What 2011 Holds for Apple: Long Shots, Sure Shots and Even Money
With the birth of the iPad, 2010 has been a banner year for Apple. What does the next year hold in store? We may not see a groundbreaking new device category come along, but we can expect some specific improvements to what's already there. Inching a little farther out on a limb, perhaps we'll see major MacBook makeovers, a more unified approach to content, and exciting new MobileMe abilities.
While Google seems to be rethinking its whole Google TV approach and IBM is now predicting that we'll have holographic 3D phone calls by 2015, I'm looking forward to another bang-up year for Apple.
I've got a handful of easy predictions, some likely predictions, and a couple wishful-thinking hopes for magical new products from the geniuses locked away on the Apple campus in Cupertino.
These first five are so likely they can't really be called "predictions":
1. Two Words: Verizon iPhone
Verizon lovers have been holding candles in hopes of seeing a Verizon-compatible iPhone since the original iPhone was announced nearly four years ago. It very well could be the No. 1 iPhone rumor of all time, but this time I actually believe it, and it has nothing to do with the supposed lapsing of AT&T's exclusive contract.
Here's why: Android-based phones have been picking up steam, many of them are damn fine phones, and while the version, upgrade paths and manufacturer-added interfaces and features work to fracture the Android experience even while spreading Android to the wind, it's high time for Apple to compete across more than one cellular service provider. Verizon is the obvious choice, either with an old-school CDMA phone or 4G option.
The question is, when? There's plenty of hope for the first quarter, but Apple could easily wait for its developer's conference in June, which would be in line with its yearly announcement schedule.
2. iPad 2 Cometh
Despite the naysayers, Apple's iPad tablet has been a runaway hit. It seems to be performing better than anyone's expectations, happily bringing the Apple experience to newcomers while eclipsing pesky little netbooks.
I've scratched my head over the iPad several times this year, but the big iOS 4 touchscreen has been growing on me.
What can the next generation promise? A set of dual-sided cameras, of course, to make the units more versatile while offering up another platform for FaceTime video conferencing. Other rumors point toward more robust speakers, a USB slot, and a refined form factor. More storage would be nice, but I doubt Apple will drop the price points.
3. The New Mac App Store Will Be a Raging Success
Just in time to steal some attention from the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, Apple will launch its new Mac App Store on Jan. 6.
Just like the App Store for iOS devices, the Mac App Store will make it easy for consumers to discover, install, and update applications for their Macs. There are plenty of reasons this will drive new sales and customer satisfaction for Mac owners, the biggest of which is making Mac application discovery easy.
Some developers are uneasy about Apple's foray into Mac App distribution, citing a fear of Apple control, censorship and the need to take a pesky 30 percent cut of their profits. While developers can offer free apps, they can't provide demos or trial versions through the Mac App Store. For applications that depend on users getting a taste of what the application can do, this is a big deal.
Fortunately, developers can offer demos or trials from their own websites, and as near as I can tell, a Mac App Store would remain a win even for these sorts of developers: In the store, their application is more likely to be discovered, which is the first step toward buying it. If consumers aren't aware that it exists, trial versions matter little.
Plus, it's not clear how Apple is going to handle (or recommend that developers handle) its existing customers. For instance, if I own an application already, do I have to buy it again through the Mac App Store in order to get all the nifty Mac App Store benefits, like easy installation and update notices? Sounds like it. So developers have to navigate some tricky waters around old-school upgrade pricing, managing customer expectations, and finding new distribution routes for new sales.
I'm guessing Apple will recommend that developers lose the old upgrade pricing methods of software sales and instead offer new versions for sale.
Here's how this might work: There's no way that Apple is going to sell us iWork '11 just once and then offer us free updates via the Mac App Store forever. No, Apple will offer iWork '12, which is sort of an upgrade, but not really. Apple treats it like a new generation of product: There's no cut-rate upgrade pricing, just the full retail price for the new generation. Kind of sucks. But if this model works, it seems to drive the cost of original acquisition down while pushing the upgrade costs up. For some developers, these issues will force them to rethink how they do business and if they want to work with the Mac App Store at all.
