Yesterday’s iPad Event Was Only Half The Story

Because of the way Apple structures its major announcements — iPad in the first quarter, WWDC and iPhone in the summer though perhaps with the iPhone, now it’s fall — the iPad event is a little weird, because it’s really only half an event. The first half is what happened yesterday — the unveiling of the new iPad. And the new stuff is mostly about hardware features. The Retina Display. The A5X. The new iSight. LTE. The Retina Display makes it purchase worthy alone, but the other specs Apple bragged about? Just specs. Moore’s Law at play. Talking about them always seem somewhat embarrassing for Apple, a holdover from the days when they used to talk about megahertz and were trying to convince consumers that Pentium chips sucked.

Even the software Apple showed is a little weird, conceptually. iPhoto certainly demoed impressively — but it’s also available on the iPad 2 and certainly doesn’t require you spending $500 on the new iPad. And if its release cycle is any indication, next year’s new new iPad will be a spit and polish update, like the iPad 2 was with the iPad 1.

But there’s a second half to the event, and it’s way more exciting than the first.

It happens in June at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.


If history is any guide, that’s when we’ll see the release of iOS 6.0. And, again, if history is any guide, it’s going to be so much more important than the Retina Display or the A5X or any other hardware feature we can probably imagine.

Consider what’s happened at past WWDCs:

2008 — iPhone OS 2.0: The introduction of the App Store. In 5 years, Apple would distribute billions of dollars to developers and help create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. They would change the way software is packaged, delivered and developed. The App Store is arguably the single most important part of the iOS concept, the keystone that locks everything Apple now does together.

2009 — iOS 3.0: The refinement year. Copy and paste. Turn-by-turn navigation. MMS. HTML5 support for Safari. It’s clear now that it was also the year that Apple was spending on getting the OS together for the iPad release in 2010.

2010 — iOS 4.0: Multitasking and third-party Backgrounding. It’s still too early to tell what’s going to happen with many of these, but Background Support has made it possible for the creation of buzzy new startups like Highlight and Glassmap. Persistent social networks like Highlight are just one example of how Backgrounding is leading to new types of businesses and apps. AirPlay, which was released later with iOS 4.2, is still not a fully baked idea yet. But it’s shaping up to be — along with the AppleTV and iCloud — Apple’s attempt at reinventing content in the living room.

2011 — iOS 5.0: iCloud. Another biggie. The one that Apple is betting its future on and is going to change the way millions of people deal with things that have been around forever, like file systems. “Apple has its feet firmly planted in the post-PC future,” Tim Cook said yesterday, and that’s only possible because of iCloud. Oh, and they also introduced iMessage, which is causing the carriers a bit of agita over the prospect of losing the usurious fees they’ve charged for texting. Oh, and there’s Newsstand, which could help save print journalism. Oh, and that’s when Apple granted Twitter Most Favored Nation status, which probably sent some shivers among the hoodied at everyone’s favorite social network.

2012 — iOS 6.0: Let the guessing begin.

There’s no real equivalent to snuck-out panel displays feverishly studied under a microscope looking for extra pixels that we can turn to for iOS leaks. But there were was one bread crumb that may lead somewhere: Apple’s no longer using Google Maps data in their iPhoto app. Does that mean that Google Maps data is no longer going to be driving iOS’s Maps app? It seems increasingly likely and that Phil Schiller used Vimeo to demo LTE instead of YouTube was just another tweak in the Plex’s nose.

But my money is that the bulk of iOS 6.0 is going to be on tightening and refining iCloud. A 2009 year. We’ve seen some of that already with the Mountain Lion preview. That Apple is moving OS X to the same yearly release schedule as iOS is further proof of that. iCloud is still far from being finished but it’s the glue that is going to hold everything Apple now does together.

The disappointment people feel about the new iPad is not surprising. It’s even understandable. That rumored haptic feedback system did sound pretty cool. Of course we want to be amazed every year. But the revolution already happened. It fomented during the years before the iPad was released. That was when Apple tinkered with the screen size, the OS, the very concept of what a post-PC device is. The first shot was fired when Steve Jobs sat down on Le Corbusier chair, crossed his legs and slid-to-unlock. And we didn’t know it then, but it succeeded on April 3, 2010 when the original iPad went on sale.

Now, we see Apple trying to perfect the iPad. It’s not even close to the Platonic ideal they imagined it to be. And the stuff that’s going to shake the ground, like the App Store and iCloud? That’s got nothing to do with how the iPad looks or how many CPU cores it has.

It’s not that specs aren’t important. With all consumer devices, the whole is more than the sum of their parts. But specs are tactical decisions in order to execute a larger strategy. Let me ask you this: what were the specs of your computer when you first fired up a web browser? What was ultimately important about that experience?

“We’re talking about a world where the PC is no longer the center of the digital world, but is just another device.” Cook again. And we’re going to get important details about how that world is going to be built in three short months.