2015 looks set to be an exciting year for Apple enthusiasts. With the two new iPhone 6 models breaking sales records, iMacs now going retina, and of course the imminent release of the Apple Watch, the California giant has once again managed to capture the hearts and minds of people across the globe.

So what do the next twelve months hold in store for Tim Cook and his dedicated conjurers of electronic magic? Will the much fabled TV finally appear? Is there any hope of a Retina MacBook Air? Or does Apple have another 'one more thing' up its well-tailored sleeves? Well, in the time honoured Macworld tradition, we sort the wheat from the chaff in the land of speculation and industry expertise, to bring you what we think the Apple landscape will look like a year from now.

In this feature you can read about:

  • The Apple Watch
  • Apple TV
  • iTunes Radio, Beats & Hi-res music
  • iPad Pro (iPad Plus)
  • MacBook Air Retina
  • iPhone 7
  • iOS 9
  • OS X 10.11

And more... Plus: read more Apple rumours

(By the way, the video at the top of the feature is one of a pair. In the video above the Macworld team discuss their hopes for 2015, but we also made a video looking back on our highlights of 2014. That video is embedded at the bottom of the page.)

Apple Watch rumours 2015     

                          

It’s been nearly five years since Apple launched a truly new product. When Steve Jobs held the first iPad up for the world to see in 2010, the technology company was on something of a roll - the iPhone was setting the benchmark for smartphones, laptop design had been shaken out of its plastic complacency by the MacBook Air, and personal music players were already beaten into weak submission by the all conquering iPod range. But Apple’s newest creation enters a marketplace that feels far more competitive than back then, and the Watch will need to prove its worth against the growing range of Android and Microsoft powered alternatives.

There’s certainly a market for wearable devices. Industry watchers Strategic Analytics released a report recently stating that nearly two million Android smart watches had been sold in 2013, and the arrival of Android Wear, with a wider choice of devices, can only have increased that number in 2014. Apple of course has a history of entering a market late but, through superior design and software, quickly becoming the dominant player. If it can repeat these past successes then wearables look set to be the breakout technology in 2015.

We already know that the Apple Watch is set to be released early in the year, with market analysts currently predicting February. The new timepiece will arrive in three models - Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition - that will also be available in large and small screen size options. This last feature should make the device more attractive to women and those with smaller wrists who don’t want to be adorned with bulky, chronometric jewellery. Apple is breaking from its normal, strictly controlled, design aesthetics, and also releasing numerous, interchangeable straps, in a range of styles and colours. This level of customisation is quite unusual for the company, but it’s certainly a deliberate move, with the tagline on the Apple site declaring the Watch 'Our most personal device yet'.

Of course one of the biggest reasons for the success of iOS devices, and a stick with which many usually beat Android, is that of the App Store. So, with Apple releasing the WatchKit SDK we expect a large amount of new apps to be available when the Watch finally launches. How many of them are original, purpose built creations though, is still questionable. While iPhones and iPads are complete devices, the Apple Watch isn’t really a standalone product. To do anything useful it requires the WiFi and Bluetooth connections of an iPhone, and only models after the iPhone 5 are compatible. This limitation could make writing apps easier, as they become essentially remote controls for an iOS equivalent, but it remains to be seen whether someone can create that must have experience that sells the idea of an Apple Watch.

Health apps will no doubt take centre stage, thanks to the built in heart rate monitor and various sensors. This should be popular with gym regulars, and those who enjoy a spot of running or cycling, but we’re not convinced you’d really want to play football in the mud and rain with a £300 watch on your wrist. Swimmers will also need to find another option, as tech journalist David Pogue reported after a private briefing with Apple that the Watch wasn’t advised to be used in a pool, or indeed the shower. 

Cost is also a significant challenge for the Watch to overcome. Apple has said that the device will start at $349 (which we estimate will amount to around £299 here in the UK), but with the various options available the real price could be much higher. This compares unfavourably to the various Android Wear options available that retail for well under £200 and work with a range of devices. When you pair this with the investment an iPhone demands these days, the bills start to mount up. All that being said, Apple is the past master of making expensive technology both desirable and popular. Why should the Watch be any different? It’s also a hugely significant moment in Tim Cook’s leadership, as this is the first Apple creation launched under his charge, but from the way he was grinning and exuding a palpable excitement during September’s keynote announcement, it seems he’s confident that the company has another winner on its hands...or wrists.

