MacWorld 2007 Predictions: Apple No Longer Just a Computer Maker

UPDATE: Keynote is over… notes below. Additional post coming soon.

“I need the simplest phone you can produce, I need it to run WebKit, and oh yeah, I’m going to need a big “Apple” button in the middle of it.”

That’s how I believe the conversation started between Steve Jobs and the president of the handset manufacturer who will be proudly appearing with Jobs on stage at next week’s MacWorld Expo.

Well, that may be how the conversation started, but it certainly didn’t end that way. We got a whopper of a phone.

The 2007 MacWorld Expo is the most anticipated Steve Jobs appearance in years and for good reason. I have it on good word from trusted friends close to the situation that this one is going to be special. Really, really special. So don’t gear yourself up for a letdown, because it ain’t gonna happen. You might not get all 100 of the products you’ve been speculating about, but what you *will* get will be really, really good.

Yep, not disappointing at all. Best MacWorld ever.

The world clearly doesn’t need another post speculating what will be announced but I’m going to do one anyway. I claim no detailed inside information, no clairvoyance, and no 100% certainty. These are speculative statements, just like all MacWorld predictions.

iTheater

While most people are occupied with thoughts of an Apple phone, the one thing I’m most confident about is that this year’s MacWorld will be largely dominated by the big screen. I expect a full Netflix/Blockbuster killer here and I expect at least one, but probably all of the major studios to already be on board or close to it. iTheater will likely be available as an add-on box for your current TV and also possibly integrated into an Apple-branded, Samsung (or Sony) manufactured LCD TV… probably in two sizes: 37-inch and 50-inch (or thereabouts). Most of the world’s plasmas and LCDs are already made in only a handful of factories so slapping an Apple casing and some extras on shouldn’t be overly difficult.

iTheater will be dead-simple to use, and initially it will only do two things: download movies for $5 and play them. The DRM scheme will be simple: three plays or three months… whichever comes sooner.

iTheater will eventually pull down video from all sorts of places, most notably Google Video, and by extension, YouTube… but for now, the proposition must remain simple: forget Netflix and Blockbuster… iTheater is where you should rent your movies. I also expect live and recorded concerts to be a part of this offering shortly. Remember, Steve Jobs doesn’t hate the TV as a medium… he just hates the TV ecosystem.

Partially correct on this one. No integrated TV sets or one-click downloading (yet), but Disney and Paramount are now signed up and more studios will follow. I think Apple TV is a good start and not too different than what people were expecting, but it didn’t blow me away. I will not be buying one until it solves a real world problem for me. I was also wrong that the big screen would dominate the show… the little screen clearly dominated.

MobileMe

This is the phone we’ve all been waiting for. It may not be as mature as we’d like it to be, but it will be a fascinating start. In listening to Dan Benjamin’s podcast with John Gruber, I noticed that the majority of their skepticism around an Apple phone revolved around the problem of keeping it quiet. While Dan and John both think an Apple phone may be announced, they had a hard time believing there haven’t really been any solid leaks yet given the extraordinary amount of non-Apple people that must be involved in such a thing (e.g. your carriers, your hardware manufacturers, etc.). While I think this is a valid concern, look again at the first sentence of this blog post. If Apple were to make a phone, there is a sliding scale of how many non-Apple people they could involve.

The end-all, be-all phone with every feature under the sun might involve the help of many external resources. But imagine the other end of the scale for a moment: what if you could pack all data capability into one lightweight framework? A framework that supports http data transfer, html, javascript, cookies, and the rest of the toolbox we seem to rely on for all of our data needs these days? Oh wait, you already can. It’s called WebKit and it’s been embedded in many Nokia phones for several months now. It’s the same engine that powers one of the best browsers in the world: Safari. Has anyone ever used the WebKit browser on Nokia phones? It’s the best mobile browser I’ve ever used.

So if Apple confined 90% of their data features to a simple instance of WebKit, what sorts of things could they provide in an easily accessible way via the default start page (something like mobile.apple.com) that would come up every time you hit the Apple button? Google Maps with Live Traffic. Access to your contacts stored on .Mac. Access to your email (anyone notice the nice new web interface to .Mac mail?). Select video clips. Google searches. Wikipedia searches. What else do you really need? It’s all available in HTML these days and with a little server-side simplification, it can be made to look really pretty via Mobile WebKit.

