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5 previous WWDC debuts Apple might want to forget

Rob Pegoraro
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., gestures to attendees as he concludes his keynote during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, June 13, 2016. Apple Inc.'s mobile-payment service Apple Pay will now work on websites, a long-awaited feature that will pit the company directly against companies such as PayPal Holdings Inc. *** Local Caption *** Tim Cook
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., gestures to attendees as he concludes his keynote during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, June 13, 2016. Apple Inc.'s mobile-payment service Apple Pay will now work on websites, a long-awaited feature that will pit the company directly against companies such as PayPal Holdings Inc. *** Local Caption *** Tim Cook

The keynote that opened Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference Monday unveiled an Apple Store’s worth of new software, but its core message was the same as every other WWDC: inevitability.

This event and its equivalents at other companies, such as Google’s I/O conference last month, aims to sell developers and users on the unstoppable progress of its products and the assured growth of its markets.

So it’s useful to remember that a splashy WWDC debut does not a consumer success make. Witness these earlier stars of Apple’s stage over the last five years:

2015: Apple Music

The rambling introduction of Apple’s attempted Spotify killer was our first warning of what a mess Apple Music would be. As Yahoo’s David Pogue wrote in his dismissive review of the service’s cluttered, confusing interface: “It seems Apple has forgotten how to say ‘No.’”

Longtime music critic Bob Lefsetz was a little harsher in a post explaining why he wouldn’t pay for Apple Music once its trial ended: “How could they get it so wrong? They have public betas of iOS 9 and El Capitan and they throw this half-baked software at the public?”

Maybe that’s why this year’s Apple Music pitch began with Apple’s Eddy Cue touting it as “all new” and “redesigned from the ground up.”

2014: iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite

These updates to Apple’s mobile operating system and desktop OS — renamed in Monday’s keynote from “OS X” to “macOS”— were supposed to reward Apple users who switched from iPad to iPhone to Mac with “continuity” features to ease that device-to-device handoff.

But the bugs in those two releases started with AirDrop file-sharing and kept going, leading such longtime Mac users as Marco Arment and Craig Hockenberry to wonder how Apple could have gone so far astray.

Yosemite came with an unwanted bonus feature: the most bossy and annoying auto-correct system I can remember using, which I finally shut off in frustration last year.

2013: iTunes Radio

Apple’s earlier attempt at shipping a Pandora killer was less of a mess than Apple Music but also did little to distinguish itself from its larger, older competitor, as reviewers like USA Today’s Jefferson Graham found. “Like Pandora, but available only on Apple devices” just wasn’t a compelling sales pitch.

2012: Apple Maps

Apple’s would-be Google Maps killer looked sharp in its introduction at 2012’s WWDC. But when it shipped that September… oof.

I personally observed it suggest directions to Dulles International Airport that ended with my walking across an active runway. Six months later, Apple had fixed that but not obsolete navigation data that would have sent me down a long-closed section of freeway in Washington.

Apple Maps also launched without transit navigation. Apple didn’t announce that feature until last year’s WWDC; a year later, its availability remains woefully spotty.

In five of the 10 most populous US cities US cities, Apple’s transit advice boils down to “rent a car.” (Those cities are Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and San Diego, among which you’ll find two of the five longest light-rail systems in America.) Overseas, it offers no help for the subways of Tokyo and Paris.

Today’s WWDC news, alas, offered no details of improvements to transit navigation, much less coverage as comprehensive as that of the transit app HopStop Apple bought and then shut down in 2015.

2011: iCloud

This cloud synchronization and storage service was supposed to make us forget the MobileMe service that suffered a snakebit launch after its debut at 2008’s WWDC. And iCloud succeeded ... in the wrong ways.

ICloud spent the first few years of its life handcuffed with bizarre limits on its functions — to get a file out of your iCloud storage and onto your desktop required undocumented drag-and-drop maneuvers with file dialogs.

But the real problem with iCloud turned out to be weak account security that let hackers remotely wipe tech writer Mat Honan’s MacBook, iPad and iPhone in the summer of 2012. A year later, an incomplete implementation of two-step verification helped make possible the phishing attacks that led to a rash of account takeovers that ended with the sharing of nude photos of various celebrities.

Since then, Apple has gotten a great deal tougher on security and privacy issues — the best part of the keynote was CEO Tim Cook’s defense of the company’s use of end-to-end encryption and on-device intelligence to defend its customers’ data.

So if there’s a disappointment lurking in today’s WWDC headlines, it will probably emerge somewhere else. Or so we can hope ...

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

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