Erik Eckel predicts new models of the Apple Watch will be introduced in 2016.

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Erik Eckel’s Apple predictions for 2016

Apple’s port elimination trend will continue

Apple may eliminate traditional 3.5mm audio/headphone jacks in new iPods, iPhones, and iPads. It’s no secret Apple’s design team felt restricted and constrained by older iOS models’ primary port; the thinner, more user-friendly Lightning connector was introduced as a result.

As Bluetooth connections become more popular, and as Apple’s designers work to create even thinner devices, don’t be surprised if iOS devices lose the traditional audio jack. Apple’s already demonstrated a willingness to eliminate legacy ports, such as Ethernet jacks.

Employees and business owners may have to purchase adapters or new headphones. Some organizations leverage iPods to provide on-hold music and messaging, while others businesses import simple audio files using the 3.5mm audio jack; those organizations would need to confirm new device compatibility with their existing systems, but that’s a seemingly minor inconvenience.

The port reduction trend impacts Macs, too. Apple’s new MacBook models introduced in early 2015 include only a USB-C port for expansion. In many cases, possessing multiple additional dedicated Thunderbolt, HDMI, MiniDisplay, and USB expansion ports will not be necessary. Businesses should plan on leveraging more Bluetooth-connected peripherals, such as wireless mice, keyboards, and trackpads, and the type of setup afforded by a Thunderbolt display, which provides additional ports via a docking station configuration.

Apple’s iCloud services will become more aggressive

Expect Apple devices, applications, and services to become more aggressive in supporting cloud connectivity. Apple’s already training and encouraging Mac and iOS users to store files, iOS device backups, photos, videos, email, contacts, calendars, reminders, notes, bookmarks, and keychain credentials within iCloud, and this trend will continue. Storage allocations and corresponding pricing should continue to become more competitive as a result.

It’s a smart move by Apple. The more services the company provides and smoothly integrates for its customers, the tighter the client relationship.

As iCloud services continue growing in importance, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple enhances team collaboration and communication features within its iWork suite of applications, which include Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Look for such functionality to become increasingly necessary as organizations become more comfortable migrating critical daily operations to third-party cloud providers, such as Apple.

Apple Watch refinements are coming

Even though the company has avoided discussing specific sales figures for the Apple Watch or the line’s performance, Apple is likely adopting a long-term play with its wearable, which has already impacted the way myself and numerous others navigate daily business tasks.

SEE: Apple Watch teardown reveals unique hardware, replaceable parts

Look for new models in 2016 to include native Wi-Fi connectivity, which will improve performance and capability when not mated to an iPhone. For example, with integrated Wi-Fi, Apple Watch wearers will be able to draft (using Siri and voice recognition) and send basic email messages and responses without requiring an iPhone.

Apple designers will likely squeeze a camera into the Watch face to enable FaceTime calls. While not a game changer, FaceTime capability will come in handy for some businesses and users.

Potentially the greatest innovation coming with new Watch models will be biometric features. I suspect Apple chose to release the first generation of watches without battling potential regulatory requirements required before the device can be marketed as a medical device. That said, look for new models to include the ability to capture and record blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, and similar medical information.

Of course, collecting health information over time doesn’t necessarily help one become a better business professional. Watch users who choose to monitor health factors and adjust fitness goals in response, however, are likely to live healthier lifestyles, and most everyone knows workers are typically more productive when they’re feeling well.

Non-business-related predictions

In 2016, I think Apple will introduce a streaming media service competing with Amazon and Netflix. You’re also likely to hear more about Apple investing in its own television displays or even self-driving cars; speculation has already occurred on those fronts.

Jesus Vigo’s Apple predictions for 2016

OS X and Safari updates

While it’s a pretty safe bet that a new version of OS X will be released for public consumption toward the end of the year, the changes inherent in the new OS will stem from a tighter integration with iOS and iCloud services.

Additionally, OS X may see an upgrade to QuickTime in support of 4K video and new compression formats that will handle the high bitrate, larger 4K-resolution video as it becomes more widely adopted by web streaming services applications are written to support the larger format – similar to Apple’s current 4K and 5K-capable iMacs.

