Lunatic's Apple Predictions for 2009+

The Macintosh turns 25 years old on the 24th of January, 2009. Across the web, many retrospectives of Apple and the Macintosh are being published, as well as a number of pieces speculating or predicting where Apple and/or the Macintosh will go from here.

As ever, I find much of the speculation to miss the mark--either not going far enough, or wishing for things that in my mind are not logical for Apple to do. In the past I've speculated about Apple amongst fellow tech-savvy people at meetings, correctly predicting the form factor and overall design of the iPhone (about the size of an iPod, and all-screen, without a keyboard), the Mac mini (Apple's design language at the time was all curves, so I predicted it would look similar to the original AirPort base station--notice the design similarities between the Mac mini and the current AirPort Extreme base station), and the AppleTV (I described it as an AirPort Express with not just audio-out but also video-out).

So today on the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh here are my predictions for Apple Inc. over the next 5+ years:
  1. Apple will be the first laptop manufacturer to have all of its laptops use non-user-swappable batteries

    This trend is quite clear, from the iPod, to the iPhone, to the MacBook Air, to the recently released 17" MacBook Pro. User-swappable batteries are on the way out across Apple's product line.

  2. The iPhone will never gain a user-swappable battery

    See above.

  3. The iPhone will never gain a physical keyboard

    Apple sells enough iPhones without physical keyboards that they don't need to add one, and the letters/symbols on physical keys cannot be changed dynamically via software like they can on an on-screen keyboard. (Sorry, BlackBerry/Palm Treo fans)

  4. Apple will be the first laptop manufacturer to remove optical drives from the standard configurations of its laptops

    The next generation of Apple laptops after the current "unibody" aluminum MacBooks and MacBook Pros will be available without internal optical drives at all. Higher capacity batteries for longer runtimes will be offered to fill the internal space that's freed up. These models will all be able to utilize an external optical drive like the MacBook Air does now. The generation of Apple laptops after that one won't even have the option of having internal optical drives.

    Again, the writing is on the wall when you look at the MacBook Air, as well as the iPhone, iPod touch, and the movement towards wireless technologies and "always on" Internet connectivity (more on those later).

  5. There's a 50/50 chance that Apple will NEVER adopt BluRay

    I'm sure Apple themselves still haven't made a decision on this, yet. The balancing factors are the adoption rate of commercially recorded BluRay media, the cost of BluRay mechanisms, and the amount of growth and adoption of online downloads of HD content.

    If Apple does adopt BluRay, it will likely initially be in Mac Pro towers, for use by video professionals in mastering BluRay media, and as an external USB drive replacement for the external SuperDrive currently used by the MacBook Air, which will then be enabled for use across all of Apple's laptops (like the next generation ones without internal optical drives mentioned above). The iMac and Mac mini will only get options for an internal BluRay drive if the format suddenly jumps in acceptance in the marketplace and BluRay mechanisms get cheap enough quickly enough. If Apple releases an external BluRay drive for laptops at all, they may decide to also make it compatible with iMacs and Mac minis as the BlueRay "solution" for those systems.

  6. Eventually Apple will be the first manufacturer to drop optical drives as standard features across all of its systems

    Just like floppy disks. External optical drives will be available for legacy support. It will be expected that music and video media that you wish to use on your computer will be largely supplied via downloads through iTunes.

    Backups will be facilitated via local and remote storage (more on that later).

  7. Apple's software installs will become available on USB Flash drives

    As a replacement for DVDs as optical drives get phased out of Apple's computers, Apple will begin offering software installs on USB Flash drives.

    While most applications can easily utilize Internet downloads for installation, Mac OS X is still a critical software install that requires a large local disk. A 2 GB USB Flash drive is large enough to hold the minimum software necessary to boot and install Mac OS X. (Bear in mind that Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is going to reduce the total size of the files necessary for a Mac OS X installation, partially because it is abandoning support for PowerPC Macs.) Once the system boots it can read the previous network configuration or ask for the details in order to connect to the Internet, after which the rest of the software that a user desires on their system will be downloaded and automatically installed.

    USB Flash drives are currently available at discount in prices of about $5 per GB for up to 4 GB. Apple frequently makes deals with Flash RAM manufacturers to secure good pricing for Flash RAM for iPods and iPhones, so it's likely that including USB Flash drives for installations of Mac OS X won't add too much cost by the time it's necessary.

  8. Apple TV will never get an add-on or integrated optical drive

    See above for reasons why Apple is moving away from optical media.

  9. Apple will never offer PVR/DVR (Personal Video Recorder/Digital Video Recorder) software or hardware

    Apple would rather have people pay to download TV shows from iTunes. The price on iTunes is reasonable considering that you can avoid paying monthly cable or satellite TV fees, the quality is now roughly equivalent to digital TV (480p for standard definition shows and 720p for HD shows), and the downloads are commercial-free.

    Also, even though CableCARD now exists as a way for 3rd party manufacturers to decode digital cable broadcasts, it is poorly supported, only available in the U.S., and it doesn't work for satellite TV.

  10. Apple will never make their own branded TV

    The consumer TV market is way too much of a commodity market for Apple to move into directly. At some point Apple may partner with some TV manufacturers to get Apple TV functionality integrated into some TV sets, but only if the terms are especially favorable to Apple and they have a say over the end user experience on those TVs. (Apple is not going to repeat the Motorola Rockr deal.)

  11. TV shows will be available to watch via iTunes at the same time they are initially being broadcast

    Deals will be made so that people who have bought season passes for a TV series will be able to watch new episodes starting at the same time as they are first broadcast, rather than only 24 hours after the initial broadcast; possibly for an additional "Plus" type fee.

