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Why All This Fretting Over Apple and No New Hardware at WWDC? It’s Not About Hardware Anymore



The crazy frenzy that erupted over the weekend was quite a sight to see. You would have thought that the world might have come to an end. Speculation (and keep in mind that it is speculation, albeit pretty good speculation) that Apple would not be unveiling a new iPhone or other new hardware at this summer’s WWDC seemed to really rattle some folks. Although it upsets those that cover the industry (what are we going to blog about?) and those who always want the latest and greatest I really think we might actually be seeing Apple get smart here and start a much needed reboot of the crazy hardware release cycle. Of course that is assuming all this speculation is true.

I’ve said this before when it comes to Tablets and Slates. For some of the same and some different reasons it also holds true for other mobile devices. From a hardware perspective there really is nothing new on the horizon beyond the yearly processor updates and the increasing desire to be thinner than the last guy. Sure, maybe a camera quality upgrade here and there, or maybe a port that someone else doesn’t have. Or golly, gee whillikers, maybe  all those folks Adobe snookered into thinking it might actually deliver a working mobile FLASH will see that come to be. Assuming there is any FLASH video still on the web by that point. When it comes to Tablets and Slates, I think what we see is what we’re going to get for awhile. Oh, sure we’ll see innovative devices like the HTC Flyer. Or what Acer is doing and some others.  But will any of those have mass market appeal? I doubt it. Sure we’ll see size differentiation. But the battle ground is really on two fronts. Price and software. Price seems to be becoming a somewhat less contested battlefield at the moment (although a full fledged price war would be nice.) Apple’s WWDC push about software is the huge tell here.

It is all about software and services and while some of that is Apps most of that is OS. Amazon’s new consumer facing Cloud Drive points the way to where we’ve all been saying we’re going for some time. Apple is thought to be going that way as well and the flapping lips say that iOS 5 and Lion are going to be big changes (although we supposedly know quite a bit about Lion.) Android continues to gain share even as it continues to haltingly find its way and WebOS is lurking around the corner. But on a Tablet/Slate front the hardware is going to be largely irrelevant unless you get our jollies out of comparing specs.

Now, let me put that in a different perspective. Much of that is also about creating a platform to sell advertising, which is also about software. There are a lot of basket holders that are depending on those advertising eggs that folks have placed in their baskets. And as long as the great charade that is advertising continues we’ll see hardware built as an ad serving mechanism with the right software to make it go.

As to the mobile phone sector, as I said the same is largely true. Aside from gimmicky approaches like 3D (does anyone really want a 3D phone) smart phone hardware is all starting to look the same and probably will continue to do so. The OS that they run is where the real battle is, even though hardware makers continue to try and find a sweet spot that attracts customers eyes. In my view they’d all be better off trying to find a way to fix battery life. (Can you say HTC Thunderbolt?) But then no one in the insanely paced phone release schedule seems to realize that something like battery life actually matters.

And tell me, what was the latest greatest innovative thing that you saw on a desktop or a laptop computer? Or perhaps I should say, latest greatest thing that you could actually use. Once Apple updates the rest of its line to Thunderbolt, and we finally start seeing things we can use it for, that cycle will last another few years. So, there’s no hurry to push that out the door yet, although we’ll see others work to play catch up.

So, what I think we’re seeing here, from the industry leader, is a slowing down and possibly reboot of the calendar. This reflects the reality that we’ve most likely reached a plateau when it comes to hardware innovation at the moment. It also acknowledges Apple’s lead, and I’m not one to think that they will get too cocky over that. The other side of this coin is that Apple has to play catch up on a number of fronts. Voice, the cloud, and even maps. We’ve been hearing noise on those fronts from quite some time, and a breather in the schedule might just be what Apple needs to pull it all together. I don’t see this slowing down or calendar changing as a bad thing. In fact, I think for many of Apple’s competitors it is actually a good thing. When it comes to everybody else, I think it is a good thing as well.


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