It’s possible the integration goes deeper, but under the scenario I just described, Apple needs very little help from anyone. Just a simple handset with an Apple button that launches WebKit. This will be the Expo where WebKit goes primetime and busts out of the browser. In the phone, in the iTheater, and in whatever other devices Apple may come out with.

The words to express exactly how significant this device is cannot be contained in one update box. There will be a separate post on it. Simply put: best electronic device ever, and I haven’t even used it yet. I was correct in that it appears to make heavy use of WebKit and other existing Apple web technologies, but incorrect in that it’s a flat out jawdropper of a device, complete with OS X and deep integration with the wireless carrier. I guess people outside of Apple *can* keep a secret. A big part of this is because Apple really was able to leverage most of their own technologies and simply provide Cingular with a spec for what *they* needed to do in order to support it.

Leopard

Expect plenty of Vista bashing here. When Leopard was first unveiled, we were told “many” of its features would be revealed at a later date, so expect a few biggies to be shown off. I’d love to see built-in virtualization, but for some reason Apple is still pushing the whole Boot Camp approach. I tend to think Boot Camp is more proof-of-concept than anything else, and virtualization is really what 95% of users will care about and use (if they must). I’d love to see some implementation of Jef Raskin’s “interfaceless interface” principles in Leopard as well. For instance, if you sit down at the computer and start typing “59 x 20”, the calculator should just automatically pop up and compute it for you. Same thing if you type something like “Dear John”; your word processor should pop up and begin a well-formed letter. Who knows what else Leopard will hold, but I expect several more showstoppers.

Nothing on Leopard, unfortunately, although we did see some Raskin-esque interface principals on display in the phone.

Laptops

I think the only thing we’ll see on this front are new MacBookPros. The MacBookPros, to me, are a poor value proposition compared to MacBooks right now and that situation is bound to change soon. If not here, then a few months down the road. I expect subtly new cases and I hope a new subnotebook species.

No new laptops. I still expect an update shortly.

iPods

The only new iPods I can see coming out are video iPods with a different form factor and bigger screen. I don’t know how well the current video iPods are selling, but they are the only model that I never really hear anybody talking about. Revision one seems far from perfect to me and an update here would be nice. A touch-screen could also be included on these units.

No new iPods but does anyone even care anymore now that they’ve seen the video capabilities of the iPhone?

Blu-Ray

If Apple hasn’t already internally jumped off of the Blu-Ray bandwagon, they have to be thinking about it. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are in a battle for hearts and minds right now and a lot of people I’ve talked to, including Danny over at Mavromatic, think Sony is losing the battle so far. Apple did Sony a huge favor by supporting Blu-Ray early on, but things may have shifted since then. I wonder, in fact, how the latest discussions between Steve Jobs and Sony have gone:

Sony: “Hey Steve, how’s the weather in Cupertino! We’re still on for co-branding those 50 inch Sony LCDs, right?”

Jobs: “Can you guarantee me they won’t catch fire like those laptop batteries you sold us?”

Sony: “Hee hee! Sorry about that! Yeah, these aren’t battery powered. We’re still on for Blu-Ray, right?”

Jobs: “We don’t comment on future product announcements.”

Caveat: I’m not a good person to ask about the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD debate. I think by the time it’s all decided, we’ll be doing most of our stuff over IP anyway.

Nothing here either. Not surprising. The DVD format wars are a buzzkill.

Mystery Google Integration

I expect Apple’s increasingly cozy relationship to Google to get even cozier at this year’s Expo. Maps on the Apple phone would be one possible integration point, as well as maybe something on the video front. Vague, I know… but it’s hard for me to believe the two companies haven’t been working behind the scenes on *something* lately.

Correct on this. Eric Schmidt got on stage to explain how many of the iPhone’s search and mapping technologies were co-developed with Google. Location-aware Google Maps… money!

iMac

Don’t care… they are already cool enough.

Nothing. Who cares.

PowerMacs

Don’t care… they are already overkill for everything except video editing.

Nothing. Who cares.

Wrap Up

When you give detailed predictions about things, you’re bound to be wrong on at least some counts, but one thing I’m fairly sure of is that 2007 will be the year that Apple starts to shed its image as a high-end computer company. To some extent, they’ve already accomplished this with the iPod, but the next wave of product releases — encompassing things like phones, living room technology, and possibly another gadget we aren’t even expecting — will begin to move Apple out of the high-end computer zone and into the digital lifestyle zone. They’ve already mentioned this shift before, but my feeling is that next week is when it really comes together.

