What will the Macintosh be like in 25 years?
The Mac has been the flagship product for Apple since it was introduced in 1984 and continues to be so today, despite the fawning over the iPhone platform. From the time the Apple IIGS died out in the early '90s until the introduction of the iPod in 2001, the Mac was the one product line that Apple kept running.
Sure, the company turned out lots of interesting products, including the Newton, the Apple TV, the Pippin, the eMate, some QuickTake cameras and even printers. But the company revolved around the Mac, which turns 25 on Jan. 24.
So will the Mac survive another quarter-century? That's an impossible question to answer -- it's hard to say what will happen in five years in the tech industry, let alone 10 or 25.
Nevertheless, it's fun to speculate. I've used a couple of measurements to project ahead to see what the Mac of tomorrow could be like.
If we go on strictly physical specifications, comparing the original 128K Mac to today's consumer desktop, the iMac, and then extrapolate based on that, we come up with some interesting numbers: something that, if past trends were carried forward, would yield a 64-in. 3-D display and a 720-GHz processor. (See the table below for all my imaginary specs for future Macs.)
That's not likely to happen. In fact, it's unlikely that personal computers as we know them will still exist in 25 years. More likely, devices more like iPhones will be the main mode of computing, with the cloud being used for heavy processing, storage and of course communications.
Will Apple choose to brand this future device a "Macintosh"? Perhaps. There is some precedent for brands to survive over decades. Sony is branding its MP3 players "Walkmans" after its revolutionary portable tape players from the late '70s. Polaroid (the brand, not the original company) is now making digital instant cameras with built-in printers.
It doesn't stop there. Companies invest a lot in brands and once that brand is established, they want to milk it for what seems like an eternity.
Think about one technology brand that wouldn't die: American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). That brand is synonymous with solid communications, which is why SBC/Cingular decided to adopt the brand when it bought AT&T's wireless and fixed line companies.
There has been some movement to separate the Mac brand from the OS X operating system in recent months, something that may give the iPhone OS its own identity.
Apple has a lot invested in the Macintosh brand. It remains the high-end personal computer "for the rest of us." In 25 years, I expect we'll all remember -- and, I hope, still be participating in -- the Macintosh experience.