Apple's High-Stakes 2011 Plans

New iOS devices and a new Mac OS X are expected to take center stage.

Apple is in the driver's seat when it comes to consumer computing, but it's also a force to be reckoned with for business IT, thanks in large part to its wildly successful combination of iPhone and iPad. Although corporate uptake of other parts of the Apple lineup has been less than stellar and led to the company's decision to end sales of the company's Xserve platform on Jan. 31, it's clear that the iOS device family has its champions among executives and other decision influencers.

This process, which for lack of a better description is being called the "consumerization of enterprise IT," is about what you'd expect when people are able to take computers, and computing resources, for granted. It wouldn't exist without a universe of cloud-based services, or without devices from companies that put usability above everything else.

If any company is associated with ease of use, it's Apple. There will be a great deal of attention on the company in 2011-between the second-generation iPad, the fifth-generation iPhone and Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," I already have three major story subjects emerging, and I write this with December yet to start.

Building on Apple's success with the iPhone, the iPad may well single-handedly kill off the netbook computer as a platform, or at least reduce it to niche status. Analysts are falling over each other in their eagerness to guess the number of iPads that Apple will sell in 2011, but here's my answer to that question: Apple will sell as many iPads as its suppliers can build. If it can get 50 million units built, it can sell them.

The next iPhone will draw attention because Apple's handling of the iPhone 4's debut lacked the usual panache that I associate with the company. The mental images aren't terribly positive ones: a police task force seizing a journalist's personal and professional equipment after he returned a prototype device that had come into his possession, Apple CEO Steve Jobs' rebuttal of "You're holding it wrong" when confronted with reports of antenna issues, the manufacturing debacle that has so far stymied production of the white iPhone 4. I have to wonder if the company just had a bad year, or whether something more serious is going on.

I'll be very interested to see what Apple has planned for Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," beyond the sneak peek we saw in November. The Mac App Store idea is one that's probably ready for prime time, but it represents a gamble of sorts for the company. It believes that people have become conditioned by the iPhone model with its App Store into accepting Apple's veto power over what's sold in its online stores. Some of the other enhancements to the UI may take some getting used to; if Lion winds up looking too much like iTunes 10, I doubt that I'll be impressed by its appearance.

I am, however, very bullish on what Lion could do to embrace touch-based interfaces, and in so doing possibly bridging the gap between the classic keyboard-and-mouse paradigm that we've lived with for more than a quarter-century and the touch-based interface that's moving up from the mobile device. I could see Apple selling a great number of MacBooks and MacBook Pros by incorporating a touch-screen keyboard, for example.

There you have it, in a nutshell: three products, from one company, and 12 months of 2011 to see how their stories will unfold.