WWDC: What we don’t know

Matthew JC. Powell
11 June, 2008
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Since yesterday’s one hour and 44-minute keynote address at the Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, many more words than anyone said on stage have been written and published about it. The core of it has been of course the 3G iPhone and the applications that will be built for it, which will in turn require the iPhone 2.0 software update. There has also been discussion about the transition of the .Mac service (formerly iTools) into MobileMe or Me.com or both, whichever.

Much of what has been written is wrong. And much of the rest may be right, but it’s pure speculation. It’s been interesting watching the lead-up to this WWDC because Apple was being more secretive about the 3G iPhone than it has been about most recent products, and yet the rumour mills were full of surprisingly accurate information. That, unfortunately, has fed into more speculation and increasingly wild conjecture.

Just to keep things a little teensy bit level, here’s what I believe we know, and what I believe we don’t yet know.

The iPhone will be released in a 3G version on the 11th of July in 22 countries, including Australia and New Zealand. It will be available in two configurations: 8GB and 16GB, and it will be available from Optus and Vodafone. The online Apple Store currently links to those two providers for sales, so it’s unclear whether you will eventually be able to buy one directly from Apple, at least in this country.

We don’t know how much either configuration will cost. Nor do we know what plans will be available or how much they will cost. Steve Jobs said something about $199 and $299 respectively "worldwide" but that seems highly unlikely and a more probable scenario is that the prices will vary according to market conditions in different countries.

We also don’t know what if anything Telstra and Three will do. Telstra has its own competitive pressures because it is trying to set itself up as a competitor to Apple’s iTunes, so you can understand its inaction. Howewver, Three’s parent company, Hutchinson Telecomms, carries the iPhone in other countries and will have the 3G version. So why Three hasn’t made an announcement yet is a little bit of a mystery.

And we don’t know if you’ll be able to buy the 3G iPhone outright and take it to another carrier of your choosing. You can bet that if you can it will cost a whole bunch more than $US199, but how much — we don’t know.

We know it has a plastic back, not a metallic one, and that will be a bonus to the style-conscious who complained that the previous iPhone was a fingerprint magnet. The plastic back will also improve its reception range, as the metal back interfered with the antenna. We know it will continue to support 2G networks and that you’ll be able to switch off the 3G functionality to conserve battery life.

We know that the iPhone 2.0 software update will be released in "early July". I’m guessing prior to the 11th, but that’s a guess. We know it will be free for iPhone users and will cost $US9.99 in the USA for iPod touch owners.

We don’t know how much it will cost in Australia. Apple is constrained in what it can do by the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules in the USA that require it to charge for updates that add features, but because of the complex revenue arrangements for the iPhone it can offer the same updates to that machine without charge. It’s implemented two updates under Sarbanes-Oxley before: activation of 802.11n capability in MacBooks, and the January software update for iPhone and iPod touch. It charged a token amount for the first and losty money because the infrastructure for collecting the fee was more expensive than the money it brought in (that’s not a guess, that is known). It charged a higher fee for the January update, and was criticised for the exorbitant additional charge. Most likely it will charge somewhere in between for iPhone 2.0 — that’s a guess.

We also know that if you download the update for an iPhone (free) you can then use the same updater on your Mac or PC to update as many iPod touches as you’d like without paying for it again. User gtroups, this is your cue.

We know that the App Store will be launched at the same time as the 3G iPhone, and that there will be a lot of free applications. Those that are not free, the developer can set their price. Most of the ones demonstrated yesterday will be $US9.99, but we don’t know how much they will cost locally. Or, indeed, if there will be one global App Store where you buy everything in $US. We’ll find out in a few weeks.

We know that MobileMe will add a great many features that will make it a compelling online application package, particularly for iPhone users. Push e-mail alone makes it a serious competitor to BlackBerry, assuming that it can improve its performance as regards downtime. .Mac has not been as reliable as one might have liked in that regard. We know that MobileMe will cost $119 per year in Australia, which is cheaper than .Mac. There’s also a "family pack" option for $179 per year. We know that all .Mac users will automagically become MobileMe users, though their .Mac e-mail addresses will not change.

We don’t know if there will be any credit for people who have paid $138 for this year’s .Mac renewal. In the US MobileMe and .Mac are the same price, so it seems unlikely that consideration will be made for people who have paid a higher price in other countries. We also don’t know if it will be possible to upgrade from the single-user $119 option to the family pack or how much that will cost. Will it be $41 for existing $138 .Mac subscribers? We don’t know.

We know that the next version of Mac OS X is called "Snow Leopard". Zoologists are very confused about whether a Snow Leopard belongs in the genus Panthera along with Leopards or in its own genus, Uncia. Snow Leopards cannot roar — no doubt that fact will be mentioned in the months and years ahead. (Aside from this mention of course.)

We don’t know whether or not Snow Leopard will support PowerPC processors. Rumours have suggested it will not, but these are jkust rumours and no reliable information is out there. The sessions at WWDC in which it has been discussed are under NDA so anyone who claims to have solid information must at the very least have been dishonest enough to sign a non-disclosure agreement for information they intended to disclose. Keep that in mind when weighing how much salt to add.

That about covers it I think. If there’s anything else you want to know, or think you know but probably don’t, let me know about it in the forums.

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