Macworld is around the corner, and that always means new products will be announced and pundits are trying to predict them before they’re out, based on the tiny bit of information that has trickled out of Apple. Here are my predictions:
* The iPhone development kit. This is a no-brainer. I predict that this will be open to all developers, as they can’t NOT do this because every other smartphone (Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Sidekick, the Nokia OS) is open enough to allow anyone to write apps. Select developers will be able to place their applications in the iTunes store, meaning there’s lots of exposure, easy monetization, and I’m going to say that these iTunes-partner-apps probably have more low-level access to the underlying OS. This will make them more powerful than other apps, and makes Apple happy because they have more oversight. Homebrew developer apps will be more limited and will have to be downloaded from developer websites. Because they will not be in the “walled garden” of iTunes, developers are left to figure out their own purchase methods and ways to attract attention.
* New iPhone firmware to support the development kit. We’ve seen a leaked version of firmware recently with nice faux-GPS support from Google Maps. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that that was incomplete firmware and that the official release will also tie in the Back-To-My-Mac, bringing the iPhone, Leopard, and .Mac all into the same party. You’ll be able to access your home machine from anywhere with a cellphone connection (if you bought Leopard and are subscribed to .Mac, of course.) The connection will be mostly read-only. It will leverage the built-in reader (that can read PDF, Word, Excel, and other documents) so that you can read them while out.
* Everyone has been talking about either a tablet PC (an iPhone on steroids) or a Flash-memory based (i.e. non-hard-drive) MacBook. There have been patents surfacing about a way to dock a notebook into/behind the screen of an iMac. I can’t see them making a pure tablet PC, as that’s useful to a very few number of people. The iPhone is great for consuming content, but the folks that want something larger also want to create content, and for that you need a decent keyboard. My initial thought is that we’ll get an ultra-thin convertible laptop/tablet with an iMac-like docking station for the optical drive, full keyboard, printer, and such. You can run it as a laptop, or you can flip the screen around and close it to be a tablet. I’m going to say that it’s NOT touch-screen and that the convertible mode is simply for docking (and perhaps eBook-like functionality with accompanying buttons.) If it does happen to be touch-screen, it won’t be multi-touch because the OS and iApps are not quite there yet, and I’m not sure that the multitouch screens in larger sizes are cost effective quite yet for consumer products.
* My next thought is that, no, that doesn’t quite feel entirely Apple-like. It’s a little too derivative. What I can see them doing is coming out with a new iMac in which you can remove the screen and carry it around the house. It’s a tablet, sort of, but in the same way an X Terminal was a PC back in the day. All of the smarts (CPU and memory), the hard drive, and everything else is back at the base station. The screen is a remote-control window into what the computer’s doing. Of course, it will have a touch-screen for basic data entry: buttons, scroll bars, an on-screen keyboard. It’ll talk over WiFi. It’ll have enough smarts in it to connect via WiFi to the internet (whether it’s in your house or at a coffee shop doing the Back-To-My-Mac thing) and connect to your base station. If it can’t connect to your base station PC for some reason (connection down or power out at home, for instance), it provides some limited applications on its own: web browsing, RSS, widgets, that kind of thing: enough to browse the web and get some work done with Google Apps. This ties together Leopard, its screen sharing, its Back-To-My-Mac, and the portability and convenience of having a couch surfing “laptop” to have at hand while watching TV (“What else was that guy in? I’ll look it up on IMDB”) or as morning blog reading over breakfast.
* On second thought, nahhh… neither of these two tablet-like products quite seem like something Apple would make. The first one seems a bit too dumb. The second limits what you can do by your bandwidth: you can browse the web and work with documents, but how great will the performance be when trying to play a video file?
So really, I can predict the things we KNOW will happen: iPhone apps and firmware. I have no idea about this whole tablet/laptop/whatever thing.