All in all, the iPhone stole the show like no other Apple device ever has. My last paragraph here, along with the very title of the blog post was underscored by Jobs’ final announcement of the day: Apple Computer is no longer Apple Computer. They are “Apple, Inc.”. I actually almost penned this as a prediction as well, believe it or not… but I didn’t, so no credit. All in all, the predictions were a mixed bag. But more important than that, we got a great show.
31 comments on “MacWorld 2007 Predictions: Apple No Longer Just a Computer Maker”. Leave your own?
  1. Steve says:

    Great predictions Mike – looks like it’s going to be a happy new year after all!

    Will you be attending the expo to give us a first hand account of what went down?

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Damn, I’m stoked for this years expo. I mean, every year I am but with the big ad front and center on apple.com hyping it I’m having a tough time not being even *more* excited.

  3. Tomas Jogin says:

    Gutsy predictions. :-P

    I personally have doubts about the iPhone/whatever. It’s hyped, sure, but Apple hasn’t indicated that they want to move into that space. And, as Dan Benjamin and John Gruber said, they’d have to offer the entire top-to-bottom deal, which would be a ginormous undertaking, just to improve the user interface of a mobile phone. I doubt it.

    Also, I think most of the new stuff is going to be constumer related, not pro-related, given that it is MacWorld Expo, not WWDC.

    I think you might be on to something about iTheater though. Although, I’m not sure the US has the broadband infrastructure to make it a reality (unlike, say, Sweden where just about everybody has 20-100 mbps). So that might be too early to be practically possible.

  4. Chris Kelly says:

    you had me at “don’t gear yourself up for disappointment” ;)

    I’m seriously hoping for updated MacBook Pros, because I’m buying one next Tuesday whether or not they get updated or not. My 667Mhz TiBook has reached the end of its useful life…

  5. Sage says:

    PowerMac? What’s a PowerMac? ;-)

    (Hint: They have a new name!)

  6. Austin says:

    Same thing if you type something like “Dear John”; your word processor should pop up and begin a well-formed letter.

    I think Word (at least on Windows) already does this, no? It’s been a while since I’ve used it, but I remember typing Dear So-and-so, and it popped up something like “it looks like you’re writing a letter! Can I format this as such?”

  7. Mike D. says:

    Steve: Nope, unfortunately I won’t be there. Some friends will though. Jealous!!!

    Tomas: Yep, definitely gutsy… but who wants another round of vague, vanilla predictions. I could very easily be 100% wrong about everything… we’ll see.

    Sage: Ah yes, you’re right. “Mac Pro” is it? Shows how much I care about that pro desktop line these days.

    Austin: Yeah, Word does this, but I’m talking about on any OS level. So you could literally just sit down in front of an OS with no applications open and start typing. Call it an “intention-aware” OS maybe.

  8. Willi says:

    I’m very curious to see if there is an acknowledgement of the problems surfacing in the Blu-Ray format. That would be huge imo – I’m not sure Sony could recover their format in the home theater market.

    The major studios we work with have shifted their attitudes towards BD in the past few months. One source even *claiming* that for future releases requiring advanced types of interactive features will not be released on both formats, instead they will only be released on HD-DVD. What’s winning the format war to date is the difference in advanced navigation frameworks of HDi (HD-DVD/Microsoft) and BD-Java (BD/Sun). Being initially biased towards the Java implementation, I quickly gravitated towards HDi (a mix of JScript, XML, SMIL, CSS3 and Markup).

    I think the biggest sign for me was not too long ago when I read an interview with Don Eklund (Executive Vice President of Advanced Technologies, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). Specifically this part:

    “Another criticism of Blu-ray has been that it is also lagging behind HD DVD in terms of basic interactivity, such as the bookmark feature Warner has introduced on its HD DVD titles.

    DE: We can do bookmarks and those kinds of interactive features with a Java-based disc. That’s not difficult to do. We have not actually found that there is a sizable consumer interest in the function, though.”
    source: http://bluray.highdefdigest.com/feature_visitwithsony.html

    Yet at the same time all our clients (the studios) are asking for more and more interactive features. That’s a telling contradiction to what Eklund is saying. Make your own conclusions on why he said it ;)

  9. Willi says:

    I chewed on it a bit, and before I conclude that you’re wrong about iTheater being a Netflix/Blockbuster killer . . .

    I’m curious to hear your reasoning.

