The Efficient Mac User

Wishes for 2008: Apple TV Content, Task Management for the iPhone, and the MacBook mini

- 2007.12.13 - Tip Jar

Follow Ed Eubanks Jr on Twitter.

Well, it's time for the annual recap of my wishes for the past year, and a declaration of what I hope to see from Apple and others in the coming year.

Let's recap what I put in my 2007 wish list:

  • iPhone - I asked for an iPhone that had as much music/video storage as a nano, a full-functioning productivity environment, iApp compatibility, and a sleek form-factor. I'd say I got 99.5% of what I wanted (see below for the rest).
  • iTV - I asked for a media device that would work very easily and would bring media smoothly into my living room. Well, they ended up calling it Apple TV, but I pretty much got what I asked for. Now for phase two (again, see my wishes for 2008).
  • Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" - I asked for Leopard to deliver in the early part of the year (maybe even prior to the announced spring release) and be packed with features and tools. I was way off on the release date, but that's because Apple changed it. Other than that, I got my wish here too.
  • Independent Software Development - I asked for breakthrough opportunities for third-party developers and small software companies. With things like MacHeist, MacSanta, IUseThis, MacUpdate Bundles, MacAppADay, and other such deals, I couldn't have nailed it better. These opportunities have worked out great (and continue to) as ways for developers to get their products before the eyes of users, and they represent excellent viral and word-of-mouth marketing venues. From what I can see, independent development of software for the Mac is stronger than ever.

That was a pretty safe list, I know. In fact, several of these were on my list from the year before! This year, I'll be a bit bolder in where I take my wishes and dreams for the coming 12 months.

Improvements on Apple TV

As a media device, Apple TV is much better than a lot of the nay-sayers give it credit for. It lacks in just a few areas: direct purchase/download ability, HD content, and limited expansion.

It makes sense that Apple TV is as limited as it is for controlling purchase, etc. But Apple could (and should) make it easier. Already Apple TV can directly access movie trailers from the 'Net. Meanwhile, the iPhone has the capacity to make iTunes purchases easily. Apple TV should get this capacity too, and it could work almost exactly as it does with the iPhone. Want to watch a movie? You don't have to leave the living room to get the download started; click through a couple of menus, choose your movie, then go make popcorn. By the time you get back with your bowl of popcorn, the movie is ready to begin playing.

And that movie should come in HD with 5.1 surround. Apple TV already has the capacity to play it in HD, and surely the studios want to get these out there. And Apple could charge a bit more - say, $13.99 for HD instead of $9.99 for SD, and the download would take a little longer if you're not using an 802.11n system. (See how I did that? Now Apple's selling more AirPort Extreme Base Stations too...)

Maybe while you're waiting for the movie to download, you surf YouTube (already available through Apple TV) or check your Facebook page (easy to add). Maybe you even whip out your sleek, beautiful Apple Bluetooth keyboard and update your Facebook status or use the newly integrated iChat to invite a couple of friends over to watch the movie with you. These are no-brainer expansions for Apple TV, and they don't represent any additional security needs than are already in place.

If Apple would do this (and the next wish), Apple TV would quickly move from the "hobby" market to a full-fledged fourth division.

Video Subscription Service through iTunes

Apple TV is almost everything we could want. Almost, because one big thing we lack is a larger variety of ways to get content onto it. Apple's next step with this "hobby" is to focus on content - not that Apple needs to make a lot of concessions to woo NBC back or anything like that. They simply need to entrench their dominance in the content market (to face the litany of emerging competitors), and NBC and others will be knocking down their doors like never before.

How? Through a video subscription service in iTunes.

I agree with Ken Ray that Steve Jobs and company will offer a subscription service across the board exactly when it makes sense to do so, and not a moment before. When it comes to videos, I think the time for that is now.

I'm not talking about a rental system, but a full-fledged subscription service, akin to what Netflix offers but easier. Here's the rationale: very few TV shows are good enough to watch multiple times, and even most movies aren't repeaters. I suspect that for every one TV show or movie that is purchased and downloaded through iTunes, 10 more would be if they were lower-obligation endeavors. Apple is halfway there with the season pass idea; they just need to flesh that out into something more flexible.

Imagine this: You pay $15 a month to download up to 15 TV shows and 5 movies, or just 10 movies. If you're a heavier consumer than that, maybe you pay $35 a month for 50 TV show downloads or some such. And purchase of individual shows and movies is still supported, as are season passes - and something like "Complete My Album" applies, so if you downloaded something through your subscription that you later want to purchase, you pay 50% of the purchase price. Apple shares the revenues with the studios heavily, and they are very happy because they're raking in cash for TV shows that are free over the air and through streaming Internet media (in many cases) - and at a greater rate than ever.

Meanwhile, Apple is happy because they are selling many, many more Apple TVs and video-capable iPods, riding a new wave of popularity for these devices because of the improved availability for video content. Everyone wins (except the Zune).

Task Management for iPhone

I still haven't bought an iPhone (just like I said back in the spring). I want one, but there's a handful of things that keep me from getting one (a handful of $100 bills would answer...).

