I’ve just received my invitation to an Apple event on September the first. Sure, I sent myself the invitation, modeled after what real reporters surely received, but as fake as the invitation is, the event is real and I’m psyched, Unlike some past events (iPod HiFi, Macbook Air) that even the reality distortion field could not fix, it seems like there’s probably some cool stuff in the pipes this time. I could be completely wrong of course, and this could be the event where they announce that they’re putting Windows on all their new Macs and firing Steve again. With tightly crossed fingers, here are my predictions/hopes for what His Steveness will deliver unto us a week from today.
The iTVBoxPod (pending title)
The rumor of an iOS-based set top box has reached the point where it’s pretty much inevitable (a la iPhone and iPad). It makes sense, Apple’s putting the majority of its eggs in the App Store basket, and it’s clear that developers are willing to make their apps work across multiple platforms (Note that when the iPad was announced Apple touted its ability to run iPhone apps heavily, now it’s barely mentioned. It seems that developers may have beat Apple’s expectations.)
Why wouldn’t Apple take their thriving platform and allow it to compete with even more devices? An A4 powered set top box doesn’t just rival the Roku box and the TiVo, it rivals the Wii, and arguably even full-fledged power-consoles like the XBox and the PS3. Apple’s iOS devices have already had a large and highly profitable impact on the mobile gaming market, they could work wonders in the console gaming market.
By the way, I’m 99% sure that this new box will not be called the iTV. That was the name of the AppleTV upon its announcement, but Apple quickly changed it before release (probably due to a very valid trademark violation of the British TV network of the same name). They’re not gonna try again. And, let’s remember, the rumors are hardly ever right about the actual name of the product. The name ‘iPad’ wasn’t even really thrown around until it appeared above Steve Jobs’ quickly expanding forehead last January.
The one thing this new TV box thing won’t do is act as a tuner and DVR. Getting cable providers to support these boxes has proven to be nearly impossible, and has given hell to companies like TiVo. Not to mention that Apple has no interest in the old medium of one-way television (other than advertising), they’ve got iTunes and the internet. It’s beginning to matter less and less, though. A lot of TV networks already have apps that can stream their shows to iOS devices (Hulu Plus, ABC Player, and Netflix are three that come to mind in the US), with a simple port you could access mountains of on-demand TV on the cheap.
As I was listing the TV streaming options currently available on iOS, I realized that none of them are perfect, or even close. Hulu only has recent episodes of shows, Netflix only has older seasons, ABC only has ABC shows, etc. (obviously these are all US examples, but from what I’ve heard it’s not any better internationally, let me know in the comments). Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could make just one service that had everything I wanted, and make it easy and user-friendly? Something that works across all my devices, on the go, on the desktop, on the TV, etc. Gee wiz, that sounds a lot like something Apple would do, doesn’t it?
Apple was the first to get all of the major movie studios to sign on to digital distribution, and their existing TV episode store has an enormous (though very expensive) catalog of shows. If anybody can negotiate deals to get everybody on board at a reasonable price, it’s Steve Jobs, and he’s got the infrastructure, the talent (remember Apple’s LaLa purchase?), and the motivation. Why wouldn’t they? A monthly subscription service with access to new releases and older TV episodes would make the Apple TV 4.0 the ultimate set top box. At that point it wouldn’t even matter that it doesn’t have a tuner, it’s got WiFi!
iPod Touch – Reloaded
This is a fairly safe prediction, Apple has updated the iPod Touch around this time every year. The details of what this fourth gen Touch will do are a little more foggy. The iPod Touch has traditionally been sold as the “lite version” of the iPhone, keeping up with the core of the iPhone hardware, but lagging far behind in features (Apple does this intentionally, of course, as they make a lot more money on the iPhone). The new iPod Touch has got to have a camera though, even if it’s only front-facing, otherwise Facetime might fade into oblivion as something that was unfeasibly expensive. An A4 processor and some more memory are also fairly likely, along with an internal gyroscope.
So what will it lack? Well first of all, though it will probably have a new design, it won’t look like an iPhone 4. Apple uses design to distinguish product lines and create an incentive to go with a more expensive option – that’s why MacBooks are plastic and Macbook Pros are aluminum. It may adopt the iPhone 4′s flat back design, but it’ll probably maintain the shiny aluminum material that it’s been wrapped in since it’s introduction. I’m also betting that it will lack Apple’s spiffy new Retina Display, especially since they are rumored to be in short supply. Apple won’t make it just an iPhone without the phone, they’d lose money, so instead they will intentionally cripple it. In the past they’ve done this by leaving out the camera, but I don’t think they can afford to do that any more. Installing a lesser screen would be the perfect way to do that in this next generation.
iOS 4 iPad
Get it, that was a texting-inspired play on words. Tough crowd. During Apple’s last announcement they didn’t even mention the iPad except to brag about how well it’s selling, and to say that it would be getting iOS 4 “Sometime in the fall”. Well, September 1st marks the beginning of Fall to many people, and though Apple isn’t known to hit the beginning of their release windows, it’s very possible that they’re at least ready to show off the iPad’s new digs. Basically, Multitasking and Folders, along with general improvements across all of Apple’s apps, and maybe a couple of brand new features too (the ability to put multiple iPhone apps on the screen at once, maybe?)