    I mean, unless Apple has fixed the broadband issue then my turnaround time with Netflix is about the same as my download time for a viewing experience of equal quality. Not an entire exageration when you consider HD quality.

  10. Daniel says:

    As someone testing Leopard, I still think it has a long time of development left before we see a rock solid OS X, ready for public consumption.

    iPhone: unless they have teamed up with a proved phone maker, a.k.a Nokia, then it could suffer the same issues that the Motorola had with their interface.

    Would be cool though

  11. Mike D. says:

    Willi: Good thoughts. My reasoning really doesn’t include high def DVDs as I believe probably 99% of Netflix/Blockbuster customers are not renting this sort of disc. Most are renting standard 480p discs which, these days, can be compressed down to a few hundred megs with no serious degradation. I can download 500 megs in a few hours, and if I either pre-schedule or pre-buffer-and-stream, I likely won’t even notice this time period.

    Like I said… I could be wrong. Perhaps the timing isn’t right yet, but I think with standard DVD quality as the benchmark, it’s feasible today.

  12. Dan Benjamin says:

    John and I discussed the Apple-branded TV in part 2 of my interview with him. It’s not online yet (I’m working on it right now) but you’ll be able to download it soon (podcast feed url).

  13. Josh says:

    There’s always the VOIP option. The macalope alterted me to a pretty credible argument from Aaron Adams.

  14. Willi says:

    I can agree with that reasoning. I’m so submerged in the HD technology now that I’m definitely in the less than 1% renting HD-DVDs from Netflix.

    And of the DVDs I rent (about 4 per week), I average about .75 HD-DVDs a week. So the percentage of overall HD rentals is probably less than .01%.

    I’m certainly not a Mac geek by any means, but am pretty excited to see what is revealed next week. Both from a business perspective and a consumer.

  15. Devon Shaw says:

    Well that’s an interesting synopsis to boldly predict Apple’s entry into the mobile market. I love the concept (and admittedly didn’t know about WebKit on Nokia), but remain highly skeptical because Apple Mobile rumors have gone from conception to predicting a newborn baby by analysts alone, and the company itself hasn’t even admitted it’s pregnant in the first place. But then again, such things have happened before.

    My own list (as originally posted on TUAW a week ago) is as follows:

    1. iLife + iWork Updates
    2. Leopard ship date + more “wow” features unveiled
    3. Cinema Display refresh
    4. MacBook Pro ultraportable introduction
    5. Pro App refresh including Final Cut and Logic
    6. 8-Core Mac Pro

    1 and 2 are givens. We’ve known about them for quite some time and they’re overdue. Ditto for #3, although I love your discussion regarding iTheater… because these could easily become mutually exclusive predictions. It’s entirely possible that Apple isn’t simply planning to update their current display platform — but that they become full-fledged multipurpose monitor, TV and streaming device. The higher-end sizes you referred to would round out the entire line nicely.

    4 is a bit of wishful thinking on my part. An ultraportable MacBook Pro hasn’t gotten much traction in the rumor mills, but I like the idea a lot and believe the niche is there to fill. I know oodles of people who fell in love with the 12″ PowerBook and swear by it while traveling frequently, and it would make sense to offer a thinner, lighter alternative. This could be the infamous “One More Thing.”

    Based on my own industry whisperings, I’ve been told firsthand by many people confirming — the idea but not the precise timing of — a major, major update to Logic Pro. This makes sense — it’s been two years since version 7 and a year since 7.2 offered Universal functionality. The general consensus is that the new updates focus around far better workflow, and I’ve gotten slightly less confirmation that Final Cut is overdue for some attention. And with recent acquisitions of video tool outfits Proximity and Silicon Color, there’s some potentially huge leaps and bounds made. The entire pro line has nothing but promise.

    I don’t completely buy the 8-core Mac Pro as an entry at this time with the 4-core Woodcrest mopping the floor with everything in its path, but since the Intel transition Apple has maintained a regular refresh to compete with similar PC-based chipsets, and I think this trend will continue.

    Just my 2 cents, for whatever it’s worth.

  16. Daniel says:

    Devon,

    I agree with you on Logic, I use it on a daily basis and it’s in need of a refresh now. As for the mac book pro’s, i WISH apple would sort out the issues with disk I/O.