One of these is a capable task management scheme. This is a difficult one to explain; I was fairly certain that with the integration of tasks into Mail, this would follow very quickly for the iPhone (as in, at the same time Leopard was launched). I've heard and read that managing tasks is, at best, cumbersome on the iPhone - and probably the best options are coming from web-apps like Ta-Da Lists, Nozbe, Scrybe, and others.

I see an iPhone update coming to accompany the announcement of the Software Development Kit (SDK) in January. It will open up many, many options for iPhone users - task management not the least of them. So here's my wish: Show me an iPhone task management app that, at bare minimum, synchs with tasks in iCal. (Omni has already announced that they are working on an iPhone component to partner with OmniFocus - sweet!) If it comes from Apple, that's great - I think they should have one, and a release of a decent one would serve as a mea culpa in this area. A third party app is fine too.

Updates for My Staple Applications

As I mentioned before, I use a lot of independently developed applications. As such, many of these applications suffer from a skeleton staff for programming and development. One of my big wishes is to see some of these release major updates.

DevonThink Pro Office v2.0 has been vaporware for a while - well over a year. (Now that I think about it, I recall hearing something about v2.0 toward the beginning of 2006.) While the advances that have been discussed as "promised" for the next version of this key application are lust-worthy, the failure of Devon Technologies to deliver on these promises has left many of us frustrated with the pace at which development is happening. I, for one, would have liked to see a thinner feature-set and sooner release, rather than promising a long list but making us wait two years for it. Though I may question the wisdom of their release choices, I'm hopeful that 2008 will hold the long-awaited fulfillment of promises.

I've used Ecto to edit my blogs for three years and counting. In mid-2007, the developer announced the beta version of Ecto v3.0, and it has worked well for me so far. I'd like to see Ecto 3.0 get out of beta and into release stage.

Those of you who follow my love for David Allen's Getting Things Done and my fascination for the various GTD applications have probably also heard of the Omni Group's OmniFocus, which has been in development for over a year and in alpha-release stage since the spring (the public alpha is available on the Omni Group website). The Omni Group tends to have a fairly reliable release schedule (which makes sense, as they are a more established, multi-staff company, unlike the developer of Ecto - but very much like Devon Technologies), so when they promise that OmniFocus will be out of alpha (and beta) and be at release by 2008, I believe them. I just can't help but hope and wish about it, nevertheless.

A Real Ultra-portable 'MacBook mini'

This one almost isn't fair, since the rumors abound so profusely about it. Nevertheless, I think this could represent an amazing opportunity for Apple - maybe they could even do for the laptop/portable computing scene what they've done for PCs (with the original Mac), portable music players (the iPod), and mobile telephony (the iPhone).

Just for fun, here's what I would love to see - maybe as soon as January's Macworld: A very small subnotebook running a full version of OS X, sporting a flash-memory hard drive and an LED-backlit display. By my calculations, the size of the display could be as small as 11.5" widescreen (maybe even a few tenths of an inch smaller) and still have a full-sized, backlit keyboard. The display would have a multitouch-capable screen, and it should have a tablet-style feature (though I don't think it will rotate and flip like most tablets - Apple will show us a new and better way).

Because of the multitouch features, no trackpad will be necessary. The LED display and flash-memory drive, plus a Penryn processor, will give even a very small battery a long life (I'd say 7-9 hours is reasonable). And the smaller battery and form factor, solid-state components, and the lack of an optical drive will add up to a very lightweight machine - my guess is somewhere around 2.5-3.0 pounds. It will max out with 4 GB of RAM, support up to 120 GB of storage space, and have a 3.0 GHz dual-core processor. Something like a modern-day docking station will serve as a charger, optical drive interface, and provide expansion port options - and it will have Bluetooth, AirPort Extreme 802.11n, USB, and a mini-DVI ports built in.

Yep - I want it all in this machine. It will start off at a premium price - probably close to $3,000 for the maxed-out version, though a lesser-capable version (2 GB RAM, 80 GB flash drive, and 2.4 GHz dual-core processor) will hit the mid-2,000s. Oh yeah - and it will be matte black, like the high-end MacBook; maybe it will have brushed aluminum accents.

The light weight, extreme battery life, and extraordinarily small form factor are must-haves, as are the full-sized keyboard and cool new-ish look. The tablet capabilities are somewhat optional - though they should include multitouch to stay on the leading edge of this sort of tech (and get rid of the touchpad). And once they have multitouch, they might as well make it a tablet. Maybe the ultra low-end version of this will not be a tablet, and will go for just over $2,000.

If this device (or something very like it) is announced at Macworld, it would fill that proverbial middle-ground between where the iPhone stops and current notebooks pick up. For the right users, it could be positioned as one tool in a veritable toolbox of computers: there are times when you only need your iPhone and times when you need to raw power of an iMac, Mac Pro, or larger-scale MacBook Pro, and then there are those times when you grab your MacBook mini. For many others, it could be the final answer: Portability like nothing we've ever seen, yet enough power to satisfy almost everyone (especially with a docked keyboard, mouse, and monitor). LEM

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