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TUAW predictions for the "Back to the Mac" event


Apple's "Back to the Mac" event is almost upon us. While the world eagerly awaits Apple's unveiling, we at TUAW are sticking our necks out and predicting (with tongue slightly in cheek) what we think Steve's gonna announce when he takes the stage.

Michael Grothaus: We'll see a preview of Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" for sure, but it probably won't ship until next Spring. We'll also most likely see new MacBook Pro updates -- and this is more a hope than prediction -- but perhaps they'll have much thinner designs thanks to Apple's rights to Liquidmetal Technologies' advanced metal alloys.

Chances are the current MacBook Air will be retired and we'll see a newer, 11.6-inch version with 3G wireless. I also think iLife 2011 is a given (just in time to sweeten holiday purchases). iLife will feature a totally redesigned iWeb that builds beautiful HTML-5 websites in iPhone-ized and desktop browser versions.

FaceTime for Mac and Windows is also likely -- whether it's via an update to iChat, integration into 10.7, or a separate FaceTime client for Mac and Windows, who knows; but given how Apple is pushing FaceTime as a huge feature on the iPod touch and iPhone 4, I'd be surprised to see if we didn't see Mac and Windows desktop FaceTime clients out before the holidays.

Chris Rawson: The lion is a dead giveaway, isn't it? OS X 10.7 will be center stage at the event. Other than support for FaceTime on the Mac, I've no idea what else may be in store for OS X Lion. I think Spring 2011 is an optimistic release date for an OS we're just now hearing about; I'll be shocked if it comes out before WWDC, and I'll be even more shocked if whatever tentative release date Apple announces doesn't get pushed back at least once. I also suspect Lion may be the last version of OS X, at least as far as the branding is concerned.

As for hardware, the MacBook Pro and MacBook are close to the end of their current product cycle (going by average time between releases), but if they feature at all during the event, they're probably not getting anything other than processor bumps. The one Mac I expect to see get a lot of attention during the event is the MacBook Air; last updated in June of 2009, it's badly overdue for an update. At this stage, an "update" to the Air is probably going to be more like an overhaul. The iPad took away a lot of the reason for the current MacBook Air's existence, so it needs something to set it aside from its bigger brothers other than, "Gee whiz, look how thin I am." The MacBook Air I would actually buy is one that basically has an iPad for a screen: run it like a normal MacBook in OS X, but push a "Home" button, throw in a nifty 3D transition like the one for Fast User Switching, and the OS shifts into iOS.

Dave Caolo: I expect to get a nice demo of Mac OS 10.7. It will feature "hundreds" of changes, but Steve will demonstrate seven or eight. There's so much that can be done with 10.7 since Snow Leopard was basically a tidy version of Leopard. One thing I expect is a re-worked iChat with FaceTIme support. Heck, I think iChat will be replaced with "FaceTime for Mac."

I also hope to see a smaller (12" or 13") MacBook Air with SSD as the only option. Mac OS X 10.7 will wow us with features we haven't even imagined and the new Air will be enviable.

Mel Martin: I expect FaceTime in Mac OS.... Some sort of blending from iOS, perhaps in scrolling behavior, perhaps some GUI elements. New MacBook Air is a given.... perhaps some increase features from MobileMe, which is getting long in the tooth.

Given that Tango and Yahoo are doing it, and Verizon may get the iPhone, I wouldn't be surprised to see FaceTime updated to being useable on 3G networks.

Kelly Guimont: Here are my actual theories: Something new and cool hardware wise, like the triumphant return of the Air/12" machine to the line with current specs. Perhaps it's such a change they don't call it the Air, and actually call it something different.

Software: iLife and iWork, something replacing iWeb, the grand debut of FaceChat/iTime, and an announcement that it's available on Windows.

Here are the Theories Of My House of Crackpot Theories: Hardware: New MacBook Air but with a new "starts with a lowercase i" name, in a teeny size and in a less teeny size. Less Teeny will include an SD Card slot, on the Teeny model it will be a SIM Card slot. Said SIM will have the same data plan options as the 3g iPad. Teeny size will also be available in iPod-style colors.

