Apple is no longer the company of Steve Jobs, this we know. Apple innovation isn’t dead but it has become more conservative, not to mention, the showmanship has pretty much evaporated. Apple’s hits are, with few exceptions, refreshes and significant updates to existing products. Only the Mac Pro stands out as an utterly new design, if not a fresh category in itself.
In 2013, Apple did not breach a single new product sector, despite high expectations for the company. When talking new product categories, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained he never promised “this year.” That equivocation has left many Apple consumers frustrated.
However, I expect 2014 to be different.
Wondering what’s in store for one of the world’s most closely watched companies? Here are some of my and experts’ best educated guesses.
Where Are the Wearables?
For much of 2013, we were convinced Apple was gearing up to release its first piece of wearable technology, the iWatch. Instead, Pebble, Qualcomm, Nokia, Adidas and, most notably,Samsung, rolled out a plethora of wrist-ready devices.
Apple simply sat back and — er — watched.
But 2014 should be different. Let’s read the signs: The company introduced the M7 motion coprocessor. The chip works with all the motion sensors in the iPhone 5S, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina, and plays nice with third-party apps, such as Day One and Nike Move+. Plus, the company has hired fashion-conscious executives Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry, and Paul Deneve, former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent.
So, yes, Apple is clearly planning. But will we see the iWatch in 2014? Long-time Creative Strategies Analyst and recognized Apple and industry expert Tim Bajarin isn’t so sure.
“I do believe Apple is working on elegant design for smartwatches some time in the future,”
“I do believe Apple is working on elegant design for smartwatches some time in the future,” he tells me. However, he notes that despite the industry interest, the smartwatch category really hasn’t taken off. In order for any of these products to fly, including whatever Apple makes, design has to be on trend. “Watches are a fashion statement,” adds Bajarin.
As a longtime Apple analyst, Gartner’s Carolina Milanesi fully expects Apple to deliver “something that’s on us.” Like Bajarin, she believes it will be different than the, by some measures, clunkySamsung Galaxy Gear. She also expects Apple’s wearable device to do a better job of offering rich functionality while it’s away from the iPhone.
My take: Apple is the only company that really grasps fashion appeal; it knows consumers won’t wear ugly technology on our wrists. It watched other companies swing for the fences and essentially whiff, and now it’s ready to punch a triple up the middle. I anticipate the best-looking, most highly functional smartwatch on the market. At this time next year, it’ll be the holiday season’s hottest gadget.
Apple’s conservative screen size variety stands in stark contrast to Samsung’s approach, which has squeezed as many sizes between 4 and 10 inches as possible. Even so, rumors persist oflarger iPads and larger, mid-sized and even smaller iPhones. The year 2014 could be the perfect time for Apple to embrace some true display variety.
“You’ll absolutely see something with a larger screen,” says Bajarin, referring to new iPhones in 2014, but adds, “I don’t think it’ll be six inches — that would be a tablet.” More likely, says Bajarin, who consults with most of the major gadget companies, including Apple, is a 4.8- to 5-inch iPhone.
Milanesi does not envision the same thing for iPad. She tells me iOS clearly can handle large-screen sizes. (I would agree — look at how well it works across 4-inch, 7.9- and 9.7-inch devices.) But a larger iPad screen simply doesn’t add up: “I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be a 12-inch iPad.
I don’t know what a 12-inch iPad would do
I don’t know what a 12-inch iPad would do,” she says.
That’s a key consideration. If it isn’t clear what a larger iPad would do, why would Apple design one? “With Apple, it’s always looking for something that’s going to make my experience richer and tighter, as opposed to tech for the sake of tech,” says Milanesi.
My take: A larger iPhone makes perfect sense, since, at least from a market perspective, 4.5-inch screens are a proven commodity. The fact that Apple went ahead with two new iPhones in 2013 is a clear indication it’s open to producing new SKUs when it sees a need, a clear market and obvious utility. Some people really love and want larger screens. And it’s already a key reason Apple loses customers to the Samsung Galaxy line.
Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani
Don’t Wave Away Apple TV
Steve Jobs may have told biographer Walter Isaacson that he had figured out how to build an “integrated television,” but Apple clearly still has some work to do. Despite forecasts that we’d see an Apple TV set late last year or some time this year, nothing materialized.
It could happen in 2014, though. Milanesi tells me she sees Apple “coming out with something that’s a cross between a TV screen and a Mac, and that will fit in our home office.” That seems plausible, since she’s essentially describing an iMac with a built-in TV tuner, or perhaps with an Apple TV stuffed inside.
