I was listening to this week's "The Talk Show" podcast with Om Malik as the guest (a good episode, BTW) and I was struck by the picks Gruber and Malik made at the end of the show for what they think the (near) future holds for Apple.
Not that their choices were wrong, but that they focused on i-devices and iCloud exclusively. I think that technology companies (and especially Apple), tend to follow trajectories with their product lines -- all their product lines. It's too easy to get fixated on the hotness of the moment (mobile devices) and ignore the boring other stuff. In actuality, what seems to be happening is that Apple -- unlike most of the PC market -- has a vision for what computing will be in the not too distant future where mobile devices and traditional computers will come to intersect again.
The huge effort to make Retina-class MacBooks and redesigning what a desktop computer looks like (the razor-thin iMac), combined with a constantly evolving software experience and better ways of connecting the boxes (Thunderbolt and, of course, upcoming 802.11ac wireless) makes me think that there is a vision for what a "conventional" computer is going. It's not just "the same, but prettier". If anything, I'd say that it is more "it doesn't get in your way" -- that the computer disappears from your desk just like the iPhone and iPad disappear in your hand leaving the software experience. We're a long way from that, but the trajectory seems pretty clear.
Similarly, the iPad -- while incredibly useful in its original size -- was on an obvious "more sizes" trajectory, too. Smaller was easy. Bigger is going to be hard. Bigger, more useful, while remaining thin and light enough to be handheld is really hard, but the evolution of the software experience to drag iOS into something that makes sense in a bigger form factor will be even harder.
While it's true that we're going to see a constant evolution of mobile devices and that iCloud needs to get a whole lot better on an Internet schedule, the question that comes to mind is how do the computers on our desks and in our hands come closer -- not necessarily merging into one thing, but all getting out of our way better and (I suspect) working together better. Taking Windows 8 as the counter-example, we see that the "turducken" of merged mobile and desktop experiences is a train wreck. But we also see that just doing that doesn't make them work better together. I can't fling my spreadsheet from by desktop to my tablet and back, I can't edit the numbers on one and visualize graphs on the other... There is a long way to go with the software. I think that Microsoft, Google and Apple all intuitively understand that, but only the latter two appear to actually be making progress towards it (in very different ways).
So, what do I expect -- or wish for -- from Apple in the next few months to couple of years? I hope to see how this vision fleshes out. We're not going to see the complete realization of any fully-formed pieces, but we should expect to see the trajectories of mobile and conventional computers become more apparent.