Software: It won't be demoed, but 10.7 will include full multi-touch OS-wide and a simulation mode that enables iApps on a Mac. Three words: Angry. Birds. Desktop. Also iTunes will frustratingly NOT get a name change, but will now include a Mac App Store where you can purchase software for the thing you sync your iDevices to. It will be announced that FaceTime is going to be integrated with Skype.

Services: Tiered MobileMe pricing, with an email/find my iPhone level and a "Full Monty" level.

Steve Sande: I'm bullish on the release of iLife '11 and iWork '11 during the event. My prediction for iLife '11 is that we'll see modest improvements in all of the apps in the suite and a fairly reasonable price point -- perhaps $29. I think that iDVD will be melded into iMovie and iPhoto instead of being a separate app. I'm also believe that iLife '11 will be accompanied by iLife '11 for iOS, a companion suite made up of the existing iMovie app, a new iPhoto app consisting of the existing Photos app combined with an array of photo manipulation tools, a Pocket GarageBand app for writing or recording music, and an iWeb app for blogging and podcasting on the run. I'd love to see support for shared MobileMe calendars and e-commerce built into iWeb '11 for Mac, making it even more powerful and useful.

iWork will also get a facelift, with taking the spotlight. At the present time, is in beta and it really doesn't integrate all that well with the iWork for iPad apps. I could see being integrated into the iWork apps on both Mac and iPad so that saving to the cloud is as transparent as saving to the local device. For both iWork and iLife, online purchase and download will be the norm, with a more expensive DVD version being available for those who don't have fast or reliable broadband.

My guess is that Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" will be announced, with a nice demo of some forthcoming features, but that we won't see the actual release until just after WWDC 2011. The Dashboard and widgets are going away, replaced by an environment that allows iOS apps to be run in individual windows on the Mac. Steve will also announce an App Store for Mac OS X.

Hardware? I agree that the MacBook Air needs a facelift. The new smaller model will come in both SSD and HD versions, since some users will demand more capacity and/or less cost. A quiet announcement will be an upgrade to the Xserve, which has been somewhat ignored over the past few product refresh cycles.

Michael Jones: I'm going to jump on the FaceTime bandwagon. I think we'll see it integrated with iChat, possibly requiring a tie-in to MobileMe to simplify the "just works" factor. They *might* mention expanded availability on mobile devices (like enabling it over 3G), but I'm thinking they'll avoid this to keep the event centered around the Mac.

I also expect to see an announcement for iLife '11 and iWork '11 to be made, with a release target likely in January, but possibly as early as the end of November. I'm thinking one of the key features will be improved, over-the-air syncing of documents with the iPad using a local Wi-Fi connection.

We'll get a first look at 10.7, but don't expect a release until spring at the earliest, and more likely near WWDC.

As for hardware, I think there will probably be some minor updates to the other MacBook models, but the major focus will be the even lighter, more efficient MacBook Air. Improved battery life is an obvious selling point, but I'm betting Apple will have a surprise up their sleeve in terms of some in-house chipsets that made it possible.

One more thing: a pony.

Mike Schramm: I guess the lion means we'll see 10.7. I think the MacBook Air rumors mean that product is getting a refresh, and I presume we'll also see iWork '11 and some form of FaceTime on OS X. Those are all pretty safe rumors, so let's put in one that's a little nutty: I think we'll see some sort of AirPlay-style sharing between OS X and iOS. I don't think that Apple is ready to create an "App Store for Mac apps" yet, or even run iOS apps on the Mac (though either of those things would be a bombshell), but I think we'll see some sort of exchange between iOS and OS X that could lay the groundwork for further connecting the two systems in the future. Hey, I told you it was nutty.

Michael Rose: Adding to the choir of praise for a new MacBook Air, I expect that most of the rumors around this edge case of Mac hardware are actually coming -- SSD storage in a new form factor, ridiculously thin, and two screen sizes that will allow even more would-be netbookers to consider stepping up to the Mac. I'd love to see a sub-$1100 price point, too, but that may be wishful thinking. What might not be wishful thinking: a price drop on the MacBook to $899 to make more room in the lineup for the MBA.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is certainly going to be front and center; that's not even a prediction, it's a plain reading of the invitation. We'll see some big-ticket features including a fully functional iOS emulator in the system, allowing you to run your key apps on your desktop (and with full preferences/data sync); the long-awaited 'New Finder'; and (this is the one from Kelly's house) Apple acquiring Parallels or Sun's VirtualBox product to include OS virtualization under the hood. Ship date? 4 months after WWDC.

