By John Gruber
“We’re going to double down on secrecy on products.”
—Tim Cook, yesterday at the D10 conference
I’ve long compared Apple punditry to Cold War-era Kremlinology — to predict or analyze an opaque, secretive organization, you’ve got to read between the lines of the few things they do say, and you’ve got to know how to interpret silence. So, let’s go deep and severely overanalyze and jump to unfounded conclusions based on two things that struck me regarding the just-released-yesterday preliminary schedule for WWDC 2012 (which schedule is, alas, available only to registered attendees).
First, the Apple Design Awards have been moved from their traditional spot Wednesday evening to a prime time spot Monday afternoon at 3:45. It doesn’t take a genius to interpret this as Apple increasing the attention and emphasis on the ADAs. On Mondays, WWDC is a single-track conference: the public keynote in the morning, the “technical keynote” (which used to be called the OS State of the Union, but is now called the Platforms Kickoff, but really, you can simply think of it as a second keynote1 focused on technical details rather than marketing and product-level announcements) after lunch, and then there was one more spot. That spot used to be for the Developer Tools Kickoff, but this year, that’s been moved to Tuesday morning at 9am.
The idea is, Monday morning’s keynote is for the public; Monday afternoon is for the stuff that applies to all 5,000 WWDC attendees. New product announcements in the morning; new technology details and developer tools in the afternoon. The rest of the week, WWDC is a multi-track conference — at any given time, there are usually six concurrent sessions and a slew of labs where attendees can ask questions and get help from Apple engineers. After Monday, Apple even changes the configuration of the third floor of Moscone West. The big room, the one where the keynote is held, is called “Presidio”, and on Monday it’s far bigger. From Tuesday through Friday, Presidio is still the biggest room in the building (hold that thought for the second part of this piece, below), but it’s nowhere near as big as it is on Monday. They break out partitions to add a few smaller rooms to the third floor for Tuesday through Friday.
So not only is Monday afternoon a better time slot for the ADAs — holding it in the evening meant the ADAs were up against dinner plans, parties, and the feeling that one needed to just plain take a break from Moscone — it’s also a bigger room. The ADAs are a big deal and the event is always well-attended, but this year it’s safe to say just about every attendee is going to be there.
Think of it this way: there are only three events on the schedule for Monday, all three of which will have the attention of all 5,000 attendees, and Apple is using one of them to promote third-party apps. Why? I say go back to the iPad 3 introduction in March, and Tim Cook’s segment at the beginning, where he compared apps like Twitter and Yelp on the iPad versus Android tablets. The explicit message: third-party apps look better and offer a better experience on iOS.
Higher-profile better-attended Apple Design Awards will emphasize the same message. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for winners that aren’t exclusive to iOS and OS X.)
Second, there are an unusually high number of “To Be Announced” sessions on the WWDC schedule this year. There are always TBA sessions on the preliminary schedule, because there are always some sessions pertaining to new stuff that will be announced on Monday. But this year there seem to be more TBA sessions than usual — particularly in Presidio, the aforementioned biggest room for sessions in the building.
On Tuesday morning, Presidio is booked for the Developer Tools Kickoff, Game Technologies Kickoff, and What’s New in Cocoa sessions. After that, Presidio is pretty much entirely “TBA” from Tuesday afternoon through the end of the day Thursday. And that’s just the big room — there are dozens of other TBA sessions on the schedule.
This implies not just that Apple will be announcing new stuff (duh, it’s WWDC), but new stuff that will fill the biggest room in the building with two-and-a-half days worth of sessions.
Of course, this is Apple, so this could be nothing. Could well be that when the TBAs are filled in on the conference schedule on Monday June 11, we’ll look at these sessions and have no idea why they were “TBA” on the preliminary schedule. Secrecy just for the sake of secrecy.
But I think something’s up.
To me, this is what a preliminary WWDC conference schedule would look like if Apple were set to announce a new developer platform, like, say, apps for Apple TV. Apps for Apple TV is just a guess — I’ve heard not a single whisper about such a thing from any Cupertino area little birdies. (Cf. the aforementioned Tim Cook quote about Apple doubling down on secrecy.) But it’s one of the few things I can imagine that would be big, new, and different enough to warrant that much attention at WWDC. Combine these holes in the session schedule with Jonathan Geller’s report today at BGR — “Apple to Demo New TV OS at WWDC in Two Weeks” — and I’ll put five bucks down on this actually happening.
Note, too, a second quote from Cook at D10 yesterday, regarding Apple TV sales: “But last year we sold 2.8 million Apple TVs. This year, in the first six months, we’ve sold 2.7 million.” That’s at least 100 percent growth, and probably more if we assume that Apple TV is like the iPod and sells best in the holiday quarter. [Update: Horace Dediu notes that Cook was likely talking about Apple’s fiscal year, not the calendar year, in which case the 2.7 million units “this year” do include the holiday quarter, which in turn means growth is probably less than 100 percent year-over-year since they’ve already booked the biggest quarter.] Apple’s “hobby” is catching on, and I can’t think of anything Apple could do to make it more interesting and popular than to open a new branch of the App Store for it.
I’ve seen other conferences with multiple (e.g. daily) “keynotes”, but “keynote” has come to mean something very specific for Apple. So it seems to me they’re using “kickoff” to mean, more or less, “a keynote address, but not the line-up-around-the-block-hours-in-advance, worldwide-news-media-front-page-coverage keynote address.” ↩