PREDICTION: Apple is something of an unstoppable force at the moment, so the Watch will most likely be a hit. We’re concerned though that it’s a real luxury item, reliant on other devices to be useful. This one is risky.

Read:

Apple TV rumours 2015

One device that was conspicuous by its absence at the various 2014 product launch events was the Apple TV. The small black box has seen very little advancement in the past few years, with only a bump up to 1080p as the significant improvement of note. Speculation has been rife that an actual HD, or even 4K, television set would be released by Apple, mainly fuelled by the Steve Jobs biography, in which he stated how the company had finally ‘cracked’ TV. No such unit has arrived, and focus is definitely shifting away from an integrated device and back to the smart TV boxes that are growing in number and popularity.

Rival companies have not wasted this opportunity to capitalise on Apple’s hesitation, and the choice to customers is now copious. Roku currently has several available devices, including the Streaming Stick (£49), all of which boast a wide range of on-demand services such as Netflix, Now TV, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, and ITV Player among others. There are also similar units available from Amazon (FireTV £79), Sky TV  (Now TV £9.99), and Google (Nexus Player - US only - and the ChromeCast player £30). All of these innovations have left Apple looking somewhat behind the times, with hardware that hasn’t been updated almost two years, and a paucity of channels available to UK customers. Rumours persist though, that the reason for the minimal advances is that Apple is planning a complete redesign of the Apple TV, one that might put it right to the front of the pack once more. Read more about the alternatives to the Apple TV here.

By far the biggest problem to overcome is that of content. With the appetite for streamed content growing steadily thanks to Netflix, iPlayer and YouTube, media companies are taking note. In the US, HBO (makers of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire) announced in October that it intended to offer a streaming service directly to customers, ending the need for a cable subscription. Others will no doubt follow suit, bringing new complications as these prime players start carving up the internet audience. Securing the kind of favourable deals Apple has traditionally enjoyed could be difficult, as you can imagine that some companies will demand exclusivity clauses in their contracts, forbidding rivals to feature on the same platform. Add to that the fact that Netflix and Amazon have started producing their own, exclusive, award winning content, while Apple TV still hasn’t even got the basic content of UK, free-to-air, catchup TV such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, or 4OD, and things look pretty bleak.

If Apple TV is going to become a significant offering in the home entertainment market, then it needs more than just a snazzy new interface. One clue to the direction it might head in is the emergence of Apple’s HomeKit tools, which allow developers to build home automation apps for various Apple products. As the Apple TV is an always on, low power, internet connected device, that never leaves the house, it would be the perfect hub for collating and reporting data to your iPhone or iPad, or controlling temperature and lighting devices such as the Philips Hue Lux bulbs, or Nest thermostat. 

There has also been speculation that the next generation Apple TV might feature a PVR-style hard drive, turning the device into a more complete home entertainment system, and harking back to the initial models. Of course, this would require live TV capabilities, something lacking at the moment, and adding these features would raise the price significantly, while increasing the size of the device - something adverse to the usual Apple mantra of smaller and thinner.

While the Apple TV might seem like a forgotten son at times, it’s worth noting that the company has sold more than twenty million units, making Apple over a billion dollars in 2013 alone. This might be small change when compared to iPads and iPhones, but it’s still a highly profitable area. Sadly this success might mean Apple continues to let the device tick over quietly in the background. At the moment it’s a great way to integrate iOS and OS X devices into your TV - play games, display photos, watch videos - and that might just be enough.

