Sources told 9to5Mac that Apple has been testing both Music and Podcasts apps for Microsoft platforms in a private beta. We cannot confirm if the apps will be compatible with Windows PCs or if they were developed to work exclusively with Xbox, just like the Apple TV app.
If they're being tested, Apple could soon release them.
Xbox Versions Also Possible
Neowin a year ago spotted Apple's job listing for engineers to build "the next generation of media apps for Windows". According to the job listing on LinkedIn, experience with Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is a "big plus." The UWP frameworks allow programmers to write and distribute software that runs on Windows 10, Xbox, and HoloLens.
Apple currently does not offer any other Windows app on the Microsoft Store aside from iTunes. Its fate, however, remains murky because 9to5Mac doesn't make it clear whether Apple might discontinue iTunes for Windows, too. Doing so would inhibit customers because iTunes is currently required to sync iPhones and iPads with PCs.
On the Mac, device syncing is baked into the Finder itself.
If iTunes for Windows gets pulled, Apple will need to introduce new ways of syncing iOS devices on Windows. Apple rarely updates the app so we wouldn't be surprised the slightest bit should the company decide to put iTunes for Windows on the chopping block next.
Apple will reportedly refresh its MacBook Pro notebook lineup with a pair of overhauled models in 14 and 16-inch size options, coming around the middle of the year.
The upcoming computers are expected to ditch the curved edges of the current MacBook Pros for flat edges similar to the iPhone 12, according to TFI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. The refreshed notebooks will bring an "all-new design form factor," the revered Apple analyst writes in a research note to investors, seen by MacRumors.
The research note goes on to mention a few other perks that have the potential to make this the biggest MacBook Pro overhaul in years. Some of them include using next-generation Apple silicon, adding more ports, removing the controversial Touch Bar, and bringing back the convenient MagSafe connector, among other newsworthy predictions.
Kuo is the most reliable Apple analyst out there.
Say Goodbye to the Touch Bar
Unsurprisingly, the new machines are said to swap the Touch Bar (finally!) for the physical function keys, including a physical Escape key. The Touch Bar debuted on the fourth-generation MacBook Pro, which launched in October 2016.
On all models but the base one, the Touch Bar supplants the physical function key row with a touchscreen OLED strip. This design allows the Touch Bar to display a set of controls that dynamically change as you move from one app or task to another.
Though it doesn't suffer from serious discoverability issues like 3D Touch, the iPhone's defunct pressure-sensing display layer, customers haven't exactly embraced the Touch Bar in droves. And who can blame them? It's often a lot faster to press a dedicated keyboard shortcut or choose a menu option than it is to touch a shortcut in the Touch Bar.
Making matters worse, interacting with the Touch Bar forces you to look away from the main screen. So far, the Touch Bar's been a pretty distraction rather than a convenient time-saver.
MagSafe Charging Is Making a Comeback!
Kuo claims Apple's beloved MagSafe connector will be making a comeback (not to be confused with the MagSafe accessories for the iPhone 12). Having debuted on the 2006 MacBook Pro, MagSafe was phased-out from Apple's entire notebook offering by early 2019. Instead of sending your pricey Apple notebook flying across the room, the breakaway magnetic cord would safely disconnect should someone happen to trip over it.
Due to its convenience, reviving MagSafe for the upcoming MacBook Pro should be awesome news for a whole lot of people. It'll be interesting seeing how Apple implements MagSafe because all its notebooks have transitioned to USB-C. Theoretically speaking, MagSafe could be utilized for charging, freeing up one of the USB-C port for other uses.
For what it's worth, Mark Gurman of Bloomberg has corroborated Kuo's analysis. Citing a person with knowledge of the plans, Gurman added more context around MagSafe:
The return of MagSafe with the next MacBook Pros will also allow those laptops to charge at a faster rate. The connector will be similar to the elongated pill-shaped design of the older MagSafe port. Despite moving away from USB-C for charging, Apple will still include multiple USB-C ports on its future Macs.
These MacBook Pros will also have brighter screens with higher contrast, Gurman claims.