'One More Thing' will be Xcode 4 including libraries and beta SDK for the Apple TV app store.

Erica Sadun: I have been holding off upgrading iWork '09 for way too long, hoping that its refresh was just around the corner. Apple pretty much owes us '11 now -- or a pony. And I'm personally running low on hay. Here's hoping that iWork '11 brings us true cloud and mobile device integration, with data living outside the hardware.

As for hardware, as long as I'm in fruitless "I wanna pony" mode, it would be awesome if Apple finally delivered a consumer tower. Still not holding my breath. I expect a bunch of refreshes but I doubt that this event will bring us any new form magical form factor in Mac desktops. My longshot is a super-downgraded consumer iMac appliance at an attractive price point with very few features. Whiiinnny.

I think the announcement is going to center on the OS. I expect Apple to announce OS X 10.7, possibly the last of the OS X big cat family. While this isn't WWDC, Apple may introduce a two year road plan to bring about a new generation of Mac OS to its hardware and customer base similar to the iOS revolution. AppKit has had a good long run but it's long since time for it to die. AppKit has become the floppy drive. Or Flash.

Apple already has a great new OS to work with, and there's no reason that it shouldn't extend that technology across its entire product line from Macs to mobile. Two years will give developers time to transition to new hardware (Macs using Apple created chips, leaving the Intel x86 line behind), new frameworks and APIs.

In my pony-esque dreams, clouds, chips, and OS are pushing a new day for Apple, leveraging new strengths and keeping the company focused on where technology is going, not where it's already been.

Victor Agreda, Jr.: iLife '11, iWork '11, MacBook Air refresh -- these are all worthy of a big announcement. But the focus is clearly OS X 10.7 and the roadmap to the future. This roadmap will impact everything from the hardware (like an Air with skimpy HD) to iLife and iWork with better cloud support and a likely merging of certain apps as others have already mentioned.

But Apple has been building a world-class data center for a reason. The cloud will be a functional component of 10.7, and I don't think all the deep hooks will be for MobileMe subscribers only. I'm hopeful MobileMe will get a functional upgrade (as in, it will start to function -- currently it's the weakest link in Apple's product lineup) and the 10.7 roadmap may indicate some truly new features that will distinguish the OS from things like Windows Live Mesh and Live Sync or even Dropbox. These things will be teased, but possibly not detailed.

Lastly I'd expect to see iChat become cross-platform and support FaceTime, plus a more cohesive media streaming strategy that will include cloud support. I do not expect to see a Mac app store, but it's entirely possible as Apple has seen such success and consumers (average folks, switchers and the like) seem to enjoy a seamless experience on their devices.

Richard Gaywood: New Macbook Air of some sort. A bold move would be a touchscreen one that brought a new wave of touch features into OS X; I think that's possible but not likely. An iPad-like data plan is a distinct possibility though I think. MobileMe upgrades, introducing deep OS X integration of better filesystem sync (Dropbox being the gold standard here) with tiered pricing scaled on the amount of cloud storage and a cheap introductory offer. I doubt it'll ship for Windows or Linux though, which means Dropbox will remain very relevant even if they successfully clone all the other features.

Perhaps iCal and UI tweaks to bring them more line with the converging iPad and MobileMe web UIs. FaceTime support in iChat is a shoo-in, as is iWorks and iLife refreshes with minor functionality bumps.

David Winograd: I don't think we'll get a release date or anything incredibly specific on 10.7 but I do think we'll see some WOW things that will be in it when it does show up. I am expecting FaceTime to be totally integrated since, after all, why not. When it comes to the cloud, of course I and everyone else at TUAW would like to see Apple buy Dropbox, but that's not going to happen.

I think it's pretty much of a shoo-in that the MacBook Air will be refreshed but that's no big surprise. Nor is iLife '11 and most likely iWork '11. But when it comes to a refresh of the Macbook, MacBook Pro, or Mac Pro line. I think we're going to come up empty. Otherwise I think we all expect just about the same things.

Your Turn:
Give us your best guesses in the comments!

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