PREDICTION: We hope to see some change in the Apple TV in 2015. For a long time we’ve been longing for more channels, but also gaming, and other apps. There have been rumours that Apple will open up the App Store to the Apple TV, which could answer our prayers and bring new sources of content to the device. We anticipate a spec bump, possibly moving up to an A7 chip and more RAM so it can smoothly incorporate the Home Hub functions and fulfil its rumoured new role as the hub of all your HomeKit enabled devices. But we’d be (pleasantly) surprised to see a major redesign. It is equally possible that 2015 won’t see much change at all for the little black box. No doubt a few more channels will appear, most likely requiring subscriptions, but the televisual revolution feels a little less important than the other things on the Cupertino agenda – and Apple doesn’t appear to be paying much attention to the entertainment needs of the UK market. Let’s hope that changes in 2015.

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iTunes Radio/Beats Music rumours 2015

iTunes has been in the news recently, but not for entirely positive reasons. You might think that gifting the new U2 album to all its customers would have been seen as a generous offer by Apple, but the backlash online has been really quite remarkable. Bono even apologised for the affair in an interview a few weeks later. This oddly misjudged promotion drew the headlines away from the real news though, which is that music download sales are dropping at an alarmingly steep rate.

The Wall Street Journal revealed in October that sales on iTunes, the world’s number one music retailer, had dropped by between 13-14% since the start of 2014. The main reason cited was the rise of free or cheap streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, and even YouTube. With this trend set to continue it raises the prospect of Apple aggressively pursuing the rumoured rebranding and relaunching of its own iTunes Radio subscription service, and maybe finally releasing it in the UK.

Adding fuel to this particular fire is the $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronic earlier in 2014. Alongside the now ubiquitous headphones that the company is known for, it also has the Beats Music subscription service that many are expecting to be folded into iTunes to bolster the streaming options. This area is set to get even more competitive now that Spotify has announced its plans to lower the cost of accessing its music library in the US, with a $10p/m Premium plan that allows you to add additional family members for just $5 extra. Various industry sources have been reporting since that Apple is in negotiations with the music publishers to lower the subscription cost of its service to under $10. For British customers this all seems something of a moot point, as iTunes Radio and Beats Music have yet to debut in these sceptered isles. But as music streaming begins to gain the upper hand in this battle for the ears of the world, can Apple really hold back when Spotify extends it customer base?

PREDICTION: Apple needs to move fast as the music landscape is changing rapidly. We expect to see the newly rebranded Beats Music appear as an iTunes Music subscription service in the UK by the summer. Whether is as poorly received as the U2 album remains to be seen.  

Apple Hi-Res Audio rumours 2015

When the iPhone 6 was launched there were many audiophiles who hoped that it would include the ability to play Hi-Res audio files. Technically it does, as the DAC (digital audio convertor) included in the handset can handle 24-bit/96kHz audio, but it can not output it through the headphone socket. Mashable ran a series of tests to examine the possibilities on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, concluding that to listen to Hi-Res audio you’d need to output the signal from the Lightning connector. Thankfully, this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, due to the fact that at the last WWDC Apple announced new specifications in its MFI (Made for iPhone) program that allows headphones to use the Lightning connector. At the time there was much speculation that this would pave the way for an imminent Beats Headphone set sporting a lightning connection and heralding in the new era of Hi-Res iTunes. This might still happen, but so far Sony and Philips have been the first to announce new headphones utilising this feature - the Sony MDR-1ADAC (£249), and the Philips Fidelio M2L (£TBC) - both of which come with built-in 24-bit DAC technology. It can only be a matter of time then before we see the emergence of a Beats version in the Apple store.

Of course headphones are one thing, but to play Hi-Res (or HD) audio customers will need Hi-Res tracks. Currently the iTunes store only sells 16-bit/44.1kHz tracks, which is lower than the 24-bit/96kHz quality that would bring the audio above that of a CD. Apple does have a large stockpile of Hi-Res music, as it requests these files from publishers so that it can create the Mastered for iTunes versions of albums, but up until now there has been no sign off it making these tracks available for purchase. Companies such as HDTracks have filled this gap in the market up until now, offering a variety of formats for your HD delectation that can be downloaded to your desktop and then imported to iTunes. Whether Apple will follow suit is still unclear, as it will no doubt require agreement from the music publishers, and with negotiations reportedly already on-going for the iTunes Music subscription service, it might be a bit too much too soon for the notoriously cautious industry. It’s not out of the question though, as in a recent interview with Time magazine U2 frontman Bono said that the band were working with Apple on a project that ‘will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music’.