    Im a photographer and damn, the machine cannot handle my workflow, due to the file size. Granted this isn’t a Apple only problem, but maybe this is somewhere they can do something to really make it a portable creative machine.

    wishful thinking tho :p

  17. Chris says:

    I really hope you’re wrong about an Apple co-branded LCD. Or, if you’re not wrong, that the iTheater can plug into my shiny new Samsung LCD I just got for Christmas. It would stab me in the heart to have waited so long to get my first HDTV only to have Apple introduce the HDTV ecosystem of my dreams without me being able to get it to work with my very expensive new toy.

    The Apple phone would be a drop in the bucket for me. As long as it’s less than $500 I’ll buy one they day they’re for sale. The mobile market, and more importantly, the mobile software out there today is just awful. Someone with excellent UI experience such as Apple needs to completely break down the walls. This act of buying a branded phone with all of the features disabled because the carriers are extortionists is insane.

  18. Greg P. says:

    iTheatre, iTV, what ever it is called – I am buying one. I wonder how much it will deviate from their sneak peak they gave last time around.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITV_(Apple)

  19. Rachel Faith says:

    Wow Mike, good stuff here…. I am still disappointed that no one has (so I will) bring up an iTablet… Common Apple… yer late to the game here.

  20. Patrick says:

    Excellent! I hope you’re right about some of this stuff. I made my predictions earlier, today I decided to go with a wishlist instead. There are some similarities…

    http://www.applemorphic.com/2007/01/07/no-more-macworld-2007-predictions/

  21. RobK says:

    This is the first MacWorld prediction post that has me truly excited to go to MacWorld. Nice, well-reasoned ideas.

    Thanks. It’s nice to read something other than the usual If-they-don’t-release-an-iCoffee-maker-I’ll-sell-my-iPod drool.

  22. Fred says:

    I also believe it has something to do with Television/Movie watching experience. Apple store rep recently mentioned options regarding the Apple remote and recording/playing shows over a network. I think that is Apple’s next direction. Should be interesting.

  23. Jason says:

    You called it. Say good-bye Apple Computer, Inc. Say hello Apple, Inc.

  24. Ruben says:

    Shares are up $10 since the backdating announcement 2 weeks ago. Unbelievable swing, better than anyone could have hoped.

  25. Chad Edge says:

    Apple Inc. Interesting, seeing as how Jobs played the Beatles on the phone. I wonder if they’ve made an agreement to sell the music. I’d be hard-pressed to assume Jobs would play any music on stage that wasn’t available online through the iTunes music store.

    I’m in training today so I can’t launch iTunes to see if the Beatles are online. The Apple (records) site says squat.

  26. Willi says:

    I was reading the specs for iTV and getting pretty excited. I almost bought one and was thinking, “Mike was right – this is a Netflix killer!”

    Then I fired up iTunes (which I never use since I got my Sonos system), and looked up a couple movies and was instantly shocked by the price.

    If I were to match my current Netflix queue (5 out at a time) with an iTunes movie purchase I would be out $49.95-74.95! For that amount I can get dozens and dozens of movies from Netflix.

    I tried to match my current Netflix queue to get an accurate cost however non of the titles at the top of my queue are offered by iTunes.

    So on one hand I’m pretty excited about this appliance (and would love to buy one today), on the other hand *today* it doesn’t offer value anywhere near Netflix or Blockbuster. Not even close. Right?

    I’ll be curious to see how iTV improves to compete over the next 12 months.

  27. joel says:

    No new iPods but does anyone even care anymore now that they’ve seen the video capabilities of the iPhone?

    In a word – yes. There are a lot of people out there who just want the next version ipod, more storage, in a larger, and wider, 16:9 screen. I admit that this iPhone is some hot shit, but for those of us who want the ipod and video capabilities in the phone we’re sort of left sitting around with our faces 2″ from the latest gen ipod video.

    I’m impressed, but still disappointed. I wanted “The True iPod Video” and I wanted it now.

    Oh well. Too bad, I suppose :-/.

  28. Overclocked says:

    What’s the Big Surprise from Apple?

    With Macworld kicking off in San Francisco and CES opening up in Vegas, intrigue surrounds what exactly Steve Jobs has up his sleeve. The Apple homepage boldly proclaims “The first 30 years were just the beginning. Welcome to 2007.” Scoble …

  29. […] own Mike Davidson offers his contribution to the ever-burgeoning number of Macworld predictions, and I have to say […]

  30. […] predicted last January that Apple TV would be released but that its killer feature would be download-to-rent movies. The […]

  31. […] own Mike Davidson offers his contribution to the ever-burgeoning number of Macworld predictions, and I have to say […]

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