It is also believed that Safari will be updated, yet will be rewritten from the ground up in an effort offer tighter security and greater compatibility with HTML5, finally eschewing Flash support to shore up vulnerabilities that are known to affect safe browsing.

Major iPod Touch enhancements

The iPod Touch is arguably the best-selling media player worldwide. Upon unveiling the 1st Gen. iPhone, Steve Jobs was quoted as saying “this is the best iPod we’ve ever built” and that sentiment may be behind a push to increase the device’s hardware to larger proportions; namely, a larger screen with a higher resolution capable of displaying 2K video at native resolutions. Also, enhanced audio arrays featuring multiple speakers for better sound reproduction.

An upgraded CPU wouldn’t be a surprise but an additional, double helping of RAM which will allow the iPod Touch to handle larger, more detailed graphics processing to cement it as a solid gaming device with a nice selection of quality of game titles.

MacBook Air: A complete redesign and a retina LCD panel

The MacBook Air has been the go-to device for users, with the exception of the MacBook Pro crowd that requires the extra muscle to perform intensive tasks. The MacBook Air, however, has had the same design style since its inception in 2008.

Not one to stagnate its designs, Apple is likely looking to completely redesign the Air to offer a slimmer, lighter body style while including the latest Intel processors and chipsets to push the limits of performance while being able to increase battery life in upwards of 10 hours on the 11″ model and 13-14 hours on the 13″ model.

Additionally, increased and speedier memory and SSD offerings are to be available as upgrades, making it one of the fastest sub-$1,000 systems available.

SEE: Apple’s first employee: The remarkable odyssey of Bill Fernandez

“One more thing…” as Steve Jobs often said before unveiling the pièce de résistance, may very well be the inclusion of a retina LCD panel on the MacBook Air, as proponents of the Air design have been non-stop clamoring for one since the retina models first arrived. After all, the 13″ retina MacBook Pro already sports such a panel and that would integrate nicely with a redesigned Air.

MacBook Pro to get more powerful processors

The venerable MacBook Pro has seen the most updates of all of Apple’s lineup in recent years, except for the Mac Pro released a couple of years back. This trend is believed to continue.

There will likely be an aggressive push into more powerful architecture — both CPU and GPU processors that are capable of 6-core processing given Intel’s switch to newer, more powerful processors at significantly lower thermal draw than current hardware is capable of. Pairing that with an equally robust graphics chip that is capable of running in lower power states for generic web browsing or able to ratchet up the muscle to perform native 4K video rendering or nearly anything that is thrown its way.

The Mac Pro is currently able to accomplish such feats, though Apple has always maintained a pro-class mobile unit that could serve as a workhorse for business professionals on the go, and I believe a reengineered MacBook Pro would be such a product.

Additional updates would entail support for more than the 16 GB ceiling present in current MBPs, with a push toward 32 GB and further down the road, even 64 GB as DDR4, which is currently available to market but has little support outside specialized, bleeding-edge technology. The higher speeds and added memory will also be capable of sipping power when necessary to keep the MBP running within Apple’s average of 9-10 hours at full charge.

To make this fully possible, engineering the logic board to a smaller size in addition to the smaller die sizes on chipsets will leave space available within the existing MBP’s aluminum unibody build. Apple already has experience with this type of procedure as evidenced in the MacBook Air and 2015’s Retina MacBook.

Expand Time Machine’s backup options

Time Machine offers a great application with which to back up system data to external HDDs and OS X Server shared drives. And with iOS and iCloud, Backup is available to back up your iOS-enabled device to iCloud storage. With the ever-expanding storage options available to iCloud users, Apple would be wise to capitalize on this by expanding Time Machine backup options for OS X into iCloud for desktop and laptop computer users.

With Apple expanding its services, such as backup, it can compete with cloud-based service providers at a different level due to the deep integration between iCloud and Mac devices. This bodes extremely well for end users of Apple products since it makes for easy, set-it-and-forget-it backups that encapsulate Apple’s signature phrase “it just works.”

What are your 2016 Apple predictions?

Is there something you’d like to see Apple release in 2016? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts about how Apple might surprise and delight us this year.

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8 ways Apple may delight business users in 2016