PREDICTION: With music sales beginning to slump Apple needs to inject something new into iTunes. The subscription service is one, Hi-Res audio is another. Expect this area to become very interesting before the end of the year.

iPad Plus (or iPad Pro) rumours 2015

While sales of iPhones are still going gangbusters, the iPad, after it’s explosive start, has seen a steady decline in the past few sales quarters, dropping almost two million units since the same time last year. Analysts argue that this is could be due to uncertainty about how often customers will choose to upgrade them. With a phone there are generally two-year contracts, after which iPhone users tend to move up to the newer model, but iPads have no such incentive. The 2012 iPad 4 has a retina display, fast hardware, a lightning connector, and can complete pretty much any task you throw at it; so unless weight is a real issue there’s not much reason to spend money on replacing it. The iPad Mini caused a surge of interest, quickly followed by the more impressive Mini 2 with its retina screen and high-level internals, but even that is tapering off, possibly now due to the larger phones beginning to cannibalize sales. In a recent interview with the New York Times, technology analyst J.P.Gownder stated that while the thinner and lighter iPad Air 2 could stimulate growth among professionals, ‘an iPad with an even bigger screen would have driven more new demand.’

Microsoft has already been active in the larger tablet space, with its PC/Tablet hybrid Surface Pro 3 gaining very positive reviews and gleaning the company the best part of a billion dollars in revenue over the last quarter. Of course that device is really a PC with tablet facilities, and so would be better measured against the MacBook Air, but does illustrate that there is a market for touch-based productivity machines. Samsung also threw its hat in the ring earlier in the year with the release of the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, and again saw a generally favourable response. These two products have been steady, if not spectacular, but we can’t help think if Apple was to create its mythical twelve-inch iPad Plus, it would have a strong contender for the enterprise and professional market.

Speculation of a 12.9in iPad Plus or iPad Pro has been consistent across the tech press, although recently things have gone a little quiet. Bloomberg did state that this new category device would finally make its appearance in 2015, so the idea is still circulating, albeit in a less enthusiastic fashion. How such a device would function is another area of hot debate. One thing most people agree on is that it will be aimed at professionals and enterprise rather than consumers. Apple and IBM agreed a deal earlier this year to create one hundred custom-built enterprise apps for iPads and iPhones, and to optimise IBM’s cloud services for iOS. This could significantly improve the penetration into enterprise that so far the iPad has struggled to secure. A larger, pro device, might make this transition a more alluring one for businesses at large, with its productivity capabilities increased. It’s also worth noting that back in March Apple was granted a patent for an advanced stylus that featured an extendable, and possibly interchangeable, nib. This kind of tool could also open up possibilities in professional design, or other industries that require detailed recording of bespoke information.

Some suggest that the new iPad should become an OS X/iOS hybrid device that allows multiple apps on screen at once and extended functionality. This would make the iPad Plus (when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard) a real alternative to the MacBook Air, and of course offer a retina screen - something we’re still waiting for on the laptop. With the current iPad Air bearing a 2K screen there is also a theory that a bigger offering would possibly step up to 4K as a way of maintaining the crystal clear displays, which have become the hallmark of high-end iPads. The current A8X chip found in the iPad Air 2 is certainly a hugely powerful processor, which should be able to deal with the kind of computational challenges required to push that many pixels if need be.

Achieving a hybrid device though this is no small task, and while the newly introduced Handoff and Continuity functions in iOS and OS X bring the two platforms closer together, both are still running separate versions of apps on their systems. Bridging that gap might be a challenge too far in the next year, especially when focus may be trained on the introduction of the Apple Watch. We also know that Tim Cook isn’t the biggest fan of the converged device, comparing tablet-laptops hybrids like the Surface with a “toaster fridge” and suggesting such a device wouldn’t work as well as the two devices separately. A purely iOS 12.9in iPad would still find its place though, as the increased space would allow photography, video, and office apps to really shine.

