It’s the cable to the computer that’s holding Apple’s mobile devices back. You still need to plug them into a computer for two (or three) reasons: to backup and to sync your music (and to sync your photos).
The iPad, in particular, is has huge potential (I’ll blog soon on my experiences with it) and for some people it could replace their computer altogether. But the fact that you cannot add music without doing a lengthy sync, nor delete tunes to free up disk space when you are away from your computer is a major limiting factor. I think Apple could resolve this with with two developments: one is the long rumoured iTunes cloud and the other is Time Machine for iOS.
The iTunes cloud would allow the various (now rather fragmented) iTunes apps concerned with the playback of music and videos, whether on PCs, Macs or iOS devices, do what Spotify already can and sync your music collection over the air. The Spotify iPhone app lets you see all of your playlists, and you can stream them so long as you have n internet connection – but, crucially, you can also check a box next to each one that you want to be available when you do not have a connection. When you do this, the music is synced over the air to your device – and if you’re on your home wifi network this can include music in your own collection that Spotify don’t offer. There’s no reason why Apple shouldn’t offer something like this even if its only to access the music you already own (and a similar solution could be used for viewing your iPhoto collection, with thumbnails viewable over the air and high resolution images for those albums you have checked and synced).
The Apple Time Capsule is the other element that could free their iOS devices from subservience to a PC. Building Time Machine into iOS would allow devices to do incremental backups – ideally to any AirDisk – and the Time Capsule/AirDisk could also host the storage of the music and photos synced over the air.
If tomorrow’s iTunes announcement (there’s a teaser right now at apple.com) really is The Cloud, then iPhone and iPad world domination won’t be far behind…