Fearless nonpredictions

For some reason, as the world marks the end of one year and the beginning of another, otherwise intelligent people start thinking they can predict the future. While everyone else is munching on turkey and overdosing on eggnog, pundits read tea leaves and make pronouncements of what’s to come. It’s silly, really. So why do we do it?

Things to come

As you may have noticed from our cover, in this month’s issue we attempt to identify ten technology trends that will have the biggest impact on Mac users in 2007 (see page 50). We aren’t trying to be fortune tellers. We aren’t foolish enough to try and predict what Apple will announce in 2007. Rather, our intent is to talk to the experts in the field about the prevailing winds in the Mac marketplace and how they’ll change what we buy over the next 12 to 18 months.

For example, frequent Macworld contributor Glenn Fleishman is one of the most respected people around when it comes to covering wireless networking. As he describes in this issue, faster wireless networking is on the horizon, as is a future with Wi-Fi chips embedded in just about every home electronics device you can think of.

The year of digital entertainment?

For years, the joke about faster Wi-Fi has been that nobody really needs it: the speed of a standard home cable or a DSL data connection is slower than even the slowest Wi-Fi, so faster Wi-Fi won’t help when it comes to sharing a Net connection. But when you start talking about using Wi-Fi to distribute digital entertainment within the house, the laughter stops. Wi-Fi will need to be much more robust if it’s going to stream multiple video files (some in high definition) to multiple TVs.

Apple’s preview of its set-top entertainment box, code-named iTV, gives us a good idea of where Apple’s going in 2007: the living room. But without faster, more reliable Wi-Fi connections, Apple’s going to have a hard time convincing people to ditch their DVD players and rely on wirelessly streaming videos from their Macs to their TVs instead.

Wi-Fi features prominently in another big issue we’ll see in 2007: the attempt by Microsoft to beat Apple at the iPod game, with the new Zune music player. Desperate not to be written off as the pur-veyor of a larger, clunkier iPod knockoff, Microsoft has imbued the Zune with one feature that current iPods can’t match: support for Wi-Fi.

Of course, right now the Zune’s Wi-Fi support is a sham: it can’t connect to anything except other Zunes, and even then all it can do is transfer a temporary copy of a song from one Zune to another. But the mere presence of Wi-Fi in the Zune—and the release of the Zune itself—should spur Apple on. Even if many of the design decisions that went into the Zune are worthy of derision, the fact remains that Microsoft is challenging Apple. Apple should react to the competition by raising its own game, whether that means adding wireless capabilities to future iPods or continuing to innovate in other ways.

Home or roam?

Another thing I’ll be watching for in 2007 is the increasing convergence of cellular phones and digital entertainment. As phones get smarter, they’re gaining music- and video-playback features that make them competitors to the iPod (see our analysis of Mac-syncing smart phones on page 64). But at the same time, no cell phone has really matched the simplicity and ease of the iPod. Will Apple trump these iPod-usurping phones with an iPod-based phone of its own?

I’d like to tell you the answers to these questions, but wasn’t I just saying something about how trying to predict the future only serves to make you look silly? I don’t doubt that Apple has something up its sleeve. I could even draw up some specifications on the back of a napkin—but it would still be just one man’s fantasy. Since I’m not in charge of making a video iPod or an iPod phone, my napkin’s not really worth much.

What about the Mac? That’s one area where I’m more than happy to make a prediction: 2007 is going to be a fantastic year for Macs. Apple’s success with the iPod has reinvigorated the Mac world, bringing in many new users who have discovered that Apple makes products with a care and class that are seldom found elsewhere. The release of Windows Vista will create some waves, but I doubt it will inspire much enthusiasm. The release of the next Mac OS X, Leopard, will allow Apple to make hay at Vista’s expense, by providing features that will take Microsoft many more years to imitate.

There, I made a prediction. ’Tis the season.

[ What do you think will be big in 2007? What do you think of our predictions? Come on over to the Macworld forums and let me know. ]

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