Apple: Great new products, but secrecy as a religion

Apple CEO Tim Cook, along with a few friends, Monday performed the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote. The show must go on, even without Steve Jobs, and it sure did go on -- two well-packed hours of Apple mantra and mania. They did not talk about what I was watching for, but it turned out OK anyway.

SLIDESHOW: WWDC keynote highlights

As is normal with Apple, the rumors in advance of the talk varied greatly in accuracy. Apple's secrecy machine still works rather well.

At WWDC, a lot of time was spent on new features soon to come in OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6.0. It was not a good day for quite a few vendors not called Apple.

The built-in turn-by turn navigation in iOS 6.0 could not have been good news for Garmin or Tom Tom or for the car companies that want to charge an extra few hundred dollars for the feature. I expect that Nuance, the folks who bring you Dragon speech recognition software, were not happy to hear that dictation will be a pervasive feature in Mountain Lion. And, of course, Google would rather Apple not get into the map business.

The announcement that got the most press after the event was the new MacBook Pro with the high-resolution "Retina" display. This very light and quite powerful device sets a new standard for high-end laptops and I expect will sell very well indeed, even at over $2,000.

But, after watching three different bloggers' play-by-play coverage of the whole event I came away disappointed.

My desktop computer at home is a Mac Pro; it was built in February 2008. It is well past the age when it should have been replaced but Apple had not only not updated the Mac Pro line but also would not say anything about it. Rumors had been around for a year or more that Apple might drop the line because it did not sell well enough but Apple steadfastly refused to say diddly-squat.

Apple's genetic predisposition for secrecy has done wonders for the company at least in one area. I expect that much of the pre-event fervor exhibited across the world stems from the uncertainty over what the company is up to. But that same secrecy produces wild speculation, which can result in disappointment and bad reviews when the wildest speculation is not met. For example, just about everyone expected that Apple was going to release the iPhone 5 late last year and when it was "only" an updated iPhone 4 there was a deluge of disappointment. I gotta admit though, the iPhone 4S has sold rather well in spite of the deluge of disappointment.

SCUTTLEBUTT: iPhone 5 rumor rollup for the week ended June 8

Another area where Apple's secrecy has been a real issue is in security. Apple will almost never admit that it is working on a fix to a known security issue until after the fix ships. In addition, Apple has been remarkably close-mouthed about just what it does for security in its various products. But it seems someone slipped up -- Apple released a quite detailed guide to iOS security the other day. There is a real (and rather good) security architecture underlying the fancy touch screens. Who knew?

Anyway, back to the Mac Pro. Apple's pre-meeting security was, as always, remarkable considering how many stores and retail partners they have. There was a bunch of speculation over the past week -- most of it based on the leak of one price sheet from somewhere in Australia. Apple does run a tight ship. Part of the speculation was that there was going to be a Mac Pro update. But no such update was announced during Cook's keynote, so I thought I was going to have to continue to limp along with my existing, approaching adolescence, machine.

But, out of the blue, an updated line of Mac Pros appeared on the Apple website. Not a lot updated -- new processors and disks, but not a new case and no new I/O (USB 3 or Thunderbolt). But at least an update -- I have one on order already.

And there is late word that Tim Cook responded to an Apple customer who asked about the Mac Pro line and, breaking precedent, said there would be exciting news on the Mac Pro front next year. So, a mantra familiar to Boston sports fans: "Wait till next year."

Disclaimer: The Celtics reference and the review of the conference keynote are mine -- Harvard has expressed no opinion on either.

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Scott Bradner

Network World
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