Now that Apple has announced the iPad (much to our collective relief after months of rumors and hype), we have the brain space to look forward to what else Apple might do in 2010.
It's a good bet that we'll see speed bumps to much of the Mac line, though it seems less likely that 2010 will bring major industrial design changes. iPhone OS 3.2 is a sure thing, and version 4.0 also seems likely, as does a mid-year update to the iPhone and iPod touch hardware. iLife will probably receive a revision as well, though just when during the year that will happen is anyone's guess. It's also easy to predict small updates to Mac OS X, and if we're lucky, the mid-year Worldwide Developers Conference will bring a glimpse of features in the next big cat, itself probably not due until 2011.
That was all blindingly obvious, wasn't it? Most industry predictions are, since they're based largely on past performance. So instead of attempting to predict what we expect Apple to do, we instead want to share a few suggestions of what we'd like to see Apple do this year. And unlike some wishlists, we're doing our best to keep it real - all of these ideas are entirely within Apple's capabilities and, we believe, within the realm of Apple's business direction.
(We have plenty of wishes - from a revamping of Apple's App Store policies to the open sourcing of the Cocoa framework - that stray too far into the realm of fantasy to explore further here.)
Better Home Media Sharing -- Computing and communications devices have long been moving from being shared to being personal. We have our own Macs, our own iPhones, and our own iPods. And Apple certainly wants to encourage that, since it's easier to sell multiple products to a loyal customer than to acquire a new one.
But where Apple has fallen down badly is in acknowledging that certain types of data are shared property, all while paying loud lip service to the concepts of networking and data sharing. From iCal and Address Book to iTunes and iPhoto, sharing data within a family is cumbersome at best, and often read-only. BusyMac's BusySync solves the problem for iCal, and Address Book offers some sharing capabilities for MobileMe users in Snow Leopard, but iTunes and iPhoto remain troublesome, even with the addition of the rather confusing Home Sharing feature in iTunes.
The fact of the matter is that music and photos are absolutely shared property within a household. Nothing - legal or physical - prevents any one of us from playing any of the CDs we've purchased, and nothing prevents any of us from looking at or working with our physical photo albums from the days before digital photography. So why do we have to jump through hoops to do this with our digitized music and photos? Is Apple just kowtowing to the recording industry, and if so, why should that affect iPhoto?
In our ideal 2010, updates to iTunes and iPhoto would give them an interface for creating a centralized data store with the option either to share user-created collections like playlists, ratings, albums, books, cards, and so on, or to keep them separate. Either way, any user should be able to add information to the centralized data store in any way and have it become available to all users.
But we'll go a step further and suggest that Apple could turn this crying need into a profit center as well, by releasing a Media Capsule, a combination of the Apple TV and Time Capsule that would combine Wi-Fi and Ethernet routing, network-attached storage, networked backups, and shared media libraries, with the capability of displaying photos and video on a TV set and playing music through a stereo system. Such a device could include a terabyte of storage for less than $400 given Apple's current Time Capsule and Apple TV pricing.
Another move Apple could make in this direction would be to allow iTunes Store accounts to be collected together into a "family account," much as you can have a master MobileMe account and various sub-accounts. That could potentially eliminate legal concerns surrounding sharing, since users would be agreeing that sharing was purely for personal use.
Family Support in MobileMe -- Continuing the theme, although MobileMe offers a family plan, it's merely an individual account plus four additional family accounts (with reduced storage) at a lower price. MobileMe has improved significantly over the past few years, and Apple is missing a great opportunity to meet the needs of the online-enabled family.
Family coordination has always been a daunting task, and never more so than in this digital age. There are schedules to keep in sync, photos to share, geographically separated grandparents to update, and bodies to track. MobileMe already includes all the core components of a service that would significantly appeal to families.
Calendar sharing is probably the most important element, and is nearly non-existent today. With MobileMe you can currently publish a calendar so others can see it, but you can't share a calendar and allow anyone to change it. There are also no group calendars to allow family members to share common appointments.
Adding calendar sharing and a family group calendar (showing everyone's individual appointments, plus shared ones) would be a huge help in coordinating everyone's doctor appointments and after-school activities. Apple could even add to-do items, so chores could be assigned and marked as done electronically.
Unlike the current calendar publishing, Apple should also make shared calendars secure and accessible only to invited members, and continue to allow people to mark their own events as private, since we all need a little break from the family sometimes.
