2011 Predictions: Macworld’s annual forecast of the year ahead

 

From tech publishers to mythical beasts, Macworld contributors read their crystal balls

It’s been another banner year for Apple and Apple products—if you need convincing, check out our year-in-review summaries for the Mac, iOS, Apple as a business, digital entertainment, and creatives. (You can also see the lists of Macworld.com’s top stories and most loved and loathed stories of the year.)

But what’s in store for the year ahead? As we said goodbye to 2010,
we asked a number of Macworld contributors and friends—as we have in
years
past—for
their predictions for 2011. But unlike past predictions articles, where
we gave our prognosticators carte blanche to opine on any topic
Apple-related, this year we asked for forecasts in three specific
areas—Mac OS X, iOS, and Apple hardware—as well as for each person’s
pie-in-the-sky wish for the world of Apple.

Jacqui Cheng, Senior Apple Editor, Ars Technica

Mac OS X: I think we’ll see a continued merging of
cloud/Internet services with the desktop—which, depending on your
personal experience with Apple’s current services, may or may not be a
good thing. Still, while Apple won’t be rolling out its OS just yet, I
like to believe that the next version of Mac OS X will take advantage of
that massive North Carolina data center in some way or another, whether
it involves cloud-based backups, better syncing across machines via
MobileMe, or something else that us plebes haven’t even thought of yet.

iOS: iOS has been making serious inroads lately
when it comes to the business sector, but there’s still plenty of room
left to grow. I think in 2011, Apple will continue to make the iPhone
and the iPad appealing to enterprise users by offering more and better
tools for IT folks to manage the devices for employees. People already
want to use these things in a work environment, but offering the tools
to support even more enterprise services will be what wins over
corporations.

Hardware: The most obvious hardware prediction is
the next iteration of the iPad, but what’s not obvious is exactly which
parts of it will get an update. In an ideal world, the iPad would get
the iPhone 4’s retina display (cost be damned!), and at least a
front-facing camera for FaceTime. I’m also hoping for more RAM so the
iPad can perform better with all those fancy apps we’ve all been
downloading.

Pie-in-the-sky wish: I want every TV network to get
in on the Apple TV’s 99-cent-rental structure—especially the cable
networks. The current lack of access to lots of TV programming is one of
the Apple TV’s weaknesses, so it would thrill me to get more shows.
(Please, networks, let me give you more of my hard-earned money!) I’m
also hoping Apple will open up the Apple TV platform to native apps—or
at least provide more “channels” like the current Netflix and
Internet-radio options—instead of requiring people to use AirPlay for
streaming audio and video.

Adam Engst, Publisher, TidBITS

iOS: The main area where iOS suffers badly is in
file management and syncing. Core data types, such as music and photos,
are ably handled by iTunes and are made available to multiple apps on
your iOS device. But moving other types of files—such as PDFs and
word-processing docs—to and from the device, and especially between
apps, is so poorly done that it’s clear iTunes’ File Sharing feature and
interface are merely placeholders while Apple finishes the real
solution.

That solution, which I’ll call AppleSync until Apple debuts
it with a better name, will be mediated through Apple’s massive new
data center in North Carolina and will rely on sub-file updating (which
syncs just the differences in files as they change—it’s how Dropbox and CrashPlan
sync so efficiently) to ensure that files are accurately and reliably
synchronized across all the devices you use. With sub-file updating, the
amount of data moved around is relatively small, enabling
high-priority/small-size updates over 3G data connections, while
restricting low-priority/large-size updates and device backups to
802.11n Wi-Fi connections. USB connections will be necessary only for
full-device restores.

Mac OS X: The fact that Mac OS X and iOS share the same OS underpinnings is key to my prediction that Lion will replace HFS+, the filesystem Macs have used since 1998, with a ZFS-based filesystem.
This new filesystem will play a central role in enabling AppleSync
(above), which will work not just with iOS devices, but with all Macs
running Lion. Time Machine will also rely on AppleSync, instead of hard
links, and will offer the capability to recover lost data from a local
backup disk, any device in the AppleSync pool, or from online storage.

