier that year. Record companies had unwittingly enabled this technology almost 20 years earlier, by introducing CDs with a format that proved to be easy to copy -- a process which became known as "ripping" -- and then "burning" to a PC hard drive.

Record company lawyers had tried to claim that ripping and burning were illegal, even if you were simply copying your own music for your own personal use. Apple patted the lawyers on the head, and boldly marketed the iPod and iTunes combination with the slogan: "Rip, Mix, Burn."

2003: Introducing The iTunes Store
Record companies resisted offering legal downloadable music. Record companies were afraid that digital music would be too easy to steal, but their reluctance to go digital only drove consumers to illegal filesharing services, and hurt the record companies' own bottom lines.

Apple overcame that resistance, and enlisted record companies to offer digital music for sale at the iTunes Store, for the standardized price of 99 cents per track, or $9.99 for most albums, and invented the digital music industry.

This proved to be a mixed blessing for record companies: On the one hand, Apple gave them a lucrative channel for their product, and an incentive for consumers to buy, rather than steal, music. On the other hand, Apple controlled that channel, and used that power to push their policies on record companies, often against the record companies' wills. 2006: Apple Transitions Desktop Products To Intel
Previously, Apple used Motorola and PowerPC processors in its computers, while PC vendors used Intel processors. The different processors became fuel for loud marketing arguments between Apple and its PC competitors, with PC vendors touting faster clock speeds and Apple saying clock speeds don't matter.

So Apple's 2005 announcement that it would switch to Intel processors was a huge reversal.

And, as a side-effect that proved important, the switch to Intel made it easy for Macs to run Windows, either as a native operating system using Boot Camp, or in software emulation on top of Mac OS X using products like Parallels and VMWare Fusion.

In retrospect, the switch to Intel doesn't seem like such a huge deal. Processors only matter to hardcore geeks, most people don't care. Likewise, most Mac users don't need or want to run Windows.

Still, it seemed like a huge deal at the time. And Windows support for Macs is like training wheels for Windows switchers -- Windows users are more likely to switch to Mac knowing that they don't have to give up their investment in Windows software, even though they'll willingly give up that Windows software once they're settled in and comfortable on the Mac.

2007: Meet The iPhone
Other smartphones are faster, more powerful, and do more, but the iPhone is easier and more enjoyable to use, and better-looking too. But that's not what made the iPhone revolutionary.

It was revolutionary in the way it changed the mobile phone industry business model. Until then, the industry was controlled by carriers. Now, carriers still wield a lot of power -- but iPhone users want their iPhones, and they'll go with whatever carrier makes the iPhone available. Right now, AT&T has a monopoly in the U.S., but that expires soon, and iPhone users won't think twice about switching to whichever carrier has the iPhone.

Until the iPhone, cell phone carriers controlled the consumer.

Consumers decided which cell phone company to do business with, and then picked their phone based on the selections that carrier offered. Now, users decide to buy an iPhone, and go with whichever cell phone company lets them do that.

The Mobile Safari browser was also revolutionary; with its graceful interface and easy panning and zooming, it was the first really usable Internet browser for a cell phone, and ushered in the age of the mobile Internet.

2008: The App Store
The Intel transition seemed like a bigger deal at the time than it proved to be. Conversely, the App Store's significance only became apparent over time. When it was announced, it was great for iPhone users, because now you could get third-party apps for the iPhone. But over time it became apparent that Apple was revolutionizing the cell phone industry for the second time in two years. Previously, cell phone carriers controlled which applications ran on cell phones. And there weren't many of them. The App Store opened the door to thousands and thousands and thousands of applications becoming available for smartphones, and Apple, rather than cell phone companies, controlled the keys to the distribution channel. Apple created a new industry, iPhone software developers, and enabled other companies to make decent money selling software for the iPhone.

Eight game-changing announcements. 12 years. Two in one year: 2001 saw the introduction of Mac OS X and the iPod. Given that track record, it's understandable why Apple fans are disappointed in any announcements that aren't' gamechanging.

But that's an unreasonably high standard. Even Babe Ruth didn't hit a home run every time at bat. Apple's WWDC announcements are a solid array, and that should be enough.

The new iPhone 3G S, combined with a new version of the iPhone operating system, adds video recording, an onboard compass to complement the GPS in existing iPhones, a better camera than earlier models, push notifications, copy cut and paste, and voice recording. Also, the new model has a faster processor, combined with other hardware improvements that will double performance over existing models. Storage is double, too. That's a nice package of features, and at the same price points as the existing iPhone 3G: $199, which now buys you 16 GB of storage, and $399 for 32 GB (although iPhone 3G users will have to pay higher if they want to upgrade early).

The iPhone 3.0 software will be available free to existing iPhone users, and for $20 on the iPod Touch. Apple did the same thing when it upgraded to iPod 2.0. It could have charged a hefty price for the operating system upgrade -- say, $100 -- and no reasonable person would have criticized them. But instead, Apple is giving the operating system away. It's like giving people a new, better phone for free.

But wait! There's more! (as the guys on the infomercials say). Apple also provided details about Snow Leopard, the next version of its operating system, which will slim down bulk and improve performance over the existing desktop operating system. The last time Apple did a major OS upgrade, it charged $129; but Apple announced at WWDC that it will charge only $29, and that Snow Leopard will be available in September.

Apple rounded out its announcements with upgrades to the MacBook notebook line, and a new version of its server Mac OS, the final version of the Safari 4 browser, and new tools for enterprise users.

More In Store For 2009?
That's a good bunch of announcements. And the year isn't even half over. My gut feeling is that the predictions of an upcoming tablet announcement are correct. It will be announced this year, priced between $500 and $1,000, have a 7-10 inch touchscreen display, and run a controlled group of applications from an App Store. Think of it as an iPod Touch with a much bigger screen. It will combine the functions of iPod Touch, netbook, e-book reader, and portable video player, and revolutionize the technology industry again.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on smartphone security. Download the report here (registration required).

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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