PREDICTION: Rumours have been persistent for this device, and with iPad sales slowing it would make sense to introduce a new model, especially one aimed at the enterprise market. We think 2015 could see the arrival of a larger iPad, but it will be iOS based rather than an OS X hybrid.

Read: iPad Pro rumours and iPad Pro Preview

MacBook Air Retina rumours 2015

The MacBook Air has been a standout success story for Apple, proving that there is indeed life left in the PC market. 2014 saw modest improvements to the svelte laptops, with the main difference, aside from the minor internal upgrade to the CPUs, being a drop in price of up to £100 across the range. So, what can we expect to see in the months ahead for Apple’s iconic PC?

Top of the list of wants for new models is undoubtedly the inclusion of a Retina screen. While the current 1440x900 resolution is ok, it’s noticeably inferior to the MacBook Pro Retina’s gorgeous display, and looks somewhat underwhelming in the age of HD and beyond. Many expected the Retina Air to appear during 2014, and were disappointed to see the range ignored in the Autumn product announcements. One often-mooted reason for the delay is that of battery life. To push the amount of pixels that a Retina display demands takes a lot of computational power, and this drains the battery faster. The most obvious solution to this problem is Intel’s new Broadwell CPUs, which were originally expected to arrive in 2014, but after a series of delays are now expected in early 2015. These chips feature advanced power consumption capabilities that could mean the MacBook Air finally gaining a Retina screen while retaining that eye catching ten-hour battery life statistic. It’s also been rumoured lately that Apple will break from its silver livery and offer the new Air in the same three colours (Silver, Space Gray, and Space Grey) as the current iPad and iPhone range. A black MacBook Air with a Retina screen? Now that’s an idea to set the pulses racing and the wallet quivering. 

Another resilient idea that just won’t go away is that of a completely new-look 12in MacBook Air, which again would arrive with a HD display. Little is known of this machine, if indeed it even exists, but KGI Securities Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (who has an impressive record of accurately predicting new Apple products) declared that the new laptop would appear late in 2014. If the Broadwell problems had caused production to be put on hold, he may well be proved right when WWDC comes around in the summer.

PREDICTION: As the only Mac (the Mac mini and Mac Pro aside) not to feature a Retina display in its range, the MacBook Air is sure to see this vital upgrade sometime this year. Additional liveries would just be the icing on the cake.

Read: New Retina MacBook Air rumours

iPhone 7 rumours 2015

Although we’ve barely taken the wrapping off the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, rumours are already underway about the nature of these record-breaking models’ successors. In previous years Apple has been consistent in its approach to upgrading the iPhone. 2014 saw a redesign of the casing, and the introduction of the first Apple Phablet, so we’d expect the 2015 models to keep that exterior and instead increase the performance by upgrading key components.

One potential change is that of replacing the gorilla glass screen with sapphire. We already know that the Apple Watch will feature this highly scratch-resistant material (except for the Watch Sport that will use Ion-X glass), but scaling this up to the kind of numbers required for iPhone launches is questionable. Apple did acquire a sapphire plant in Arizona, with the intention of working with GT Advanced Technologies, who specialise in the manufacture of the jewel. This agreement soured though when GTAT declared bankruptcy in October, and the plant now lies dormant while Apple decides how to proceed with its sapphire production.

In standard fashion we’d expect the new iPhone models to have upgraded chips - with the A9 set to take over from the very impressive A8X - and the cameras, which are such strong selling points for iPhones - will no doubt include the latest dusting of Apple magic to makes images even more vibrant. There are also rumours of wireless charging capabilities (much like the Apple Watch), and even a reversible USB charger that can be inserted any way round, just like the Lightning connector.

PREDICTION: Expect mainly internal upgrades to the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, and that they’ll sell in quite incredible quantities. We hope that Apple decides to update one of the smaller iPhones in 2015 – we always thought the 4in screen was the perfect size.

