By Jason Snell
December 31, 2018 11:07 AM PT
On the precipice
This is the time of year when those of us who write and talk for a living do a lot of summing up. Lists of bests and favorites. Top stories of the year. The good and the bad and otherwise remarkable from a 12-month span since the last time our planet occupied this particular slot in its orbit around the sun.
It’s often a fun and useful exercise, but I don’t think it’s my favorite part of this time of year. The end of the year is also an opportunity to take a step back, reflect on the big picture, and maybe imagine the possibilities for the coming year. As a generally optimistic person—about technology and most other subjects—I generally hope for the best in the coming year. Time marches on and change is inevitable, and as human beings we are generally predisposed to dislike and resist change, but 2019 is happening whether or not we like it, so we might as well get on board and try to enjoy it where we can.
I really believe 2019 will be a huge year of change for Apple, one of the biggest in a long time. As I detailed in my Macworld column this week, the Mac is due for the biggest changes. The arrival of iOS apps on the Mac this fall, enabled by new technologies previewed by Apple this year, has the potential to change the Mac all by itself. But I think there’s much more on the horizon. I don’t think Apple is planning on stripping the Mac of its functionality, but I do think we’re headed toward a world where the Mac is better defined as “iOS plus”, with the ability to run apps from iOS alongside legacy Mac apps.
Change is hard, but the current status quo of the Mac isn’t great. Apple is a giant company, but most of its fuel comes from the iPhone. The Mac (and even the iPad) hope to get a tiny sip of that fuel from time to time. By unifying the Mac and iPad on the same app-development platform, one the iPad already shares with the iPhone, the Mac should be able to pick up on some of the momentum Apple has in terms of software development (and developer enthusiasm) on the iOS side. And if every improvement Apple makes to the iPhone also improves the iPad and the Mac, that’s good for the Mac.
It’s not fun to consider the Mac an ancillary device to the iPhone and a platform that’s largely for people with a long investment in using it, but the same could be said of personal computers in general. As Steve Jobs sort of prophesized earlier this decade, we are headed into an era where the general-purpose computing device is the smartphone, and other devices appeal to niche markets with particular needs. I don’t think anyone’s going to steal our Macs (or iPads) away from us, but they’re not the center of the universe anymore.
As someone who has basically converted from the Mac to the iPad at all times when I’m not at my desk, I think there’s change afoot for the iPad, too. The new iPad Pro’s hardware power is waiting for software improvements we haven’t seen yet. I can’t help but feel that the iPad is going to be a part of the same decisions that change the Mac in 2019, just as the iPad inherited some new apps this fall as a part of the same process that brought them to the Mac. There are a lot of dots here that cry out to be connected.
The other big thing for Apple in 2019 is its ongoing effort to grow its services business. Those of us who closely follow Apple know that it’s coming, but most people aren’t aware that Apple is about to launch a full-fledged video streaming service with more than a billion dollars worth of content, including shows from big-name producers and featuring big-name stars. People who think Apple’s video effort is a bunch of false starts made in the Eddy Cue era involving Carpool Karaoke will be surprised to find out what the duo of high-powered TV producers Apple hired more than a year ago have been assembling. And Apple’s also probably going to launch a new subscription service inside Apple News that lowers the paywall from various magazine and newspaper sites.
Apple wants to bill you monthly for more things. In 2019 they’ll roll out more of those things, and we’ll start to get an idea just how many ways people are willing to pay Apple. (I do wonder if we might finally see Apple’s version of Amazon Prime in 2019—a single subscription that gets you Apple’s music, video, iCloud storage, news, and who knows what else for a single price.)
And of course, there will be surprises. There always are. If you had told me there would be an entirely new MacBook Air this year, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Apple has not lost the capability to surprise, even if a lot of the surprises come in the form of a report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo six months before the product is actually announced.
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