It's hard to believe it's already 2009, and yet here we are, the day before another Macworld Expo and another Steve Jobs keynote.
Um...wait. Scratch that last part.
It's 2009, at least. And that means it's time for us to ask Macworld staff and contributors, as we have for nine years running, what the new year has in store for Mac users and Apple. As experts in the field, each has the rare combination of knowledge and analytical skills that allows them to take a keen look at the market and see where it's headed.
OK, the truth is a lot of this is just wishful thinking. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're very, very wrong. (Take a look at last year's predictions to see how our panel did in 2008.) In either case, they're putting themselves out there for you, risking certain embarrassment. So read on to see what our experts' crystal balls foretell for the next 12 months. If we're lucky, maybe we'll even see one or two of these predictions come true during tomorrow's Jobs-less keynote.
[None of our soothsayers saw any of the others' forecasts before this article was published.]
Dan Frakes, Macworld senior editor
A "tablet": From the moment MIMvista demonstrated the company's medical-imaging software for iPhone during June's WWDC keynote, I was convinced the iPhone OS would eventually run more than just the iPhone and iPod touch. (That app in particular screamed out for a larger screen.) Now that Apple has lovingly nurtured the iPhone SDK and the App Store to the tune of 10,000+ applications, the iPhone OS is a viable--perhaps the dominant--mobile platform. This means the years of "Mac tablet" rumors are finally going to come true...except that the "tablet" will be closer to a super-sized iPod touch than a Mac laptop, and it will run the iPhone OS rather than the version of OS X running on your Mac.
A media server: For years, Apple has been cultivating the Mac as the center of a "digital hub," gradually adding products--iPods, Apple TVs, and iPhones--that complement that vision and increasing compatibility with countless digital photo and video cameras. The strategy has worked brilliantly...perhaps too much so. Many Mac users now have innumerable photos, music files, and videos spread across multiple Macs, filling their hard drives and creating a digital nightmare of disorganization--not to mention a frustrating convolution of iTunes authorizations. It's time for Apple to bring some order and convenience to the digital home, and the company will do so this year with a new media server. This software (which will likely complement a new hardware product) will make it easy to store all of your digital media in one place and access it--and sync it--from any computer on your network. Plus, using Back to My Mac technology, you'll even be able to access that media from elsewhere on the Internet.
A midrange desktop: This is it: my final (and likely just as futile) prediction of a midrange, headless Mac. In fact, to save myself the typing, I'm just going to paste what I wrote last year: "Apple will (finally) give us a midrange, screenless Mac--something in between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro--for people who don't want an all-in-one desktop system. It will have a reasonably powerful processor, a decent (and upgradable) graphics card, and room for a PCI card and an additional hard drive. This machine will be great for 'switchers' accustomed to such configurations on the Windows side, as well as for people who want upgradability but can't afford--or just don't need--a Mac Pro. It will also be an excellent second Mac for many in the Mac Pro market." Hopefully this year Apple will at long last realize the genius of the idea. (You know, I'll even give up the PCI-card slot. I'm getting desperate.)
Adam Engst, Publisher, TidBITS and Take Control Books
A larger iPod touch: Look for Apple to introduce a new version of the iPod touch with a larger screen designed for better video viewing and text reading; Bluetooth keyboard compatibility; and optional 3G data access. Although this could be a bit too much wishful thinking, the market is ready for such an iteration of the iPod touch. Sure, it won't fit in a pocket, but (a) many people in their 40s and 50s simply can't see the tiny screens on current devices; (b) there's a sweet spot between the iPhone and the MacBook Air that's currently unfilled; (c) Amazon's Kindle has been sufficiently successful to prove that people want a larger device for reading; and (d) the whole pocket thing is sexist anyway, since women mostly carry purses and don't have reliable pockets. Oh, and (e), I want one.
Music DRM-free, video still crippled: Apple will finally convince the music labels to provide all the music in the iTunes Store in DRM-free versions, just like Amazon MP3. Unfortunately, it will still be inordinately difficult for an entire Mac-using family to share a single iTunes library. In related news, the entire Mac line will move to Mini DisplayPort connectors with their support for HDCP copy protection, and there will be at least one major kerfuffle surrounding the inability to watch legitimately owned video because of it.
