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A recap of the 2012 WWDC: Once again, Apple does a forced obsolescence dirty deed

-June 12, 2012

The yearly Apple WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) keynote has come and gone, and as usual, about half of the pre-presentation prognostication was dead wrong. There was no iTV. No app development toolkit for the Apple TV STB. No iPhone 5 preview. No robustly upgraded Mac Pro (sorry, I don't count slight clock upticks to a two-generation old Nehalem CPU-based design). And no Intel Ivy Bridge-based iMacs, either.

What did we get? A bit more detail about upcoming Mac OS 10.8 "Mountain Lion", including the insight that our Mac OS 10.6 "Snow Leopard"-based, non-upgradeable systems will be obsolete in about a month. Intel Ivy Bridge CPU (and USB 3.0) upgrades for the MacBook Air (complete with a $100 price cut...worried about Ultrabooks, Apple?) and for the 13" and 15" MacBook Pro. The quiet death of the 17" MacBook Pro (no big surprise there...portable desktop systems probably aren't selling very well, anymore)...

...And a next-generation 15" MacBook Pro with a 2880×1800 pixel "Retina" display. "But wait, Dipert," you might be saying right about now, "didn't you just diss fine-pitch computer displays less than a month back?" Generally speaking, I did, yes. But check out this quote:

The two dominant types of content propelling per-display pixel growth (as measured by pixels-per-inch and/or inches-per-display) are still-image photography and detailed-font e-books. Both factors are driving display evolutions in mobile electronics devices in general, and tablets in particular. But neither factor will have a tangible evolutionary effect on conventional computer displays or televisions.

The next-gen 15" MacBook Pro is a mobile electronics device. Its display is integrated, not standalone. And (surprise surprise) among the first software updated to support it are Apple's own iPhoto and Aperture still imaging apps, plus Adobe Photoshop. Plus, as even the ultimate Apple fanboy John Gruber admits, the new MacBook Pro is godawful expensive.

There's a fundamental reason why Apple's kept the conventional 15" MacBook Pro in the lineup and didn't extend the Retina display down into the 13" MacBook Pro form factor, far from the 11" and 13" MacBook Air. The display's gorgeous but it's too godawful costly, it will be for a long time, and there isn't broad-base application demand for it. Conventional software looks fairly cruddy on it, in fact. Plus, you need to ditch the integrated optical drive, and shell out a lot of incremental cash for the privilege, in order to migrate to it. The next-gen MacBook Pro form factor is compelling (much more so than the display, in my opinion), but I'd bet that Retina displays don't become pervasive in Apple's lineup for a long time.

The other big news at this year's WWDC keynote (not counting a redesigned and slightly upgraded Airport Express, an upgraded iPad case, and a couple of Thunderbolt adapters) was coming-this-fall iOS 6. Based on what I've heard so far, it hasn't knocked my socks off. Facebook cognizance is now integrated throughout (woo hoo..although I'd love to know who ended up paying who for that privilege), akin to how iOS 5 embraced Twitter. Maps ditches Google for Tom Tom (a winner for Apple, maybe not so much for Apple's customers). Siri gets a few more features, and expands to the iPad. FaceTime videoconferencing works not only over Wi-Fi but also over cellular data links. And...that's about it, aside from a few other minor tweaks.

So what's with the "forced obsolescence" bit in this post's subject line? Well, here's the deal...iOS 6 won't be coming to the first-generation iPad, even though the iPhone 3GS will support it. The iPhone 3GS dates from June 2009. The first-generation iPad dates from April 2010 (yes, only a bit more than two years ago). And here's how their hardware specs stack up:



The first-generation iPad runs an equivalent-architecture, one-generation newer CPU that clocks at nearly twice the speed of the one in the iPhone 3GS. They have matching GPUs. And they have matching amounts of RAM; the iPad's memory is faster, in fact. From a hardware standpoint, the only first-generation iPad comparative shortcoming is that the GPU needs to drive a 1024×768 pixel LCD, versus the 480×320 pixel LCD in the iPhone 3GS. Although as compensation, I'm pretty sure that the PowerVR SGX535 GPU in the first-generation iPad runs faster than its iPhone 3GS counterpart.

So why can't the first-generation iPad run iOS 6? More accurate, I'd wager, is to ask why Apple won't let it run iOS 6. The iPhone 3GS is still available for sale. The first-generation iPad is not. Apple feels less obligation, I suspect, to maintain the first-generation iPad as compared to the iPhone 3GS. So it's not going to do so. Even though it darn well could.

I own a first-generation iPad. I'm really irked by this situation, even though as I already described, iOS 6 doesn't wow me, at least so far. I'm irked because I've seen this all before, and therefore have high confidence that I know how it'll play out again. Slowly but surely, Apple will stop supporting pre-iOS 6 operating system versions in both its own new apps and updates to existing apps. And slowly but surely, Apple's army of third-party developers will phase out iOS 5, too, inadvertently aided in no small part by Apple development tool compilation defaults for iOS 6 and beyond, neatly neutering iOS 5. Apple won't, of course, even keep old iOS 5-supportive application revs available for download from the App Store. So sooner or later, I won't be able to get software for my now-only-two-year-old tablet. And then it'll effectively become a paperweight.

What a wonderful way to support the early adopters who jump-started the tablet business on your behalf, Apple. Snort.

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