    As time goes on licensing arrangements and revenue from downloads of shows will change such that this will become feasible. It will be desired in order to reduce revenue loss due to illegal online availability of TV shows (sometimes it takes only minutes after an episode has initially aired for it to be available online in watchable quality, and not much longer for it to be available in HD quality). This will be a similar shift to that of the (near) elimination of DRM from music downloads.

  12. Mobile downloads of video will gradually roll out for iPhones and the iPod touch

    Mobile downloads of music from the iTunes Store rolled out gradually, first via WiFi only and later over 3G phone networks. Mobile video downloads will similarly roll out gradually, starting with WiFi-only downloads of short form videos like the way the iTunes Music Store started with free music videos and had movie trailers in QuickTime.

    The first video downloads enabled over 3G phone networks will be smaller files optimized for the iPhone. After buying and downloading one of these videos and synching your iPhone to iTunes, your computer will automatically begin downloading a higher quality version.

  13. There will never be a CDMA/EVDO version of the iPhone

    Looking at the map of worldwide iPhone availability at iPhone it's clear that the current technologies in the iPhone are enough to cover all markets that Apple may desire. (South Korea, one of the bulwarks of CDMA/EVDO technology outside of Verizon and Sprint in the U.S., has carriers that have adopted HSDPA for their 3G networks, which is what the iPhone 3G uses.)

    In the future the iPhone may be available on Verizon once they have rolled out LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology and an LTE-compatible version of the iPhone is available. There's a chance that the possible LTE/WiMAX standards conflict on the horizon will result in Apple releasing a WiMAX version of the iPhone, if that becomes the dominant next generation high-speed wireless protocol. In that case there's a chance that the iPhone may become available on Sprint Nextel if/when they roll out WiMAX.

  14. Wireless "3G broadband" compatibility will be rolled out across Apple's portable devices

    Apple's current partnerships with wireless carriers worldwide for the iPhone will be leveraged to make simple wireless "3G broadband" compatibility available across all of Apple's portable devices. People who already own iPhones will be able to easily add wireless data packages for their Apple laptops with integrated UMTS/HSDPA/HSPA hardware. This hardware will initially be offered as an optional addition, and eventually it (or next generation successor equipment) will become standard across all of Apple's portable devices, much like 802.11 WiFi today.

    People who don't own iPhones will be able to get "data only" 3G wireless plans, just like the carriers offer today.

    The iPod touch may gain "data only" 3G wireless compatibility, in a manner similar to the Amazon Kindle's WhisperNet over Sprint Nextel's EVDO network. This could be added-on to an existing iPhone or Apple portable "data only" plan, or on its own. This will be part of Apple's "answer" to netbooks.

    The timing of this will be significantly dependant on AT&T's ability to add capacity to their 3G network in the U.S. Official tethering of iPhones to computers over BlueTooth for data will be the first step, testing the waters for further integration of UMTS/HSDPA/HSPA hardware into Macintoshes.

  15. The installed base of iPhones worldwide won't take long to eclipse that of Macintosh computers

    Part of Apple's incentive for adding "3G broadband" compatibility across their other products is because they will able to entice people whose first Apple product is an iPhone into then buying other Apple products. The deals people get for inexpensively adding "3G broadband" access for their other Apple products to their iPhone plans will be significant incentives for the purchase of Macintosh computers.

  16. Universal transparent "Home" directories will be integrated across Macs, TimeCapsule backup devices, MobileMe accounts, iPhones, and any other Apple products

    Instead of going the route of Microsoft's Windows Home Server, requiring a dedicated computer for central backups, Apple will instead adopt a transparent client peer approach.

    Your "Home" directory will be transparently synchronized and available to all of your Apple devices automatically. TimeCapsule backup devices will ensure that your Home directory is available locally to other computers even when your main computer is off. Integration with MobileMe accounts will ensure that your Home directory is backed up and available remotely via any Mac laptop, iPhone, or iPod touch. With Mac laptops that have wireless "3G broadband" hardware and accounts any changes in your Home directory will be transparently synchronized via MobileMe to all of your other Apple hardware.

    (This will finally see a return of the NeXTstep functionality of network home directories, where you could log in from any machine and get access to all of your files from anywhere you had a network connection.)

  17. will add more integration of your personal data

    Things like your iPhone call logs, visual voicemail, SMS messages, etc. will be more integrated and available from any of your Apple products.

  18. Adoption of further wireless technologies

    Apple TV, TimeCapsule, external optical drives, iPhones and the iPod touch (and maybe other iPods) will all take advantage of wireless data sharing and synchronization via newer wireless technologies such as Wireless USB, WirelessHD, WHDI, and/or Wireless HDMI. This will reduce the number of wires required for devices to a single one, for power only. (Portable devices may get induction charging, as well, eliminating even the wire for power.)

    Apple is always trying to reduce wires.
So there's my predictions for Apple over the next 5+ years. There may be no new truly groundbreaking hardware products like the iPod and iPhone were (I'm not holding my breath for a tablet Mac), but that's a little harder to predict. Clearly, Apple products are on a trend of getting slimmer and lighter (imagine an even slimmer MacBook Air-like device with a full screen and keyboard and as much power as any desktop computer now--that'll be Apple's answer to calls for a Mac tablet), and more and more integration and fewer wires are the name of the game. In the meantime software will continue to advance and get more powerful, enabling that integration and the availability of your data and any other data you desire effortlessly from wherever you are.


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Content originally created and copyright 24 Jan 2009.