Aside from calendars, there are a number of other family-friendly features Apple could add to MobileMe with various degrees of effort. A family mailing list might make a nice replacement for notes stuck on refrigerators or stuffed in lunchboxes. Enhancements to Find My iPhone could allow parents to keep track of a distributed family (and help sell a few more iPhones); cell carriers already offer similar family-tracking services for less interesting phones. Shared contacts could make those holiday cards or birthday party invites a little easier to pull off. Apple could even centralize Parental Controls management for all iPhones and Macs registered with the family plan. A wiki-like service could allow an extended family to share holiday wishlists without worrying about duplication.
And, finally, our previous suggestion about opening up media sharing fits this model nicely, especially for maintaining photo galleries shared with an extended family via MobileMe.
MobileMe for Mobile Devices -- While we're on the subject of MobileMe, the lack of support for MobileMe in the mobile version of Safari that's part of the iPhone OS is bewildering. Visit me.com from Mobile Safari, and you're given just a few options: Set up Mail, Contacts, Calendar (which leads to a single screen with instructions on how to set up syncing using the built-in apps on the iPhone or iPod touch); Use Find My iPhone (a recent addition - finally! - as described in "MobileMe Site Adds Some Mobile Safari Support," 18 February 2010); or given the options to install the MobileMe Gallery app for viewing MobileMe galleries and the iDisk app for file access.
Google and many other firms have built highly usable Web front ends to sites that were originally intended for desktop browsers, and Apple also has some quite marvelous Web apps. Why not let people who so choose access email, calendars, and other advanced MobileMe features from within Mobile Safari instead of via sync?
You may need access when you're trying to reach MobileMe data from a friend's or colleague's iPhone or iPod touch, or when you have an account that you want to check, but not sync. This is especially the case for business users who sync with work information, but still need access to their personal data from the Web site. And while Apple finally allowed access to Find My iPhone from an iPhone (after we initially drafted this article, in fact), the current approach is still just a bandage, not real support.
Bluetooth Keyboard Support for iPhone/iPod touch -- You knew we'd make our way around to the iPhone eventually, didn't you? No one would suggest that an iPhone or iPod touch is an ideal device on which to write long documents, and we've all gotten used to the "glass keyboard" that appears for data entry in the iPhone OS.
But despite Steve Jobs's disdain for hardware keyboards, such as those found on major models from every other smartphone maker, Apple took pains during the iPad introduction to feature the iPad Keyboard Dock, and the iPad's support for Bluetooth-connected keyboards.
We asked Apple employees at the iPad's introduction if that same Bluetooth keyboard support would appear in updates to the iPhone and iPod touch, but were told it wasn't planned for those devices. Why? Is it purely to differentiate the iPad from the iPhone and iPod touch?
(To be fair, the iPhone OS 3.2 update, which is the version demonstrated on the iPad, hasn't yet shipped, so it's entirely possible that Apple may simply include Bluetooth keyboard support for all iPhone OS devices when the software appears.)
A highly technical Australian friend recently managed a four-week, multiple-continent business trip with only an iPhone for email with the office, Web access for looking up information, Skype for calling home, and taking photos of his travels. Though he intentionally left his laptop behind, he said a compact Bluetooth keyboard would likely have eased the more text-intensive tasks, allowed improved ergonomics, and prevented some neck and shoulder pain from excessive iPhone use. The new restrictions and screening changes for commercial air travel might make it even more desirable to avoid carrying a laptop when possible.
There is no good technical reason that Apple hasn't enabled this support, which uses very little battery power compared to Bluetooth calling and Bluetooth stereo audio. It seems like a control-freak decision, not one rooted in technical causes or in the cause of providing the best experience for users. A simple upgrade would flip a switch and turn this feature on.
Will these changes happen? That's the big question. We've tried hard to keep our wishes in the realm of things that fit within Apple's overall direction and mindset, and that Apple has the technical chops to accomplish. But do our desires align with Apple's corporate direction?
Certainly, customer feedback never hurts, and we encourage you to use Apple's Feedback page to register your opinions as well. But the company is famously self-directed, and the main driving force for such changes would have to come from within, if not from Steve Jobs himself, then from Apple's own product managers, programmers, testers, and tech support reps, all communicating up the line that they themselves want more from Apple's products along the lines we've outlined here.