As you probably already gathered, this year’s CES was a massive success: attendance was up, lots of seriously cool new iPod and iPhone products were debuted, and companies appeared ready to reverse the sleepy past year of uninspired releases. So much was going on that we decided to let the dust settle before sharing this list of five big picture things you should be looking out for in 2010—big topics of discussion within the Apple development community.
1. Apple Tablet and iPhone 4. Though one might have guessed from media reports that Apple’s upcoming tablet device was casting a huge cloud over competitors, there was surprisingly little buzz about its specifics on the show floor—most companies were very focused on their current products, and waiting for the other shoe to drop with an official announcement from Apple. We heard whispers about what’s apparently the final tablet housing, which takes design cues from the iPhone, MacBook Air, and unibody MacBook Pro: it looks like the top casing of the MacBook Air and Pro, only smaller—roughly the same width as Amazon’s Kindle DX but a little shorter—plus space on the side for a surprising number of I/O ports.
Apparently, the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro curves are carrying over to the next-generation iPhone, as well, which will resemble a shrunken, thinner bottom half of the MacBook Pro laptop casing, bringing Apple’s lineup of portable computers, tablet, and phones into visual alignment.
2. Enthusiastic Response to Both CES and Economy. Early in 2009, the prevailing wisdom was that the battered economy would improve somewhat by mid-year, and that the consumer electronics industry would start a real recovery during the holidays. The optimism and positive responses we saw at the 2010 CES appeared to validate this timeline, as third-party developers told us about better-than-expected year-end results, plus impressive new lineups that were more thoughtful and distinctive than the ones in previous years. They also committed to the 2011 CES with record speed, selling out the previous 25,000-square foot iLounge Pavilion space in only one day (!), and demanding twice the booth space for the upcoming year.
3. Cases Are Making a Big Comeback. iPod and iPhone cases didn’t evolve much in 2008 or 2009, and readers were as tired of reading about them as we were when writing about them. This year, cases are making a huge comeback thanks to new designs from a number of companies: Case-Mate and Uncommon—former Nike iD folks—both showed cases that could be customized with user-created or -submitted artwork. Speck blew people away with its incredible Special Edition lineup of Fitted, CandyShell, and SeeThru cases. Incipio had aisle-filling lines for its new Dotties case and debuted the impressive DuroShot DRX, unusual Q, and other interesting designs. SwitchEasy debuted an anti-scratch case called Nude that has far-reaching potential for the durability of future designs. And finally, XtremeMac launched some iterative but very attractive designs for both soft and hard cases. We haven’t been this excited about iPod and iPhone protection in a long, long time.
4. App-Enhanced Hardware As Growth Area. Griffin and Belkin may have been first to connect App Store downloads to their accessories, but iHome made a huge splash with its iHome+Sleep app and multiple compatible alarm clocks, transforming the iPhone or iPod touch into uber-clocks with weather, sleep tracking, and Facebook and Twitter integration. Parrot provided an even more tangible demonstration of the App Store’s potential with its AR.Drone, which enabled iPhone and iPod touch users to control a toy hovercraft using touchscreen- and Wi-Fi-based Apple devices as remote controls. The challenge: Apple representatives at the show were actively pushing more developers to tie apps to future accessories, but the technical and cost factors involved in doing so can create a quagmire for companies. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out in 2010 and 2011.
5. Awful AT&T Phone Service. When companies weren’t talking about their products, people couldn’t stop complaining—rightfully—about how terrible the AT&T service was in Las Vegas: even outside the Convention Center at various hotels, iPhones were failing to make calls, dropping calls after only seconds, and generally proving useless—voicemail and text messages weren’t sending or arriving properly, and web access was stopping before pages would load. Battery drain was staggering, too; users learned that they had to literally switch off 3G in favor of EDGE just be able to make telephone calls. Our editors from Canada and the United Kingdom couldn’t believe how slow and unreliable the service was, even when most of the influx of show-goers had left town. At some point, we stopped counting the number of people who were praying for AT&T’s exclusivity to end in favor of Verizon-compatible iPhones, but different people continued to have varying opinions on whether the issues were actually AT&T’s or Apple’s fault. We continue to think that the evidence strongly suggests AT&T is the big problem.
Comments and thoughts are, of course, welcome.