Apple WWDC 2012: Are we expecting too much?

Apple's annual developer event may kick off in just a few hours time but the rumor machine has been busy for months, churning out delicious chunks of speculation and hype. A new line of slinky MacBook Pro notebooks, blistering Mac Pro desktops, great swathes of iOS 6 and even a fresh iPhone have all been tipped for the opening WWDC 2012 keynote, each with their retinue of rumor and counter-rumor. As Tim Cook's moment on stage approaches, though, it's looking more and more possible that we've built ourselves up for more disappointment.

The technology industry works, to some extent, on hype and expectation. News sites know that, readers know that, and manufacturers themselves know that: The Next Big Thing is always just around the corner, and if we can find out the details sixty seconds before a press release drops then everyone is happy.

That expectation is only stronger when it's a high-profile firm like Apple making the announcements. Not only as a company that musters great loyalty among its users, but as one that – even if you're not drinking the Kool-aid – has a significant impact on the industry as a whole. In the past few hours, though, hopes for Apple's WWDC 2012 news have been tempered somewhat: the eagerly-awaited MacBook Pro refresh might not bring the design evolution many have been waiting for, for instance, if component leaks are to be believed.

Lest we forget, this isn't the first time hype may end up overshadowing what's actually seen on-stage. In the months building up to what eventually became the iPhone 4S launch, speculation grew about a bold new design, larger display, next-gen features like NFC and more. In reality, Apple stuck to the aesthetic of the older phone, upgraded the processor, futzed with the radios and debuted Siri.

[aquote]"Doomed to fail!" many cried[/aquote]

"Doomed to fail!" many cried in the aftermath of the reveal, but Apple's sales figures seem pretty convincing that consumers weren't disappointed. Or perhaps they simply didn't know that hopes were higher: for every one person keeping pace with the onslaught of speculation, how many simply go into their local phone store and pick up a device they've heard is great, or that they merely recognize the name of, or want because that's what their friends have too?

Apple could push its envelope more aggressively, but it doesn't have to: the response to the iPhone 4S is evidence of that. While aiming for a whiz-bang upgrade each refresh cycle would keep the bleeding-edge happy, it's not necessary in the grander scheme of things. Developments – and there's no doubt that Apple's hardware and software engineers are likely cooking up some interesting toys in the clandestine halls of the R&D labs – can be rolled out piecemeal rather than trumpeted in one great gush.

The danger for Apple, of course, is that artificial reticence might leave it suddenly on the back-foot if and when rivals edge ahead, but we're yet to see that situation happen. The danger for the rest of us, meanwhile, is that we lose sight of all-important context having become caught up in our own hopes and dreams.

I'm as guilty as the rest in wanting grand new things from Apple today. I'd love a new MacBook Pro with a trimmer chassis, Retina Display and more potency than last year's model: they're things that would add up to a better daily experience with my notebook. But I'm also increasingly aware that my expectations could be out of line with what Apple actually needs to do in order to remain successful in the market.

It's easy to hope for more magic when the Apple toybox is opened, but it can also be a recipe for headaches along the line. Mixed response to Siri demonstrates how tricky the balance between cutting-edge and dividing opinion can be: the still-in-beta service is loved by some but others see it as half-baked and underwhelming within the context of the iPhone 4S experience overall.

Happily you can ignore Siri altogether if you choose, but more essential features that promise plenty on launch day but then lead to perpetual headaches over the course of ownership aren't really worth those initial moments of breathless glee. Sometimes what you leave out is even more important than what you add in.

You can keep up with all the WWDC 2012 announcements from 10AM PST today at the SlashGear liveblog: