Back to my 2010 predictions, this time mainly about Apple, the PC company that fared best in 2009 and is likely to fare best in 2010, too. Though I also wonder at what point we take Apple’s hint and stop thinking of them so much as a computer company?

Over the past years Apple has brought out successively better and ever more solid versions of OS X. They’ve completed a transition from PowerPC to Intel processors that could have killed a lesser company. They’ve built a dominant line of professional apps and a competitive line of productivity apps, pricing them reasonably compared to Microsoft. They re-invented the media player and the smart phone. They revolutionized the record business. And having once vilified the very idea of Apple stores, they changed their minds and showed the world how stores ought to be run. The company is absolutely at the top of its game despite a CEO who was absent for months near death. How do you top that?

In 2010 you do so by entering new markets and turning on old friends, sometimes simultaneously. That’s likely to be the case with the coming iSlate tablet, or whatever it will be called, which definitely won’t be running exclusively on AT&T. You can see that from AT&T’s sudden embrace of Android, which never would have happened if Steve Jobs hadn’t first made a preemptive move of his own for the iSlate, probably to Verizon.  The Apple/AT&T marriage is now one of convenience only.

The iSlate (or whatever) will be Steve’s idea of a new category of computing, or at least that’s the way he’ll spin it. Not an ebook reader, not a tablet computer, not a pen computer, not a handheld, not a smart phone, the iSlate will be something else and I’d say that something will depend on: a) the content deals Apple can announce, and; b) whatever Steve decides to claim for the product, whether actually true or not.

So expect lots of print deals for newspapers, magazines, and books. Expect, too, audio and video deals for the iSlate. Expect some major UI gimmick too, because that’s always at the heart of one of these advances. “It isn’t an MP3 player! It’s an AAC player with this tuning wheel thingee!! ” See what I mean?

Apple will under-promise and over-deliver for the iSlate. And if for some reason they don’t, then they’ll just declare it to be a hobby, like the AppleTV.

Apple as a content company will move into subscription music based on its recent Lala Media acquisition, but don’t think this embracing of streaming means Apple will be abandoning downloads, no sirree. Remember that while Hulu, for example, has been making a lot of news delivering streamed TV and movies, Apple has been making a lot of profit downloading both for sale and rental.

The downloading-streaming-downloading pendulum is about to turn direction, I think, with the advent of true 1080p video on the net. Years ago no network was fast enough for high fidelity streaming audio, much less streaming video, so everything was downloaded. Then networks got faster and people streamed. Then video came along (and Bit Torrent) and people downloaded again. That’s when iTunes rose to power for those of us who actually pay our bills. Then YouTube made streaming again popular. But now 1080p files are just so darned big that downloading is, again, where it’s at.

So what does that say about Apple’s vaunted rejection of Blu-Ray disks? I’ve maintained in the past that Apple refused to offer Blu-Ray as part of its agenda to take control of downloadable HD video standards. and I think I was right. But here’s news: Apple’s new line of iMacs were supposed to ship with Blu-Ray drives, but didn’t. What gives with that? Maybe it was a technical glitch, maybe a last minute pricing problem, maybe Steve didn’t get enough blood or flesh from some corporate partner (Sony). But I think it means that the fight over HD was won by Apple to the extent that they feel they can start listening again to their professional customers from the video industry who have been screaming for Blu-Ray.

So look for Blu-Ray drives to start appearing, shortly, in Apple computers along with Blu-Ray support in all of Apple’s professional applications. Look also for Apple to offer some higher level of HD download, probably with expanded device portability courtesy of Disney’s new KeyChest technology, which I am sure came from Apple.

And then there’s the iPhone. The iSlate will be a bigger iPhone, but in 2010 we’ll surely see at least two next-gen iPhones, too — a smaller form factor in the Nano tradition and a 1 GHz processor on something like the current model. Apple will remain atop the smart phone market, where Android may eventually threaten, but not yet.  As we see from the first Nexus One reviews, Google has a lot to learn.

More about Google and the Nexus One tomorrow, as well as an interesting theory about Apple and Nokia.