Predicting the Future

I don’t know if they still do it, but for many years the Skeptical Inquirer would run a year-end article looking back at significant predictions made by well-known astrologers. The idea, of course, was to debunk astrology by showing that not one of their specific predictions ever came to pass.

I was reminded of this recently when, via some chatter on Twitter, I was alerted to’s iPhone Death Watch. The page consists simply of a collection of quotes — from a variety of journalists, analysts and corporate executives — all predicting bad things for the iPhone’s future. The most fun quotes to read are the ones from 2007, where commentators assert with certainty that the soon-to-be-launched iPhone “will largely fail” “may well become Apple’s next Newton,” and will be “nothing more than a temporary novelty” with “no chance…to get any significant market share.”

Sure. These must be the same people who predicted a Y2K debacle and guaranteed that your home would never lose its value. Modifying a popular quote, one might reasonably conclude that “the only function of technology predictions is to make astrology look respectable.”

As we approach the end of 2009, I wondered whether it might be informative to shine a Skeptical-Inquirer-type light on the technology predictions of the past year. To start this ball rolling, I took a look at my own predictions, as posted here at The Mac Observer.

In so doing, I was surprised to discover how few predictions I had actually made. Most of what I wrote over these past 11 months fell into other categories: how-to tutorials, new product coverage, and editorial opinions regarding current news. I noticed that I had several articles critical of Apple’s position on iPhone jailbreaking and its policies regarding rejecting apps from the App Store. In one case, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I wrote what amounts to almost the same column twice: The past and future of the iPhone’s App Store and The App Store: I suggest a new strategy. But these were not predictions.

In three of the four cases where I actually made predictions, I quickly re-evaluated them:

• After making my Macworld Expo predictions, I reported back on their accuracy (or lack thereof) a few days later.

• After confidently predicting that Apple would ultimately be successful in its efforts to block jailbreaking, I took another look at the subject about a month later, noting that recent events suggested a more optimistic (for jailbreakers) outlook — at least in the short term.

• Most recently, I predicted the eventual end of the current “big” Mac Pro, followed almost immediately by a more cautious reflection.

Hmmm. It appears that I don’t have to take a year-end inventory of my predictions after all. The few predictions that I made were inventoried as I went along. With one exception:

• Back in October, I offered predictions as to the path Apple’s rumored tablet computer would take. The jury is still out on this.

Despite the risks, I’ve decided to add to my 2009 predictions with a year-end look at what we might expect in the coming months. You’ll find these to be fairly safe and conservative, sticking closely to conventional wisdom. But, as Dennis Miller was fond of saying, “I could be wrong.” I’ll check back here in twelve months — to find out. Here goes:

• A tablet Mac will indeed come out — in the first half of 2010. It will be more like a big iPhone than a small Mac. One other thing it will share with the iPhone: success. It will reshape the mobile computing market in the same way the iPhone did in 2007. [No way will you see me quoted on a future iTablet Death Watch page!]

• Apple’s apparent purchase of Lala signals major changes ahead for streaming content. Some sort of iTunes subscription service seems likely. I predict it will ultimately involve both video and audio, and will lead to a much revamped Apple TV.

• It’s more or less guaranteed that Apple will come out with iPhone OS 4.0 this summer. The most notable enhancements? Greater support for streaming video and (I’m less confident about this, but here goes) the ability for multiple apps to be active at the same time. I can’t even speculate yet on what the new iPhone hardware will be, but I am betting that it will include more major new features than last year’s iPhone 3GS. Whatever happens, don’t expect any “iPhone killers” to make dramatic headway in 2010. The iPhone will still be king at the end of the year. 

• Apple, responding to deserved criticism, will make significant changes to the App Store approval process. No, they won’t go as far as I would like, by allowing an open alternative to the App Store, but they will find a way to stop the steady trickle of irrational rejections that made news throughout 2009 — probably by making the appeal process more developer-friendly.

• The status of iPhone jailbreaking will be even bleaker a year from now than it is today, as all 2010 iPhone and iPod touch models will be completely unbreakable.

• By the end of 2010, AT&T’s mobile networks will continue to lag behind Verizon. But AT&T will have narrowed the gap and will catch up entirely by 2011. AT&T will still be the lone iPhone carrier in the U.S. in 2010 but I expect this too will change in 2011.

• In the world of Mac hardware, the most notable new products will be in the MacBook line. Especially look for Apple to either push a major new version of the MacBook Air or (going out on a limb again) signal its ultimate demise in favor of the forthcoming tablet.

• At the WWDC, Apple will offer its first peek at Mac OS X 10.7. It won’t ship, however, until 2011.

• And finally (drum roll, please): AT&T will at last enable Internet Tethering for the iPhone.