Apple extends Internet reach, still doesn't get Web 2.0: Still chagrined by the MobileMe-release debacle, Apple will continue to beef up its existing Web apps and will introduce additional ways that Internet services can extend the functionality of Mac OS X. We may even see an offsite Time Machine backup service built into MobileMe. However, the company still won't grok the concept that Web 2.0 involves an "architecture of participation" among a community of connected users, so nothing Apple introduces will generate the kind of mass usage seen by Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, or eBay.
Andy Ihnatko, Chicago Sun-Times technology and computer columnist
A tablet, but not a Mac: We'll see a tablet Apple computer. It won't be a tablet Mac. It won't be a tablet iPhone. It'll have the same relationship to what we think of a tablet device as the iPhone had to what we thought of as a smartphone. It'll also be the Netbook that Apple says that they have no interest in making. We'll see its debut at this summer's WWDC, with release in time for the 2009 holiday season. This will give developers time to build software--think iPhone apps, only bigger--to support it.
A bigger, better cloud: Apple will move their product line a bit closer to a "cloud" experience. They have all of the elements in place to give Apple users a consistent experience from the office to the line at the falafel stand to the living room, from devices to software to network services. 2009 is when Apple will start cashing these checks they've been writing and users will start to have a the same resources with their software and data, in every environment and on every device.
A new meme: Online gossip wags will get tired of making wild, irresponsible speculations about Steve Jobs' weight and start making wild, irresponsible speculations about Steve Wozniak's hair color. Apple's stock price will tumble.
Dan Moren, Macworld associate editor
Apple TV, Take 15: Despite the repeated insistences that Apple's finally gotten the Apple TV right, they haven't yet managed to take over the living room. I expect to see a harder push from them in that direction this year, as the digital broadcast transition happens and more people buy into an HD future. Part of that solution is hardware: I'm thinking a simple plug-and-play, networked media server with a little bit more juice than the Apple TV--a place for all the movies, music, and pictures that you want to share with everybody in the household whether it be on your computer, your iPhone, or even your TV.
Video in focus: A new hardware device is all well and good, but what's the point without content? While Apple's got an iron grip on digital music, video is fundamentally different, and the company's digital-video efforts still need some work. We'll finally see a video subscription service from Cupertino, or at least a partnership with other content vendors like Netflix and Hulu that brings us streaming, ad-supported video. It's going to take some shaking up for digital video to really hit the big time, but if anyone can do it, it's Apple.
Apple marches on: Here's one thing you can put money on: Even though Steve Jobs may not be giving the Macworld keynote this year and Apple's pulled out of future Expos, the company's not about to sit back and take it easy. I'm betting that Apple releases at least one product this year that will make us all think twice about how we interact with technology. And heck, Steve Jobs will probably even introduce it himself.
John Moltz, ApocaTips Web site editor in chief
Jobs moves on: In May, Steve Jobs will step down as Apple CEO in order to pursue his true passion: collecting those little glass poodles they sell in the mall. Replacing him will be the only person with the drive and stature necessary to do the job: Batman. In June, however, Jobs will apply for a retail position at an Apple Store, having realized that the company will continue to pay for the operation of his personal airplane only if he's still employed there.
A tablet. Really. I predicted this last year, but this year, for sure, Apple will release a tablet device. Maybe late this year. Totally. I'm positive about it this time. You can take this to the bank. 100% foolproof prediction. Seriously, my trick knee never lies. Featuring functionality, price, and size somewhere between the iPhone and the MacBook, the tablet will be cool but also, sadly, the last harbinger of the coming of the apocalypse as predicted by Nostradamus in 1560. So you'll want to pick one up early.
Apple branches out: Apple will take advantage of the tough economic times by buying up vacant big-box electronic retail outlets and turning them into low-cost modular apartments. Having a literally captive audience will send Apple's market share skyrocketing. When the economy gets even worse, Apple will respond by introducing "iSoup," a delicious and stylish nutritional supplement made of ground glass and aluminum. People will line up around the block for it.
This story, "2009 Predictions: Macworld's Annual Forecast" was originally published by Macworld.