A year ago, in The Steps for Apple beyond iPhone 5, I tried to map out the future of the iOS product range – focussing on the iPhone as the base. Let’s review how it went, and look at the next 12-24 months for Apple’s portable devices.
The initial miss was that the iPhone 5, with more screen and thinner, didn’t materialise for a year. However it did eventually appear and the 4S that appeared last year nicely fills the iPhone classic category.
There is no nano format iPhone, and I still believe there is scope for a smaller iPhone. Apple can use the same approach as with the iPad mini, scaling down the physical screen size of the iPhone 4, while retaining the 3GS pixel count. The new iPod Nanos could be a great size for a fully functional iPhone, although perhaps a bit thicker in the hand.
Apple have a policy of keeping the last two generations of phones on the shelves, and progressively lowering their price as the cost basis falls. It’s a hard strategy to beat, and says a lot about the quality of the initial products when they are still selling well against the latest phones.
Prediction: A smaller form factor iPhone within 18 months.
The iPod Touches are lower range products, fitting underneath the iPhone and iPad. As a result they will increasingly skew towards fashion as well as technology, and we should not be surprised to see the lovely range of colours for the latest generation. The product is quiet achiever, arguably Apple’s key answer to the gaming market, bypassing the home console and placing pretty amazing gaming power in the hands of everyone. Yes, it’s primarily aimed at younger people, but after picking one up recently I was delighted at how superb it is to read books (easy to hold, light, larger screen) as well as to play games and browse.
The issue with this delightful product is “where to next?” The iPad Mini was one obvious next step, though obviously that’s being sold as a smaller iPad rather than a bigger iPod Touch. I do believe there is scope for a smaller version of the Touch, as with the suggested smaller iPhone, and in the current iPod Nano form factor. I also see a lot more fun in the future with form factors and colours. Perhaps a 3G-data only version, perhaps one in the iPad form factor, and perhaps all of the above. It’s reached the stage where the innovation is in fashion, as the smaller iPods have been for years.
Prediction: More iPod Touch colours and form factors within 18 months.
As predicted we did see did see a higher resolution iPad, called iPad rather than iPad 3. We did not see an iPad/Air combination with a high resolution screen, but instead saw the rather excellent series of Retina Display Mac Book Pros.
The iPad mini was an obvious, in retrospect, miss, with instead a prediction for a larger magazine size iPad rather than smaller. The smaller product is cheaper, going to sell in much higher quantities, and addresses a gap being serviced by other tablets.
There are still gaps to fill in iPad’s space, starting with a larger, table-top, iPad. It’s hard to define the use-case for a table-top iPad, which may be one reason Apple is holding back, along with the high cost and energy required for a screen that large. However this product is, in my mind, something that developers will quickly find compelling software for. Three examples are table-top multi-player games, wall mounted dashboards for news and views and wall mounted computers. I’d hope (not expect) to see a double size iPad with the same pixel count as the iPad 3 emerge in the next year.
Wishful prediction: Double sized iPad within 18 months.
The lower resolution iPad 2 and iPad mini will fairly clearly migrate up to high resolution displays as cost and battery life improves. That means in effect that the iPad 2 will be dropped as a new iPad fills the gap from the top. While that could be a table-top iPad, it may be a new physical design that lowers weight (it’s still a heavy thing) and increases speed, or as below.
Prediction: iPad Mini (HD) within 18 months
Finally Apple can experiment with changing the shape of iPad, going for a squarer or more rectangular shape, and playing in different sizes. I don’t really see this happening, as Apple has been smart in the past to stick to a few form factors to make it easier for developers. However the obvious pick would be for more horizontal pixels, as with the move from iPhone 4S to iPhone 5. So here is a sad but necessary:
Prediction: iPad Stretch within 18 months.
Sad because what I would rather see is the full table-top double or larger sized version.