To be clear, I’m not saying the iPad will get new hardware. Unlike Macs, Apple has a very reliable pattern with their mobile devices: they get updated exactly once a year. The iPad just came out five months ago, it was announced just over seven months ago, it just wouldn’t make sense for them to update it yet. If the hardware were to get updated along with the software it would be minor: A Facetime camera and maybe more memory.
iLife hasn’t been updated in over a year and a half (iLife ’09 came out just days into its namesake year, 2009), and it’s starting to look forlorn, along with the rest of the Mac platform. Generally the early-fall events are dedicated to iPods, not Macs, although iLife ’08 came out around this time three years ago, so it’s a possibility. It’s always hard to predict where Apple’s going with iLife, but you can bet there will be a much bigger focus on the internet: sharing media, storing things in the cloud, etc. iLife ’11 may also come with some companion apps for iOS devices (iMovie has already made the jump). A full-featured version of GarageBand is probably too heavy for an iPhone or an iPad, but we might see apps that let you twiddle audio unit knobs on your multitouch screens, or even note down beats on the go (do people still talk like that?)
An aside, iMovie ’09 is the best NLE (That’s NoneLinear video Editor to you normal people) I’ve ever used, especially since it can export Final Cut Pro projects for those times when you need a little more power. All Apple needs to do is give iMovie ’11 a plugin architecture, so developers can add new features to it, and it will seriously rival hundred-dollar video editors.
Mac OS 10.7 (Liger kitty?)
This one is even less likely, but long overdue. Apple has been focusing very very heavily on iOS for the past couple of years, the last major update to OSX came out before iOS was anything more than a rumor to the public (I don’t really count Snow Leopard as major). Windows 7 is seen by many to be a surprisingly decent operating system, and though I still find OS X to be far superior, your general non-geek consumer might not see that as strongly anymore.
Apple knows that the future is in smaller, more personable and interactive devices, such as the iPhone and the iPad, but this isn’t the future yet. If they’re smart, and they are, they’ll continue to put effort into OS X for at least a few more years (although the feature set of Snow Leopard does sort of indicate that they’re trying to get as much milage out of this iteration as possible).
And that about sums it up. Obviously, not all of this stuff will happen. I’ll be lucky if one or two of these things are announced, and if either of them even remotely resemble what I predicted. So prepare for some cool stuff, but also a disappointing lack of more stuff. Seeya in a week.
Keaton’s Post-Event Addendum - To me there were 3 big surprises today, the first of which being the multitouch Nano. The old nano seemed like a really solid product; the form factor it had worked very well, it was feature-laden for it’s price, and had a 5 year legacy behind it. This new Nano isn’t so much a Nano as we know it, but more of a screen-toting Shuffle; To me it seems as if Apple’s just abandoned a product line that was it’s most successful just one year ago. In some ways it makes sense, Apple is very forward-thinking, they’re pushing people strongly toward their futuristic flagship line of touch-screen computers instead of trying to save an old legacy. Still, I mourn the loss of the Nano 5.0, and more-so, the loss of the click wheel (yeah, the Classic’s still got it, but how long could that possibly last?)
The next surprise was a pleasant one. The flipside of pushing people towards the Touch is that Apple didn’t hold it’s feature set back this year. Neither Brad Wilkinson or I predicted a retina display on this thing, citing that it would start to infringe on the iPhone’s market, and we were both wrong (thankfully). Also, I alluded that I only expected one camera, and we got 2, so the iPod Touch is now a full HD video camera and editor for only $220 (A Flip Mino costs about that much but takes worse video, if the iPod Touch camera is the same as the iPhone 4′s, and can’t do anything else). Oh, and HDR built into the camera app is a nice touch too, especially when you consider that even $2500 cameras can’t do that in-device. My predicted A4 CPU and Gyroscope seal the deal, this thing is a steal, and barring some sort of WiFi-Antennaegate I think this could be just about the best iPod ever shipped.
Surprise 3 is, again, negative. Sad Face. Why no App Store on the Apple TV? Why, Apple, why? The Apple TV now totes an A4 CPU, which means that it has to run iOS (Its old OS, an OS X Tiger offshoot, only works on Intel and PowerPC CPU’s). It’s got enough hardware in it to stream HD video, so you can’t tell me that it’s not powerful enough to run apps as well, unless Apple really skimped on RAM. The $99 price point is great, but it’d be worth twice that much if the thing could work as a console and a web browser too. The UI is still too laser-focused on streaming media, and the HDMI-Only setup means that if my family wants to get one of these things we’re gonna have to get a whole new TV with it. The Netflix touch is nice, but with an App Store developers could have taken it beyond Netflix (lookin’ at you, Hulu). I hope that this thing can be jailbroken, and that maybe Apple can stick an App Store in a future version of its software (a la iPhone 1), because then it’d be a killer device as an even more killer price. Until then, imagine me giving a thumbs down and making a farting sound.
Oh, and then there’s iTunes 10. I haven’t tried it yet due to some, I dunno, server problems or something over in Cupertino. The new features, notably iTunes Ping, look very neat. Speaking of looking neat, the app itself does not. The new icon breaks the cardinal rule of icon design: Never make a circular (or rectangular) icon, it makes the app harder to spot. In OS X, the classic ‘traffic light’ window controls are arranged vertically, which arguably violates Apple’s own Human Interface Guidelines. iTunes itself has some real problems that still need fixing, notably the fact that it was never designed to sync with devices that can download content on their own, it often assumes that it can delete some downloaded content off of my iPhone, which is really quite terrible right before a long road trip, or ever really. This update isn’t the complete rewrite that iTunes really needs, and as a result, I’m giving it another fart-filled thumbs down.
Also, new shuffle, no new classic. No surprises there. Kind of boring really. Oh, but Chris Martin is pretty cool, especially in admitting that the only reason his song Viva La Vida sold so well was because Apple promoted it heavily in an iPod ad. This is Coldplay we’re talking about, not some previously unheard of band like The Asteroids Galaxy Tour or the Ting Tings. As he says “You guys (Apple Marketing) can sell anything!”.