Read: iPhone 7 rumour round-up

iOS 9 rumours 2015

With the dust barely settled on the delivery of iOS 8 (and then 8.1) it's a little early to know what's next for the iPhone and iPad operating system. One introduction we liked in the last iteration was the Family Sharing feature that enabled up to six members of a plan to share content bought on the iTunes and App stores. To take that one step further though we'd like to the introduction of user profiles - similar to that found on Android - which would allow members of a family to actually share a device, particularly iPads, without exposing their data and settings to each other. The new Extensions capability was also a landmark addition to iOS 8, and we hope that this can be expanded to include even more freedom for apps to access each other's data in iOS 9.

We look at this in more depth in a separate article: iOS 9 release date rumours and features wishlist

OS X rumours 2015

Yosemite was a substantial upgrade to OS X, one that saw Apple continue its convergence between mobile and desktop environments. Handoff and Continuity made sharing features (such as phone calls, messages, and documents) between the two platforms seamless; while the new design borrowed much from the flat landscape of iOS 7 and 8. With Apple now on a yearly upgrade cycle for OS X we should expect to see these new functions refined over the year, along with deeper integration of the new iCloud Drive service.

Photos for Mac and iOS rumours 2015

2015 will see Apple release a brand new Photos app for iOS and OS X, that’s set to replace both iPhoto and Aperture on the desktop environment. This new creation has been designed from the ground up have the cloud at its heart, and will dovetail into the newly released iCloud Drive. At WWDC Apple demonstrated the Smart Editing features that allow users to scroll an image along a meter, similar to an iMovie clip, in order to adjust the levels of Light and Colour. Much of the improvements to the image are calculated by the app, but if you want fine controls you can also drag up the menu bar to review individual settings. The OS X version also contains these features, which will certainly make editing your family and holiday snaps much simpler, but with the retirement of Aperture it could leave pro users feeling a little short changed. We’ll find out more when the app is released early in 2015.  

Read: New features in Photos for Mac and iOS

Microsoft Office rumours 2015

At the moment Mac users that want to use Microsoft’s Office for Mac software are faced with the unappetising prospect of working with versions that were launched back in 2010! The design of this now ancient suite is a million miles away from the flat, uncluttered lines of OS X Yosemite, and the functionality is also less than the current Windows releases. Even iPad and iPhone owners have access to newer instances of the productivity powerhouse thanks to the iOS versions launched by Microsoft. Things are set to change though, Microsoft has confirmed it is readying a new version of Office for Mac, with a launch date in the second half of 2015 anticipated. So if you’re a fan of Office on the Mac, things are looking up.

Read: Microsoft Office for Mac release date rumours

Thunderbolt Display rumours 2015

It’s over three years since Apple launched the Thunderbolt display, and while it remains a gorgeous panel, time has caught up with this model. The release of the 5K Retina iMac has left Thunderbolt display owners looking on with envy at the luscious, pin-sharp resolution that is four times that of the now ageing screen. Hopes were high that Apple would update the Thunderbolt display when it announced the launch of the new Mac Pro back at the end of 2013, but a year later there is still no new model to take advantage of the powerhouse Mac. There was brief speculation that the iMac Retina might be able to act as a target display, but this has proven not to be a possibility due to the huge amount of bandwidth required to convey 5K video information.

Presently the Mac range can output up to 4K video due to the limitations of the DisplayPort 1.2 standard, which encompasses both Thunderbolt one and two. The next version of DisplayPort (1.3) is tied in with the release of Intel’s Skylake processors, which themselves are only expected to start becoming available at the tail end of 2015, and could possibly arrive later if Intel suffers the same delays it has with Broadwell. So it would make sense then that if Apple were to upgrade the Thunderbolt Display next year it would do so with a 4K version, with our suspicions being that it would run at 3840 x 2160. Then you could plug three of them into your Mac Pro, and still be able to run one from your Mac Mini - that’s of course if you can afford the guaranteed premium price.

PREDICTION: Displays have never seemed that high on Apple’s agenda, but a thinner, 4K resolution Thunderbolt display just might creep out quietly before the end of the year.

Read: New Mac Pro rumours

So that's what we're expecting and hoping to see from Apple next year. But let's not forget 2014 just yet. Here's Macworld's video review of the year:

On the next page you can read some of the predictions we made earlier this year after Tim Cook revealed that Apple is working on "Secret Projects"