MacWorld 2007 Predictions: Apple No Longer Just a Computer Maker
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t care… they are already cool enough.
Don’t care… they are already overkill for everything except video editing.
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.