I get the feeling that the announcements at next week's Apple WWDC are going to represent the same kind of fundamental shift in Apple's offering that the iPod did in 2001.
I don't have any inside info, and I make a point of not trying to pry secrets from my friends who work at Apple, but the rumblings are huge. 'iCloud' could mean anything, but given the complete failure of MobileMe over the last decade there's no way Apple would introduce it on such a pedestal unless it's incredible. My guess is that iCloud is to MobileMe as iPhone was to Newton: a complete, deep, polished solution after an underwhelming market failure.
Apple took a long time to get the Internet. Geeks were still installing FTP clients and web browsers for years after Apple belatedly included TCP/IP and PPP to their OS and, when Apple finally did integrate the Internet into Mac OS, it was in a very tacked on kind of way. A browser, an app for making web pages, eventually a few vertical online stores. I think that's all about to change.
The scene has been building for a long time: The iPhone blurred the line between using a local device and being online. Chromebooks propose to eliminate the line completely by using an OS that expects to be online all the time (though still has limited functionality when the wireless cord is cut). Dropbox is a huge hit because it provides the most seamless way to use native apps while still writing to the cloud. Google and Amazon are tripping over each other (and the music labels) trying to roll out virtual music lockers.
My guess though is that these vertical solutions will seem pretty thin by the end of next week.
In no particular order, here are some thoughts about where Apple may be going. These are not based on any inside info, and they certainly won't all be right:
Seamless remote access to any data kept in your Documents folder, and synchronization across machines
Universal login using your Apple account: Walk up to any Mac, sign in as a guest using your Apple account credentials and you'll be brought to the same desktop you get on your personal machine. Files will be downloaded from the cloud (or your home network) on demand, and you'll have access to all the apps you've purchased via the Mac App Store, downloaded and installed on-demand, and removed securely, along with your data, upon logout.
Apple will announce that by early 2012 every screen they make will be touch-enabled, including the entire Mac line, and while it will be several years before OS X apps require touch, there will be universal gestures that will be useful in today's apps from day one, and more gestures that tomorrows apps can choose to support to augment the pointer-and-keyboard model.
Realtime, continuous syncing of iOS devices will mean never having to plug your iPhone or iPad in to your computer again, or even the need for a computer for syncing at all.
iOS runtime within Mac OS to allow iPhone apps to run as Dashboard widgets and iPad apps as first-class desktop apps.
Task-level integration between iOS and Mac OS. If you have a spreadsheet open in Numbers on your Mac and you open Numbers on your iPad, the document you were working on will open up. Realtime synchronization will be integrated as an OS-level service available to developers.
Built-in screen sharing of Mac OS to the iPad, to do lightweight actions on your Mac from your iPad.
Your canonical music library exists in the cloud. Your Mac, Windows, or iOS device can sync with all or part of it in the same way that your iOS devices sync with your computer's iTunes library today.
Unification of the App Store to encompass Mac, iPhone, iPod, AppleTV and iPad apps. Ability to make a single purchase for all the environments the app supports.
Stripping out the App store from iTunes. iTunes will be the media storefront and the App Store will be the resource storefront.
Continuous media play across devices: Play music on your mac, then with a tap shift the music to your iPhone when you're on the go. A sizable portion of the playlist will quickly transfer over so there's no reliance on continued wi-fi access or 3G streaming.
A major theme will be the concept that a task doesn't reside with any particular device, but instead with the person, so shifting devices doesn't mean you have to shift or restart tasks. Devices will simply be windows into what tasks you're currently doing.
The only new devices announced at WWDC will be updates to facilitate the new software functionality. Some have speculated on new Airport base stations built around iOS to make VPN easy and mainstream. This seems very likely. It will be important to have one device that is always on and available, and Airport is a sensical bet.
AppleTV + App Store updates probably aren't there yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear announcements in order to get developers building apps.
At its core, Apple will use Lion and iOS 5 to make the shift from building computers that access the Internet to building a global computing service that lets people use any number of physical devices to access it.
At least, I hope so.
UPDATE: Here's my self-graded,, post-keynote report card on these guesses.