Post-WWDC Crow Eating

So hey, guess what didn’t happen today?

No upgrade to the Apple TV software (which is basically a special version of iOS). No Apple TV SDK for app developers. Zilch. An entire section of the 2 hour keynote presentation focused on iOS and products like the iPhone and iPad, but the Apple TV was shown just a brief moment of love — a few seconds where the new AirPlay mirroring feature in Mountain Lion was demoed.

Does this spell the end for Apple’s rumored push into television? I don’t think so. Apple likes to put a focus on media in the fall, and that might be a great time to blow the doors open on some Apple TV changes and help move some units going into the holiday season. Or Apple could just keep teasing everyone with it. Either or.

(Quick sidenote: Check out this article from AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka about how the Apple TV revolution might actually come in the form of AirPlay and app-mirroring — a damn good theory.)

I’m pretty impressed with the changes coming in iOS — specifically the way Siri’s knowledge is being beefed up. As a sports fan, I’ll definitely be making use of Siri’s new ability to fill you in on scores and stats. The ability to tweet using Siri also made it into iOS 6 — a welcome addition, and one that was inexplicably left out of iOS 5. Siri also makes the jump to the 3rd generation iPad (which is the one thing I predicted correctly out of 603 words).

On the notebook side of things, the spec bumps for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines are pretty par for the course. They usually get an annual refresh, and this was it. The next-generation MacBook Pro, though — wow. Apple went all out, and it shows in the $2199 price tag. On one hand, I know people are going to pay that, and I know the margins on the new MBP are likely huge and Apple will be just fine. But it’s a bit baffling that Apple would stick hard to a $499 iPad price point, but let the MacBook Pro’s price get out of hand.

Mountain Lion got a significant amount of time in the spotlight, too. OS X and iOS continue to bleed together, as Messages, Notes, Reminders, Game Center, and Notification Center make their way into Apple’s desktop operating system. The ability to use AirPlay to mirror your computer’s screen to an Apple TV might be the most interesting addition, and one that Hulu might not be too pleased about.

Overall, WWDC’s 2012 keynote brought some cool new features to both OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, and provided some nice spec bumps to the notebook lines. I’m still not sold on the new MacBook Pro, but we’ll have to wait and see how it’s received and check back on it in a quarter or two.

The iTV? It’s the Apple TV

I could be proven very wrong come December, when the supposed iTV is rumored to be launching, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Apple is not entering the TV set business anytime soon.

That’s not to say that the industry isn’t ripe for disruption; it is, but I don’t see that being the case on the hardware side of things. Television sets themselves are increasing in quality and decreasing in price rapidly, and if 3D taught us anything, it’s that the TV is one device people aren’t looking to replace as often as, say, a smartphone. Again, the sets themselves are good in terms of hardware. It’s the user interface that no one seems to be able to get right, and that’s not just the fault of TV manufacturers, but of cable and satellite set-top box manufacturers, too.

But why should Apple get into the low-margin TV hardware business to fix that when it can sell TV owners a better experience for $99?

The current Apple TV is plenty capable in terms of hardware; it just hasn’t had the software in place to start a revolution. The new UI upgrade that came with the March model is a step in the right direction, but there’s no arguing that, at this moment in time, the Apple TV actually offers less than competing boxes like the Roku. There are fewer content sources available by default, and there’s no system in place to add new ones.

I think this will be rectified in a few weeks at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference, a place where Apple regularly unveils important chances to the iOS platform that powers devices like the iPhone, iPad, and, yes, the Apple TV. Here’s what I’m expecting for the Apple TV:

  • App Store (finally)
  • Siri voice control through Siri-enabled devices like the iPhone 4S… and the 3rd generation iPad, which I believe will be blessed with Siri in the next iOS version
  • Partnership announcements with cable TV providers where the Apple TV acts as a IPTV set-top box (much like the Xbox 360 is doing with Comcast and Verizon FiOS) — the perk here being that Apple controls the user interface

Three big upgrades and three ways for Apple to finally assert itself with the Apple TV. No more playing around. Support for applications that can finally begin to tap the potential hidden inside the Apple TV for years. Siri to give you a faster way to navigate through your content (“Play ‘Quantum of Solace,’ please”), both from the Internet and from your cable TV provider. And yes, cable. An Apple-designed interface to smoke the user interface on that Motorola box you rent from your cable provider. I hope this is the area that Steve Jobs cracked, because it’s been very bad for a very long time.

To me, it would make sense when adding Siri integration for Apple to also put out an upgraded remote with an embedded microphone (keep in mind — the 3rd generation Apple TV has a Bluetooth chip!), but Apple could also decide to leave that as a perk for users who are part of the mobile iOS ecosystem.

WWDC isn’t too far away (June 11), so we’ll find out fairly quickly how right or wrong I am with these predictions. I just don’t see the TV set industry as one Apple would jump into when it can insert itself into the conversation with its $99 “hobby” box, an OS upgrade, and the tireless work of its innovative developer community.