WWDC keynote: Is that all there is?

In August 2006, Apple kicked off its Worldwide Developers Conference with a video featuring John Hodgman and Justin Long reprising their PC and Mac personas from the company’s TV commercials. Then, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage for his annual keynote, which was highlighted by a preview of the Leopard update for OS X. Among the features Jobs discussed were Spaces, a virtual desktop feature; Time Machine, OS X 10.5’s built-in back-up tool; and an enhanced version of the iChat messaging application that added several Photo Booth effects for video conferencing. That last feature included a rather funny bit of interplay between Jobs and senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller demonstrating the video effects.

In June 2007, Apple kicked off its Worldwide Developers Conference with a video featuring John Hodgman and Justin Long reprising their PC and Mac personas from the company’s TV commercials. Then, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage for his annual keynote, which was highlighted by a preview of the Leopard update for OS X. Among the features Jobs discussed were Spaces, a virtual desktop feature; Time Machine, OS X 10.5’s built-in back-up tool; and an enhanced version of the iChat messaging application that added several Photo Booth effects for video conferencing. That last feature included a rather funny bit of interplay between Jobs and senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller demonstrating the video effects.

Man—I hate summer reruns.

OK, I’m being ridiculously unfair. Apple did trot out some new Leopard features during Monday’s keynote, and—from this distance, anyhow—they seem like nice additions. OS X’s Finder was in dire need of a refresh, and adopting iTunes’ look-and-feel is a clever move. Anyone who’s glimpsed at my Desktop can tell you how badly I need a feature like Stacks, and I’m looking forward to the day when assorted downloads are sent off to their own space on the Dock instead of dumped in a pile on my Desktop. And Quick Look is… present.

But if you’re scoring along at home, seven of the 10 features that made up Jobs’ Leopard presentation have been known, in one form or another, for 10 months. Yes, there was a new detail here and there—fans of the AAC-LD codec surely are dancing in the streets this week—but was it enough to live up to the “top secret features we don’t want Microsoft to see” treatment Jobs was giving this stuff last August? That depends on your point of view, I guess, but the view from here is that it failed to match the hype. That’s not the same thing as saying that the features aren’t worthwhile or that Leopard doesn’t look to be a substantial upgrade; it’s just an explanation for why I left the Moscone West auditorium Monday morning feeling a little underwhelmed.

I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling, either. This is the second consecutive Steve Jobs keynote in which attendees left without any new hardware to order—you’d have to go back to that August 2006 WWDC speech when Jobs unveiled the Mac Pro to find a hardware announcement that wasn’t immediately muted by a “Coming Soon!” label. The announcement that Mac developers hankering to build apps for the iPhone could use AJAX to create programs that run within the phone’s version of Safari probably wasn’t what most software makers had in mind. Let’s face it—if giving developers the tools to build iPhone apps is throwing developers a bone, Monday’s iPhone development was like tossing them a stirrup bone. And while I’m sure the release of a Windows version of Safari will help Apple build up its share of the browser market, that’s hardly the most inspiring choice for a “One other thing…” announcement in a room packed full of Mac software makers.

One disappointing keynote doesn’t mean Apple needs to give up and go home. Anticipation for the iPhone is building to a fever pitch. Leopard will debut in October, and for all its delays, it does look like an impressive update that users will embrace. There’s no doubt that new Mac and iPod hardware is on the way in the second half of the year. And, lest we forget, while the keynote gets all the attention, the real work at WWDC happens behind closed doors in sessions where developers figure out how to employ these new technologies in their own apps. So the outlook for Apple is far from gloomy, even if the reaction to Monday’s keynote isn’t exactly sunny.

But maybe for the next keynote, Apple should break out some new material.

  
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