Additional I/O Types, Fewer Dongles
Kuo's research note makes yet another small but important prediction: Apple may be bringing back some of the legacy ports. A few years back, the company ditched a plethora of I/O ports from the MacBook Pro to replace them with USB-C counterparts. As a result, all MacBook Pro models released since 2016 onward have only offered USB-C ports.
That being said, however, we're still not living in a future where everything is exclusively USB-C. Bringing back some of those I/O options means customers, especially power user, will no longer need to purchase pricey dongles to supplement the available USB-C ports.
Powered by Next-Generation Apple Silicon
These upcoming 14 and 16-inch notebooks will be reportedly powered by next-generation Apple silicon featuring more CPU cores and enhanced graphics. According to Kuo, Apple will not be providing Intel-based counterparts to those machines at all. In November 2020, Apple began transitioning Macs from Intel processors to its in-house designed chips.
The Mac mini, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air file as the first devices with Apple's M1 laptop chip. If Gurman is correct, Apple may also be planning a redesigned MacBook Air. That one, however, is not expected to be released until "long after the next MacBook Pros."
Fresh analysis from Counterpoint Research hints at a growing appetite for truly wireless earbuds, with Apple the biggest beneficiary of the trend in spite of increased competition.
The market research firm has predicted that annual shipments of true wireless stereo (TWS) "hearables" in 2020 hit 238 million units, up 83 percent. The incredible growth is indicative of how Apple has managed to mainstream the market for wireless earphones.
All models of AirPods made up nearly one-third of TWS shipments in 2020, or 29 percent.
The Incredibly Profitable Apple Earbuds
This is actually down from the 41 percent unit share for the AirPods in the fourth quarter of 2019. The Apple earbuds dropping from 41 percent to 29 percent in the course of nine months is the biggest evidence that others are starting to catch up.
Counterpoint adds that the lower AirPods share indicates increased completion rather than a fall in unit sales for Apple. Diehard fans needn't worry because the 41 percent unit share has earned the company a whopping 62 percent of the revenue due to premium AirPods pricing.
The research firm commented:
Apple’s powerful iOS ecosystem, typically comprised of consumers with larger disposable incomes, has been the main driver for growth---especially in terms of revenues. High-end stalwart Samsung has also performed consistently.
While others are chasing Apple, the iPhone maker remains well ahead of the competition.
TWS Competition Is Heating Up
Counterpoint data shows that Xiaomi, Apple's nearest competitor in the TWS market, is a distant second at 13 percent. Meanwhile, Samsung and JBL claim the third and fourth spot, respectively, with just five percent unit share each.
Counterpoint expects major potential in the low-end with budget earbuds costing much less than the AirPods, which start at $159. Indeed, half of the top 10 makers in the third quarter of 2020 were budget brands with sub-$50 and even sub-$20 offerings, the firm notes. "Xiaomi best illustrated the trend as it consolidated its number two spot," Counterpoint says.
If you're wondering about the increasing popularity of these things, look no further than Apple's decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone back in 2017. To make up for it, Apple introduced the AirPods and many rivals have since followed the trend.
Counterpoint senior analyst Liz Lee acknowledged as much, saying:
The trend around removing jacks and earphones from devices and boxes is becoming a big driver for TWS segment growth. It also helps that mobile media consumption continues to grow, making TWS the next must-have accessory.
Apple doesn't report how many AirPods it's selling, and many of its rivals do the same, meaning Counterpoint numbers are estimates. As such, take them with a pinch of salt. If TWS sales in 2020 really shot up a massive 83 percent, and Apple accounts for 29 percent of that, we can infer that Apple might have shipped nearly 70 million AirPods units last year.
Meet the AirPods Family
The AirPods family has enjoyed phenomenal growth following the release of the original $159 model three years ago. Apple currently sells the following models of the AirPods-branded earbuds and over-ear headphones:
$159 AirPods (2nd generation) with Charging Case
$199 AirPods (2nd generation) with Wireless Charging Case
$249 AirPods Pro
$549 AirPods Pro Max
Regardless of what its competitors do, Apple clearly plans on selling its AirPods range for many years to come.