Despite all of these tricky currents Apple will need to work out with its developer partners and community, the Mac App Store will open in 90 countries, and it'll be a raging success.
4. The Lion Will Roar
Apple has already offered up a sneak peek of Mac OS X Lion, its eighth generation of the Mac operating system. Unlike the previous version, Snow Leopard, Lion will offer up some significant new features for end users, including some new tools and metaphors for working with applications.
On tap is Launchpad, a new home for all of your Mac apps; system-wide support for full-screen apps, which takes a nod from the iOS operating model where a single app takes all of your attention; and Mission Control, which unifies Expose, Dashboard, Spaces and full-screen apps into what Apple is describing as "innovative new view of everything running on your Mac."
Will all this -- and indubitably a few more to-be-revealed gems -- be enough to spark widespread Mac users to upgrade? Definitely. Besides, as Snow Leopard and the many iOS predecessor versions have already proven, Apple has done a great job of educating (and maybe training) its customers to upgrade their operating systems.
5. iPhone 5 Will Keep the Form Factor
This summer, we'll see a new generation of iPhone. Maybe it'll be called "iPhone 5," or maybe something new with a new moniker. But will we get a sleek new design? I doubt it.
The design of the iPhone 4 seems to be holding strong. I just had a buddy bet me that his Android phone was thinner than the iPhone 4. When we set them next to each other on the table, you should have seen his face: my iPhone 4 was so noticeably thinner that I didn't have to say anything at all (his phone was noticeably lighter, though). Either way, it doesn't matter if other phones become thinner; the dual-glass design of the iPhone 4 can survive another year of use, just like the iPhone 3G and 3GS lasted.
In addition to manufacturing benefits, another generation with the same form factor will no doubt please case and accessory manufacturers, which is also important to the success of the iPhone ecosystem. All of these case manufacturers are also promoting the iPhone when they promote their cases. It's a nice snowball factor. Will we finally get color? How about the elusive white iPhone 4? Maybe. It would give Apple CEO Steve Jobs a nice opportunity to be ironically humble in front of the world.
As for me, I'm hoping for Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities that will let me wave my iPhone at a retail check stand to make purchases. In addition to making wallet-filled jeans pockets a problem of the past, I won't have to touch the buttons that hundreds of other customers touched before I got there. No more cold and flu season? Not hardly, but I'm hoping.
Somewhat Likely In 2011
Beyond the obvious, there are several other interesting activities, rumors and opportunities afoot for Apple in the coming year -- though they are hardly the kind of things to bet your house on:
6. MacBook Pros Will Get the WedgeWhen Jobs introduced the new MacBook Air in October, he mentioned that the new pint-sized laptop represented the future of the Apple notebook line. While he didn't go into detail, what might this mean?
Solid-state drives (SSDs) are a good place to start. Despite a relatively slow processor in the MacBook Air, the use of super-fast SSDs give the units a snappy feel. In 2011, SSDs might finally arrive at such a price/capacity point in MacBooks that Apple will sell more SSD-based units than old-school spinning platter hard drive units. Along the way, the new MacBook Pro form factor will switch over to svelte MacBook Air wedge.
The pixel density of the 13-incher is the same as the 15-inch MacBook Pro, so it's not unreasonable to expect even denser screens making their way up the line.
The craziest prediction of all, though: 2011 will be the year that MacBook Pros lose their DVD/CD drives. I'm not sure that Apple will do this, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised. With Apple's intense focus on streaming content and buying movies, I'm guessing that we're far more likely to see the DVD drive disappear altogether before we ever see, for example, a Blu-ray drive.
Oh, and what about a touch-based MacBook that can be either a tablet or a traditional notebook? While I would love to see a magical device like that, I believe it will hinge on iOS-like applications being available for Mac OS X Lion. I'm hoping, but I'm more likely to bet on that one in 2012.
7. 2011 Will Be the Year Content Comes Together
In delivering the iPad, Apple was widely expected to either "save" or revitalize the print publishing industry. Magazines and newspapers, specifically, have been struggling to various degrees with shifts to digital content consumption, no doubt about it. The iPad was supposed to offer radically new kinds of magazines.
