WWDC is Apple’s annual developer conference and this year’s event, which is going on in San Francisco as I type this in England, is almost entirely focused on what iOS, the operation system that runs on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Apple have even gone so far as to only have Apple Design Awards for iOS applications this year, completely excluding Mac OS X applications. Some developers are seeing this as the death knell for OS X and the Mac desktop and laptop range of devices but I don’t and here’s why.
The Focus on iOS
Apple are very focused on iOS at the moment and that is completely understandable. They have a range of devices running it, one of which is the new iPad, and sales are through the roof. Media interest in the iPad is still high and the iPhone 4 was announced at WWDC. In addition, if rumours are to be believed, the next iteration of OS X, 10.7, is still some way off and rather than having a third year of OS X 10.6 sessions they have the chance to focus on the new iOS 4, a new version of iOS which has never been covered by a previous WWDC.
WWDC Focusing on iOS
Based on the above it is logical that Apple should focus on iOS in terms of their developer conference. Perhaps the most telling thing is that WWDC was announced late this year and still sold out in record time. Apple are aware that the demand from iOS developers to be fed information is higher than that of OS X developers. Until the iPhone SDK was launched in 2008 WWDC had never sold out. WWDC 2009 sold out faster than WWDC 2008 and WWDC 2010 sold out even faster despite the price of the conference going up. Apple have targeted their conference at the people who are clamouring for it the most, the iOS developers.
The Death of OS X
With Apple focusing on iOS there are some who feel that OS X is now going to be abandoned or neglected by Apple. There are no rational arguments for this nor any hard evidence and in business terms it makes no sense at all. Apple’s fiscal 2010 second quarter results reported that, “Apple sold 2.94 million Macintosh® computers during the quarter, representing a 33 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter.” Are they really going to neglect or kill off a growing part of the company, especially one with a high mark-up?
Developing on an iPad
At the moment the only way to develop iOS applications is by using a Mac. Xcode and the other assorted development tools are OS X applications. Developers have expressed concerns (and desires) about developing applications directly on an iPad but since most developers use at least a 15” MacBook Pro, switching to a 10” and much less powerful device really seems unlikely. It might be a nice option to be able to do some development or aspects of application development on an iPad but it is not going to become the primary development hardware for many years, if it ever does at all.
There is a possibility that the OS X market will decline at some point as the more casual computer user switch over to using a device like the iPad for their email, web browsing and other light-weight computing needs but this market is restricted to the pure consumer end. Once you get into the prosumer area you are back to needing a more powerful machine with more storage, a more powerful processor and more memory and the demands for professionals are even higher. A professional photographer or even an enthusiastic amateur, needs to store thousands of photos at several megabytes each. A video editor needs raw processing power to use Final Cut Pro, an application that is growing in popularity in the broadcast and film making industries.
The iOS devices may eventually siphon off some of the more casual OS X users, those with less demanding requirements but, for now at least, there is also the issue that you actually need a Mac or PC to backup your iOS device and to store and manage your media libraries. What is actually more likely is that people will buy an iOS device, fall in love with it and by extension Apple and then buy a Mac. This halo effect has been in effect since the iPod was launched and, based on Apple’s last quarterly report, is still in effect now.
The growth of and emphasis on iOS is actually good for OS X developers. Not only is the explosion in iOS devices driving the sales of Macs but it also presents a new opportunity in that your iOS application can draw customers to your OS X application. Your iOS application is potentially visible to millions of customers courtesy of the App Store, an innovation that finally showed hardware customers that there is a whole world of third-party software available too. Having a trio of applications for iPhone/iPod touch, iPad and OS X will create a small ecosystem where the three can push customers between them, grow your sales and strengthening your brand.
As Steve Jobs said when the iPad was announced, Apple have created a third class of device. It is selling very well and the fact that they are focusing on it and the latest iteration of the iPhone really doesn’t worry me. In fact I’d be more worried if they weren’t. Apple isn’t a huge company and it works with limited resources. OS X is doing fine in terms of sales, market share and evolution so shifting resources to focus on iOS is completely understandable. In addition, Apple have expressed a desire to slow down the cycle of OS X releases and this is all part of it. The same will happen with iOS in time and then I expect things to settle down into a more equal pattern of OS X-focused WWDCs and iOS-focused WWDCs. The Mac and OS X is going to be with us for a while longer but developers should expect iOS to become bigger and better too.