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Editorial: What WWDC 2013 tells us about Apple

Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Convention is now over, but the event revealed a year's worth of insight into what the company is doing with the Macintosh, OS X, iOS and iCloud.


OS X's planned longevity

Apple made it very clear that there's no end in sight for OS X. Anyone concerned with the company "running out of cats" to code name its desktop OS versions can breathe freely knowing that Apple can effortlessly shift its naming gears.

Having shifted from cat names to famous California locales reflecting its "Designed by Apple in California" signature, Apple has extended a decade of additional runway for launching major new OS X releases. There are a lot of famous places in California!

Microsoft's "Vista" and Google's Android "Honeycomb" also seemed like odd names when they were first released, but nobody cares about them now.If you're not familiar with great surf beaches or California's San Francisco Bay Area, you might be concerned that "OS X Mavericks" initially reminds you of a failed US presidential campaign. Microsoft's "Vista" and Google's Android "Honeycomb" also seemed like odd names when they were first released, but nobody cares about them now.

Remember, too, that just three years ago, there was a vocal contingent of columnists and online hecklers that thought "iPad" reminded them of a feminine hygienic product. Not anymore. It's now the worldwide brand for tablet computing.

Speaking of which, remember back when certain disgruntled PowerBook owners complained about Apple's plans to rename its notebook the "MacBook"? Some even insisted they would refuse to recognize the change, as if Apple were some democratic association of Macintosh aficionados.

There have been some truly terrible product names such as Zune or Xoom or XYBoard or Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 or Surface RT, names that nobody will remember or be using in three years. More important is the fact that given names don't really matter as much as the reputation that forms behind them.

iCloud emerges

And while a lot of companies have to change their names at regular intervals to hope their customers forget about the past, that's not a problem Apple has with OS X.

It's only a problem Apple has had with iTools, .Mac and MobileMe. Over the past two years of iCloud, it appears Apple has finally nailed down where it wants its online services to go: providing the wireless glue that binds its desktop Macs with its mobile iOS devices.

iWorks for iCloud demonstrates that Apple's vision for iCloud is a bit more expansive than many observers expected.

With iWork for iCloud (Numbers spreadsheet in a browser, below), Apple is now venturing into new competition with both Microsoft and Google in its online productivity offerings, even as it adds value to both its OS X and iOS platforms.


OS X not merging with iOS

Pundits have long been calling for Apple to "merge" OS X and iOS, as if the company is struggling toward this goal the same way Microsoft essentially spent a decade trying to get its DOS/Windows 3.1/95 user base to switch to its much more modern Windows NT platform released in 1993. That didn't begin to occur until Windows XP shipped in 2002. Merging OS X and iOS makes as much sense as BMW merging with its Mini brand in order to have one platform for selling moderately-sized vehicles.

Apple leaps technical hurdles a lot quicker. It aggressively moved its users from the Classic Mac OS to OS X just one year after releasing OS X 10.0 when Steve Jobs dramatically placed OS 9 in a casket on stage at WWDC 2002.

Similar transitions from PowerPC to Intel, and more recent updates to annual new OS X and iOS releases are orchestrated rapidly, increasingly via automatic updates.

In reality, merging OS X and iOS makes as much sense as BMW merging with its Mini brand in order to have one platform for selling moderately-sized vehicles. Which is to say: it is simply conceptually preposterous and asinine. It seems like lot of people who write about tech don't seem to be forced to ever read their own work.

Taking away your number and giving you a name

It's also noteworthy that Apple's Mac marketing no longer prominently addresses the underlying 10.9 version anymore, the opposite tack of what Microsoft is doing in shifting from Windows brand names (XP, Vista) to version numbers (7, 7.1, 8, 8.1).

Apple doesn't need to increment the "X" in OS X because it doesn't need to keep up with anyone in version numbers. Were it interested in such a contest, it could switch to Darwin version numbers, which harken back to NeXTSTEP. Internally, OS X Mavericks is Darwin 13. That pedigree outdates not only Windows, but Solaris and Linux to boot.

The de-emphais on OS X version numbers may be a reflection of the fact that changes now occurring to OS X are not flashy, cyclical shifts designed to sell to a mass market audience (as they formerly have been in past releases) Instead, the focus is now on fundamental enhancements to the platform.

Mac is now Apple's high end luxury brand

That is, incidentally, how you market high end luxury products, as opposed to the showy, feature-centric marketing of more pedestrian, high volume products targeted at the mass market.

New OS X Mavericks apps

Apple's new OS X Mavericks sports rather serious and practical new features

Have you noticed that, apart from the Mac mini, there are now no Macs that sell for less than $1000? This is particularly notable given that the average selling price of Windows PC notebooks is now around half that much, according to NPD Group. Including Apple actually raises the average significantly.

NPD Group's PC Notebook ASPs

If you think PC makers are happy to have a half-price advantage over Apple in the notebook market, think again. Look at what they are really trying to sell: higher end MacBook Air copies (aka "Ultrabooks"). They just aren't finding much traction in the market for their higher end offerings.

Apple has captured 90 percent of the PC market for machines over $1000 since 2009. And given the rapid collapse of the PC market (at the hands of Apple's iPad and smartphones), that's a pretty sweet segment of the market to own. Ask any real estate agent if they'd rather sell luxury houses to the affluent or cardboard boxes to homeless people.

Volume sales at low prices is not always where the money is at, because each percentage point of market share is not necessarily equal in value.

The Mac Pro halo

At WWDC, Apple continued this trend with the new Mac Pro. This doesn't look like something designed to sell across a wide set of price points. It's high end and luxurious, an echo of last year's release of the Retina Display MacBook Pro.

Both products were not intended to sell in volumes of millions of units per quarter. They are intended to establish Apple as the maker of the world's most incredible computing products.

Mac Pro

And notably, rather than creating a new luxury brand (as most car makers and many PC makers do) Apple simply labels its high end Macs with "Pro," a move that better casts a glowing halo over its other Mac products instead of relegating them into a lesser brand tier.

Luxury in technology products means something different than luxury in markets such as automobiles. A luxury car might easily cost several times what a more basic car of the same class might.

Macs aren't really priced significantly higher than generic PCs of similar build qualities and specs. It's just that in computers, Apple is refusing to race to the bottom to deliver the cheapest bucket of RAM and CPUs, as virtually everyone else in the industry has been doing since the first IBM PC compatible boxes began arriving in the early 1980s.

iOS sells hundreds of millions of devices, billions of apps

Apple isn't leaving any money on the table however. Alongside the Mac, Apple now has a relatively new brand that sells mass market devices at extremely competitive prices (if not always at every price point), due to the vast economies of scale the company now has in sourcing memory and other components in its multibillion dollar, long term contracts.

At WWDC, Apple positioned iOS as everything the Mac isn't: firmly in the consumer market with prices well below $1000 and loaded with flashy, exciting and fun features that dazzle and pop rather than simplify and enhance.

iOS 7

Layered, moving, translucent and luminescent, iOS 7 is designed to delight the mass market, not to edit feature length movies or sequence genomes or organize document metadata or work across a workspace of multiple displays.

And specific to WWDC 2013, the new design of iOS 7 aims directly at the broadest segment of the market. It does so by focusing on apps. The clear focus of the new design of iOS 7 is to provide more deference and clarity to the platform's apps and to users' content.

iOS 7