Putting it together
It’s easy to be frustrated with Apple’s apparent pace recently, as it feels as if they have not really delivered anything new. We’ve seen bigger, thinner, higher resolution and prettier products, but no new category of products. There is still a tremendous amount of growth left in the iPad and iPhone lines, but competitors are catching fast, and are even showing signed of nudging ahead in some instances.
However Apple did begin the high resolution battles this year. The iPad 3 emerged in March, and we have seen two Retina Display MacBook Pros so far. These are all amazing products, but Google’s just announced Nexus 10 tablet will be even higher resolution, delivering 300 dots per inch, than the Retina iPad. That’s the same resolution as the original laser printers, and was touted then as the readable resolution. Google is a long way from being Apple, as a simple click on “Shop” will inform you. But for Apple to be beaten on such an important technical metric is stunning.
More importantly Microsoft and a host of hardware vendors are moving quickly with the long-awaited Windows 8. The first batch of Windows 8 machines seem mostly flawed, but there is enough on display to show real potential. It’s a real wow moment to experience using a MacBook Air-like computer with a touch screen and a operating system designed to take advantage of touch. While it’s not ‘Apple’ ready, Microsoft and the manufacturers are not going to rest, and Apple for once has lost the initiative.
So the clear challenge in the shorter term is from Microsoft, and Apple’s response should be to somehow bring the iPad and MacBook experiences together in a way that delights. This may not be possible, but Microsoft have given this a very good go, and Apple risks everything by not responding. If the Windows 8 tablet/laptop succeeds, and I believe it will really take off in 6-18 months, then the Apple stand-alone approach will seem dated and inefficient. That’s a rapid step backward for the leader.
Prediction: Windows 8 hybrid touch/laptop/tablets are clearly a huge success by 6-18 months.
To regain the initiative we need to see a MacBook Air-iPad merger – at least that’s what I’d personally like. That could be a touch screen MacBook Air running OSX, or it could go as far as a hybrid of iOS and OSX. Whatever it is, the Windows RT and better machines will soon be delivering a more compelling, and cool even, experience and Apple needs to respond.
Prediction: A MacBook Air with touch screen within 18 months
Wishful Prediction: A MacBook Air with retina display and touch screen within 18 months
Looking further ahead
So on one side people with Windows machines will be able to mirate to a Windows tablet/PC, and on the other side the Android devices will continue to offer up more flexibility and technology. While Apple does retain a huge advantage with their installed base, their app store and the sheer loveliness of their products, this improved competition will eventually mean that Apple’s margins will decline for iPad, and likely iPhone as well. It will take a while to really flow through, but I believe that Apple has another year or two to launch the next wave of revenue. That will be in the form of an announcement of a new product category.
Prediction: The next big category gets announced within 18 months
As to what that is – who really knows. The usual suspects are TV hardware, payments, TV streaming, and so forth. There is certainly plenty of media industry disruption to come – imagine if Apple backed me.ga for example. However Apple has struggled for years with cloud based software, and the jury is still out on whether they can be leaders in the next wave of software-led change. Their core strength has always been in industrial design, but if we keep thinking about gadgets then the physically small, high dollar item categories are shrinking.
The real genius of Apple in the last decade was to create task based computers to disrupt industries, from music with the original iPod, telecommunications with the iPhone and PC, broadcast media, books and gaming with all three of iPod, iPhone and iPad. They can keep pushing on those industries, but what if they looked beyond?
If I had one wish, then it’s hard to look past transport as the biggest major industry in serious need of change. The transition to electric vehicles and then self-driving over the next 10-20 years is a major disruption that perhaps Apple could take advantage of. Let’s get beyond cars to integrated private and public transport, reinventing our cities along the way. It’s a huge task, but one that $100 billion in cash will make feel a little doable. Even so, hopefully they’d start with a niche and expand from there, rather than taking over an incumbent auto manufacturer.
Else look to areas that are not automated at all, or to the market for what to do with the data from an increasing number of connected internet-enabled sensors.
Absolutely wishful thinking. Apple Cars. And motorbikes.