Bajarin, for one, is unconvinced such a set is a done deal. Instead, he still sees more Apple TV(the tiny set-top box that has graduated from a hobby to a multi-million-unit business) updates in the coming year.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Apple TV did not get a hardware refresh in 2013, which means it’s due.
As 2013 drew to a close, Apple made a key acquisition: Israeli-based Primesense. Its gesture technology can be found in the original Xbox 360 Kinect. Since then, the company has built smaller and more powerful motion sensors. Now Apple owns it, and the possibilities are particularly rich.
Apple could slip Primesense’s tiny sensor into the next Apple TV. Bajarin agrees it could happen, but it won’t be “overnight.”
As the year drew to a close, the company also snapped up Twitter social analytics company Topsy, a move that preambles some sort of second-screen social media on the next version of the set-top device. All guesswork, of course. Not only is Apple notoriously tight-lipped about post-acquisition plans, but it tends to take time on implementation.
I’m willing to bet the next Apple TV interface will include either a Twitter stream or hashtag bar, and the hardware will be able to recognize you and your gestures. All it will take to find your next power-loading TV obsession is a wave of your hand.
Milanesi envisions gesture technology inside future tablets, too. Imagine “gesture complementing voice and touch, […] multiple screens that are around you, not just in the home, but in the car, as well … What if you could use gesture (not just voice) for your phone or smaller tablet that’s like a console on your dash?”
Apple’s growing interest in in-car tech makes this a distinct possibility for 2014.
The Plausible and the Unexpected
- The City Council of Cupertino, Calif. gave Apple final approval for its new “spaceship” headquarters. The company has already started demolition. Expect a cornerstone (can a circular building have one?) and a lot of construction in 2014.
- While some hardware innovation may be in the offing, expect Apple to unveil an even faster mobile CPU, the A8, and possibly an M8 companion. I also think the iPad Air will get a resolution upgrade, to help differentiate it from the iPad mini with Retina.
- iOS should get an upgrade, but it may be more of an interim update (maybe dubbed “7.5”). Similarly, OSX should get a mini update. I suspect both 64-bit systems to be nudged even closer together. No merging right now, but even former doubters see the writing on the wall.
“Up until they moved to a 64-bit platform,” says Milanesi, “I always thought they would keep them separate.” Now she sees a possible merge in the future and notes how similar the two platforms already are. “You know your way around the apps and around the OS. There are lots of ‘aha!’ moments.”
- Milanesi, though, is more intrigued by next year’s potential surprises. She noted that the acquisition of Burberry’s Ahrendts has much more to do with a reinvention of Apple retail than it does the wearable revolution.
Apple’s retail experience is revered, even copied throughout the industry. But Milanesi says it can’t keep that “boutique feel” while serving more and more customers. She thinks that Ahrendts, who helped Burberry redesign its backend processing, can help Apple make better use of customer data.
If the Apple Store knows more about you before and when you walk inside, it “can tailor my experience and still feel like I’m in a high-end boutique, without [a genius] having to spend 25 minutes with me.”
Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Apple Goes to Work
Both analysts believe Apple will spend time in 2014 going after the business/enterprise/productivity market.
Bajarin tells me sales of laptops and desktops have dropped by 100 million units since 2010, while tablets like iPad have picked up the slack. He wonders if something like an iPad Pro (a larger iPad) or some new form factor better geared toward full-scale productivity might be in the works.
I often use an iPad mini with a Logitech keyboard to ramp up my tablet typing speed, but I think Apple understands that if you want to get heavy-duty work done, you’ll switch to aMacBook Air.
Milanesi’s enterprise idea seems more plausible. She told me Apple will work to make the tablet more secure by further separating apps, perhaps allowing for containers around applications. This could mean organizing your funhouse apps in one stack, your corporate apps and data in another.
By Next Year
In addition to some of the more major Apple 2014 plans, we’ll certainly see iPod updates, laptop refreshes, ever-more beautiful iMacs, and lots of work on the now free iWork and iLife suites.
I also anticipate that, in 2014, the company will get serious about iCloud, raising the free, base-level storage space to 10 GB and launching an ad/marketing campaign to educate consumers.
Again, Apple has plenty of room for innovation. Though doubtful, maybe something just for gaming, or a completely different in-vehicle device (more likely), a deepening partnership between Apple and Yahoo (with better visibility for Tumblr in iOS), a proliferation of Touch ID-enabled devices. And, I truly hope, something completely unexpected.
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