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

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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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