The problem is, it's hard to create jaw-dropping content on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. There need to be tools, ads and payment system. Then there's the issue with subscribers -- magazines, for instance, like to know their subscribers intimately, while Apple's App Store tends to err on the side of protecting the subscriber data.
Meanwhile, how can a newspaper that's barely scraping by invest in iPad (or even Android-based) content delivery?
One thing I'm certain of: Apple and media companies around the world are actively trying to figure all of these issues out. Perhaps the biggest one we'll see in the near future is Rupert Murdoch's not-so-secret sort-of-secret effort to launch a brand-new iPad-based newspaper. News Corp. has reportedly hired journalists just for this project, possibly dubbed, "The Daily," which is supposed to be multi-media heavy and, you know, hit your iPad on a daily basis. It might launch as soon as mid January. More importantly, it may usher in the ability for publishers to push a subscription feature so they can deliver one app but collect subscription-based revenue without constantly pestering their subscribers to act.
In addition, I'm hoping that CBS and NBC will join ABC and Fox and start letting consumers rent their shows in HD via Apple TV (and iOS devices). The new 99-cent rental model that Apple introduced in September is simply awesome. Where $1.99 can be too much to swallow for a show you only want to watch once, $.99 is quite friendly. This fall, I rented the entire first season of "Castle," which caught me up on the series nicely (and I would not have bought each episode for $1.99). Plus, I watched the cult-hit "Firefly" all via renting the episodes. The rental model, by the way, also gives you 48 hours to view the show once you start watching it, and that's fantastic -- 48 hours is much more customer-friendly than the measly 24 hours we get with movie rentals.
I'm hoping that we'll see more customer-friendly features for consumers willing to pay for content in 2011.
8. MobileMe Will Be Amped Beyond Belief
There's a convergence of factors all pointing to something great with MobileMe in 2011: Apple has been building a massive new data center in North Carolina, and it's going to be used to serve up something; the new Apple TV lost its hard drive and is now all about renting and streaming content; iPods, iPads and iPhones can download content directly, and they can also stream content; and Apple bought LaLa.com for a reason, and maybe that reason is to let us store music and content in an Apple "cloud" instead of on our hard drives (think about #6, where MacBook Pros might trade massive hard drives in favor of smaller, faster ones ... where will we store our video of the future?).
One day, our iTunes libraries will be stored in Apple's cloud, and when that happens, our household devices will all more easily share and stream that content. As long as everyone has fast and reliable Internet bandwidth, this is a distinct possibility (despite my personal preference for local storage). Besides, this sort of model may also enable Apple to woo more content providers into allowing Apple to deliver it if they believe Apple can protect their intellectual and copyright property.
9. Apple TV Will Run Apps
The new Apple TV runs a form of iOS, which means Apple has some appy plans for it.
There's some interface logic to figure out, some methods for sorting out which apps run, and some confusion over how some or all apps might be effective on a big-screen TV. But still, Apple will eventually deliver apps to our HDTVs somehow, sometime and maybe even in 2011. Maybe Apple will outfit a trackpad to work just for the Apple TV.
10. iOS Will Get New Form Factor Devices -- a New Size iPad?
We've seen some rumors of a possible 7-inch iPad, and while it might be called an iPod rather than iPad, it would offer up some interesting holes to fill.
The first hole is for a larger-than-iPod gaming experience that's not quite as expensive or intimidating as an iPad -- how many parents want to turn their kids loose with an iPad for game playing in, say, the kitchen over a tile floor? A smaller, more hand-friendly alternative could be compelling.
Plus, while iPods and iPhones can already control your Apple TV, might a new form factor iPad become the perfect companion to the living room? Or might it become the perfect companion to your vehicle's dash -- turn-by-turn GPS with a bigger screen, anyone?
All-in-all, while we might not see Apple introduce any truly surprising new hardware products in 2011, the evolution of Apple products -- including the software and content consumption models -- will be most impressive in 2011. I'm definitely looking forward to it.
MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.