Also inside: Google’s acquisition of Quickoffice may force Microsoft’s hand on Office for iPad
The big news this week isn't really news—it’s rumors, gossip, and speculation. What in the world is Apple going to announce next week at WWDC?
Most of the rumors are swirling around some kind of television tie-in, with Apple TV at the center of the speculation. This makes sense to me, particularly in light of the fact that over the last seven days, we’ve seen Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony make a play on using tablets and smartphones as second screen companions for TV, movies, and console gaming.
But there are some other candidates and possibilities. In order of likelihood, here’s what they might be:
New iOS release bringing Siri to the iPad, and more. This seems highly likely, given the iOS 6.0 signage leaks Mashable reported upon late in the week.
Enhanced Apple TV functionality via Siri, content partnerships, apps, and increased iPad/iPhone integration.
The iPhone 5
The 7-inch iPad Nano or Mini, which will be proof positive that if you make the same prediction consistently enough, you’ll eventually be proven right.
- Some kind of virtualization-oriented product dimension for Apple TV, Mac OS, and/or iOS. Rumors are beginning to indicate that Intel has virtual cable boxes in development. Could these be related?
The developer-oriented nature of the event makes me think that prognosticators are correct that Apple will unveil something related to Apple TV and apps.
Enter the 7-inch iPad
If the announcement is related to TV in any way, it sounds like a perfect segue for Apple to also announce a 7-inch iPad. I’m still betting on the iPad Nano. As far as second screen devices go, it’s a good fit. The form factor is ideal for remote controlling a television, playing games, and interacting with Apple TV, and as Amazon has proven, it’s also ideal for reading books.
This whole TV-iPad thing becomes even more interesting once you start thinking about tying a virtual cable box into an ecosystem that allows you to instantly move streaming content between a TV and the iPad via a set-top box.
In the land of set top boxes, Apple is not king
Here’s where the going gets a little more treacherous for Apple.
In terms of streaming TV-related content available via set-top device, Microsoft actually has a fairly substantial lead, both in terms of product offerings and in terms of installed base:
Content: Just like Apple TV, if you have an Xbox and Xbox Live, you can watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and more. On the Xbox, you can also watch TV and movies via Comcast (if you have a subscription) as well as live ESPN programming, with more to come.
Installed base: In the best possible scenario, Apple has sold close to 5 million Apple TVs. Microsoft, on the other hand, has already sold close to 70 million Xbox 360s worldwide, and it has video content partnerships pretty much everywhere. However, if/when Microsoft announces a new Xbox (analysts think this will happen next year), its installed base may be reset to zero.
Today, the pivot point for any streaming content strategy is the tablet, both as a means of viewing/sharing TV programming a well as a means of controlling and operating a connected television. For all intents and purposes, this means the iPad, which is the only device with any real market penetration.
On the surface, Apple clearly has an advantage over Microsoft. Windows 8 tablets are unproven, and not likely to eat into iPad market share in any substantial way until 2014 at the latest.
However, with this week’s announcement at E3, the video game industry’s annual showcase, Microsoft surprised everyone by announcing Smart Glass, which extends Xbox 360 content to the tablet and smartphone.
Even more surprising: When it’s released this November, Smart Glass will permit interoperability between the Xbox 360 and iPad/Android tablets as well as Windows 8 devices.
For the sweaty, unwashed masses who haven’t converted to Apple TV—and there are a lot of them/us—that’s a big deal. Apple will certainly hold serve on the tablet front for the foreseeable future. But if Microsoft can keep its foot in the door with Xbox TV (for lack of a better word), it may be able to exploit this service down the road on the tablet and smartphone front.
That’s a lot of “ifs”
The biggest “if”, of course, revolves around Windows 8. Will it be successful? Will Windows 8 tablets be adopted.
Over the next few weeks and months, we’re going to be reading a lot about Windows 8. Right now, most of the commentary is negative to false-positive because, not surprisingly, it’s coming from a desktop-centric perspective.
This is going to be a hard perspective to shake, particularly because it seems like this is the mindframe of the vast majority of tech and IT journalists.
Earlier in the week, Tim Anderson wrote a more objective and detailed analysis of the Windows 8 Release Preview, in which he makes the point that, "Metro by contrast is new and unfamiliar, and delivers little obvious benefit when installed on a desktop or laptop with keyboard and mouse but no touch capability."
I’m with TabTimes Managing Editor Steven Lang on this front. It’s not time to give up on Windows 8 by a long shot.
This week's loser: HTC
I'm tired of dumping on RIM, so I'm going to bypass the company's decision to kill the 16GB BlackBerry PlayBook. Instead, this week's loser is HTC, which late in the week was the focus of reports that Microsoft was barring it from developing Windows 8 tablets because of quality concerns.
The subtext here appears to be HTC's desire to customize the Win8 home screen on its tablet, and Microsoft's refusal to permit this.
This is potentially a huge blow to HTC, not necessarily for the Win8 tablet launch window in November, but because if might prevent the manufacturer from establishing an early toehold in the emerging Windows tablet market.
On the flipside, you could argue that being able to avoid the pressure of meeting a hard deadline to get a Windows 8 tablet out the door may actually be beneficial to HTC.
This week's winner: Quickoffice (and Google)
In any normal week, I'd pick Nintendo as the obvious winner. Critics' reactions were varied, but I think the Japanese gaming company made a major leap with its public unveiling of the Wii U console, which sports an 8-inch tablet as the controller.
But this wasn't any ordinary week. On June 5, news broke that Google was buying Quickoffice, the leading MS Office-compatible productivity suite on the tablet/smartphone market. Gutsy move by Google, and I’m sure Quickoffice netted a tidy sum on the purchase.
On the horizon
What’s next after Apple’s big WWDC announcement? Since we’re in a speculative mood, I’m going to bet that Google’s acquisition of Quickoffice spurs Microsoft to make an announcement regarding MS Office for iPad in the next few weeks.
The rumor that Microsoft has actually completed development on Office for iPad and is actually holding the code back for the release of Windows 8 or in order to figure out the appropriate pricing model, isn't surprising. But if it's true it's not smart.
It may sound like smart marketing, but holding back an Office app release represents stunted logic. It’s old-school desktop thinking, pure and pure. In today’s app-centric world, it’s better to release an app and then spend time improving it based on real-world results than to sit on.
In fact, the more I contemplate this rumor, the more I believe it to be false.
Whenever it happens though, I sure wish I could be a fly on the wall in Cupertino the moment Apple's app approval team for the App Store sees "Microsoft Office for iPad" in their list of apps to validate.