Hardware: In 2011, Steve Jobs is going to turn his
attention to the fact that the clean industrial designs of the iPad,
iPhone, and iPod touch are sullied by not one, but two cables in regular
use: the USB dock-connector cable and the headphone cable. First, Apple
will look to reinvent the Bluetooth headphone to make it smaller and
more comfortable—while still obvious enough to provide the free
marketing the company gets from its current white-cabled earbuds, of
course. In fact, the next iPod shuffle will actually be integrated into
headphones. Second, while Apple’s proprietary dock connector will remain
for use with existing accessories, you’ll be able to charge your new
iOS devices—yes, you’ll need to buy new ones—through a new hardware
innovation: induction charging. Instead of plugging in your iPhone or
iPod at night, you just set it down on a special Apple Charging Pad. But
how will these devices sync? Why, AppleSync (above), of course.

Pie-in-the-sky wish: If I’m right on any of the above, that’s plenty of pie for my sky!

John Gruber, Daring Fireball

Mac OS X: By the time Lion ships, Apple’s going to
unveil many more user-interface changes that are inspired by the iPad,
with the prime targets being Mail and iCal. Last year, Apple revamped
the interfaces for MobileMe’s Mail and Calendar Web apps; the new
versions very strongly resemble their iPad counterparts. I think we’ll
see Mac OS X’s versions of Mail and iCal go the same way.

iOS: We’ll see an iOS 5.0 release on the usual
schedule: WWDC in June. Topping my list of important new features will
be a revamping of the notification system. The only good thing you can
say about the current system—which is essentially limited to those blue
modal alerts—is that it’s simple. But I think there’s nearly unanimous
consent that they’re too simple. For example, there’s no way to
view multiple notifications at once, and once you’ve dismissed a
notification on your lock screen, there’s no way to go back and re-read
it. (I’ve lost count of how many notifications I’ve missed because I’ve
finished the swipe-to-unlock gesture before I even realized I had a notification showing.) It’s also undeniable that iOS is behind Android and WebOS in this regard.

Hardware: The second-generation iPad is going to be
a major upgrade, not a minor one like the update from the original
iPhone to the iPhone 3G. We’ll see better performance, more RAM, a
better display, and a thinner and lighter hardware design.

Pie-in-the-sky wish: I’d love to see a HyperCard-like development system for iOS, perhaps using JavaScript as the programming language.

John Moltz, Editor In Chief, Crazy Apple Rumors Site

Mac OS X: Lion’s adoption of iOS features will rub
many dyed-in-the-wool Mac users the wrong way. So much, in fact, that
many will find they have an actual rash. Idle threats to switch to
Windows and Linux will fly furiously, but in the end they’ll choose to
apply a topical ointment and keep using the Mac.

iOS: As Mac OS X starts taking its cues from iOS,
iOS will become arrogant and aloof, believing itself to be “all that.”
It will increasingly forget who its friends are and choose to instead to
hang out with that obnoxious rich guy who drives the BMW. This will
culminate around prom time when iOS will finally see what it has become
and learn the true meaning of friendship, as Orchestral Manoeuvres in
the Dark reunites to play “If You Leave.”

Hardware: Four years ago I correctly predicted that the one-button iPhone would be the biggest Apple hardware release of 2007,
and I’m still milking that completely accidental bit of foresight.
Which is why this year I’m predicting that Apple will release a
one-button Mac, as well. Sounds crazy, amiright? Yeah, well, a
one-button phone seemed perfectly crazy in 2006 and it turned out to be
right, so I’m sticking to my guns.

Pie-in-the-sky wish: Around summer 2011, Apple’s
cash on hand (currently $25.62 billion) eclipses Dell’s market cap
(currently $26.61 billion). Apple then buys Dell, shuts it down, and
gives the money back to the shareholders. Just because it can.

