3G on your Mac laptop 
The iPhone and iPad may not be the only devices capable of mobile internet connections in 2011. Embedded mobile networking may soon become a standard feature of laptops. Yes, your laptop may gain a 3G SIM card in 2011. Apple won’t be the first to offer this, Sony, Dell and other PC makers already offer embedded 3G chips and companies such as Vodafone offer data plans.

New Intel processors
Intel has announced that its new Sandy Bridge processors will begin shipping early in 2011. The new CPU has an improved graphics system and improved energy efficiency for notebooks and better performance. The big news is that Sandy Bridge’s integrated graphics processor allows for HD video streaming and 3D video playback. The new Intel chips will replace Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 lines, and are expected to show up in desktops and laptops in the first half of 2011, so expect to see these chips in new iMacs and MacBooks. 

Ditching the hard drive
When Steve Jobs revealed the MacBook Air he hinted that its slim form factor might be adopted in other Mac laptops. The thinner, lighter laptop is made possible, in part, because Apple has used even smaller SSD drives. The Air was previously available with an SSD drive, but this time Apple has saved space by doing away with the casing and mounting the flash chips onto the board. We may see similar moves in the MacBook range: perhaps Apple will eventually ditch the hard drive all together. However, using flash means less storage (the capacities aren’t at hard drive levels yet), and it costs more. That said, flash is getting cheaper, and maybe size isn’t important: consumers are sharing data via the internet and storing it in the cloud. Thus, most users don’t need a multi-terabyte drive on their laptop.

Ditching the optical drive 
Apple has already proven with the MacBook Air that a computer doesn’t need an optical drive. Should you want to install software it is possible to do so using Remote Disk. But that method may become redundant as Apple offers software via the Mac App Store. As for storage, the capacities of DVDs are too small to be practical, with a maximum of 5.4GB. So what about Blu-ray? Will Apple introduce Blu-ray on the Mac? According to a Steve Jobs email sent in June: “Blu-ray is looking more and more like one of the high-end audio formats that appeared as the successor to the CD – like it will be beaten by internet downloadable formats.”

In response to claims that high-density backups, high-quality video and lack of DRM are benefits of Blu-ray, Jobs replied: “Free, instant gratification and convenience [likely in that order] is what made downloadable formats take off. And the downloadable movie business is rapidly moving to free or rentals [iTunes] so storing purchased movies or TV shows is not an issue. We may see a move to streamed free and rental content at sufficient quality [at least 720p] to win everyone over.” It looks like Apple is putting all it’s eggs in the iTunes basket. 

USB 3.0 
Lots of hard drives are emerging with USB 3, but Apple doesn’t look set to support it soon. A Jobs’ email stated: “We don’t see USB 3 taking off at this time. No support from Intel, for example.”

Intel is expected to roll out USB 3.0 in 2011, so if Apple does decide to support the standard, what will it mean to you? If you have ever sat in front of your Mac, waiting for something to transfer to removable media, when minutes feel like hours, USB 3.0 may answer your prayers. The theoretical throughput offered by USB 3.0 is 10 times faster than USB 2.0 – which maxed out at 480Mbps, while USB 3.0 can theoretically handle up to 5Gbps. The speed is theoretical though, if you want to get anything like it, look out for the certified ‘SuperSpeed USB 3.0’ logo. 

Own a Mac Pro? You can get USB 3.0 now by plugging a USB 3.0 card into an expansion slot. 

Around the time Jobs disqualified USB 3.0, Intel announced Light Peak is on track to be delivered in early 2011. Light Peak offers performance of 10Gbps (and Intel promises to scale that speed up to 100Gbps over the next decade). How fast is 10Gbps? According to Intel, fast enough to transfer a Blu-ray movie in 10 seconds. Apple worked with Intel to develop Light Peak, so it may hold off offering USB 3.0 to spur adoption of that standard. 

Looking forward 
In 2010, Apple went from strength to strength. It announced in October that its quarterly profits had leapt by 70 per cent to $4.31bn. Revenues rose to $20.34bn (up 66 per cent) and it sold 14.1 million iPhones, a rise of 91 per cent. It also became the largest company on the NASDAQ in terms of market value. 

Will 2011 be as good for Apple? One analyst has estimated the company’s share price will hit $429 by the end of 2011. It certainly looks like Apple is set to continue its meteoric rise. Our only fear is what might happen to Apple should Steve Jobs leave for health reasons. In 2004, Jobs was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his pancreas. The tumour was successfully removed, but a further health scare caused him to take a leave of absence from the company, and eventually have a liver transplant in 2009. During Jobs’ absence, Tim Cook acted as CEO. It is expected that should the worse happen, 55-year-old Jobs will have already appointed his successor. The question is, will that person share Jobs’ dynamism and determination to lead Apple into the future.