Arnold Kim, founder and Senior Editor, MacRumors.com

Mac OS X: In October 2010, Apple showed off some of
Mac OS X Lion’s upcoming iOS-inspired features, such as the Mac App
Store and full-screen apps. But that was only a small peek. Ultimately,
Mac OS X’s adoption of iOS features will be more dramatic and will
redefine the out-of-the-box experience for novice users. Apple tried
this approach before—for example, back in System 7 with the Launcher and
in the original version of OS X with single-application mode—but there
was too much baggage to overcome. This time the company can leverage its
familiar iOS interface and, thanks to the Mac App Store, even retain
tight control over the process of installing third-party software. For
non-savvy computer users, Mac OS X Lion will feel very much like iOS on a
computer—and that’s a good thing.

iOS: In 2011, Apple will finally deliver wireless
sync in a big way. Especially with the introduction of the iPad, many
people are using their iOS devices as standalone units, so the need to
physically connect to a computer to sync data seems dated. Beyond that,
we’re also sure to see the capability to stream your media, music, and
video from the iTunes cloud.

(If I can sneak in another iOS prediction, I’m certain Apple is
working on something big with location/mapping services. The company’s acquisition of Placebase,
its recruitment of navigation-skilled engineers, and the fact that
Apple openly has a “Geo Team” make it clear the company is devoting some
massive resources to a yet-unknown location-based service. Is Apple
replacing Google Maps with an in-house offering? Working on Apple
Navigation? I don’t claim to know, but whatever it is, I think we’ll see
it in 2011.)

Hardware: The MacBook Air (Late 2010)
is a roadmap for 2011. Apple’s MacBook Pro models will follow the Air’s
example by featuring SSD storage and a thinner design while dropping
the optical drive. Apple will continue to offer high-end models for
professionals, but when it comes to consumer laptops, the writing has
been on the wall. One upside for pros: Apple will be one of the first
companies to adopt Light Peak,
which promises to consolidate many data connections into a single
mega-connector, replacing USB, FireWire, DVI, and more. And if that
comes to pass, let me be the first to suggest a reincarnation of a
(Duo-)dock system.

Pie-in-the-sky wish: In a perfect world, Apple
would release a new Apple TV set-top box—perhaps even one built into an
LCD display. In order to wrest control from the local cable providers,
this new device would support CableCARD (or equivalent)
for a viable “go-to-market” strategy. (The inability to infiltrate
these tightly controlled local markets has been one reason Cupertino has
kept its distance in this area, but the company can’t let Google have
all the fun.) Apple might even be able to convince a cable provider that
an Apple TV exclusive would bring a huge boost in subscriber numbers.

The Macalope, pundit-skewering mythical beast

First, a caveat: The Macalope has no special knowledge and his
“predictions” are worth nothing more than the bits that comprise them.
As always, and with apologies to David Letterman, NO WAGERING—remember, this is for charity (The Mythical Beasts’ Post Holiday Credit Card Reduction Fund).

Mac OS X: The Mac App Store will be a huge success, albeit with the same problems present in the iTunes App Store.
The market will be flooded with new Mac applications, some good and
some bad, but prices will be pushed down and the oft-repeated complaint
that there’s no software for the Mac will be a thing of the past.
Microsoft will like this idea so much it will take a(nother) stab at it
and ship an app store with Windows 8. This time it’ll work moderately
better because, you know, Apple will have already figured it out for
them.

iOS: Working with studios and other content
providers, Apple will announce a more-limited version of the App Store
for the Apple TV, which will lead to the expected griping about a lack
of openness. Expect to see on-your-TV versions of the ABC and PBS iPad
apps, as well as many others. There’s a chance the “Apple TV App Store”
could be more open, á la the iTunes App Store, but Apple may be worried
about how input will work and doesn’t want people dissatisfied with the
user experience. Still, that 30 percent cut is pretty sweet…

Hardware: The iPad 2 will be sexy and slim and have
two cameras. OK, that’s not much of a prediction, but Android and
Windows-based tablets will continue to fall in the iPad’s shadow until
they’re able to undercut it on price. The RIM PlayBook will be delayed
and, when it ships, it will fail to find a constituency amongst RIM’s
traditional corporate customer base. What’s French-Canadian for “sad
trombone”?

Pie-in-the-sky wish: The Macalope hates the term
“online strategy,” so he’ll just say he hopes Apple fixes MobileMe, Game
Center, and Ping. All of these services are outclassed by other
competing services and it’s unbecoming for Apple to provide such
second-rate user experiences. Come on, Apple! This sense of elitism
doesn’t build itself!

What are your Apple predictions for 2011? Let us know in the comments, below.

 


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