Apple has one advantage in saying very little about future products. It gives the media plenty of space to make things up, or at least attempt to speculate about what form those future products might take.
This year’s Apple product focus begins with the next versions of the gear with which we’re already familiar, such as the iPhone and the iPad and, to a limited extent, Macs. So it is assumed that the next iPhone must be the iPhone 6, because Apple uses full model numbers without subversions in alternate years, and the current model is the iPhone 5s. Sure, Apple could change this predictability with the stroke of a different model number designation, but let’s take it as correct.
So it’s easy to consider that the iPhone 6 must be a major change, at least physically, from the current version. That would appear to include changes to the case design and, of course, a larger display. Well, maybe. Some of the rumors talk of two different sizes, but it may be that Apple is just sampling different display configurations before deciding on which one to produce. Yet another rumor says it’ll be just one, perhaps 4.7 inches.
Speculation about a bigger iPad? Well, Apple already made the big changes last fall, particularly with the arrival of the iPad Air. But some rumors spoke of a 12.9-inch version, but whether such a form factor is practical or would even attract a large audience is questionable. Don’t even ask me.
Regardless, it seems as if the rumors of an iPad Pro, advanced by no less than the Wall Street Journal, have died down of late. Supposedly Apple has postponed the product, or has given up entirely. Once again, I suppose it’s possible word of a prototype leaked from the supply chain, and reporters ran with it. Just a possibility.
But what about the new product categories that Tim Cook has promised?
Well, Mac|Life magazine has entered the fray in their April 2014 issue with articles predicting the possible design and feature sets of an iWatch, an Apple connected TV and, of course, that iPad Pro.
At least with the last, you sort of expect it to be a big iPad Air should it come to be. But the rest remains lost in the alternate universe of rumors and speculation. You know that Apple is interested in the potential of wearables, because Tim Cook has said so. But does that mean offering health-related apps and other features in iOS, or in the next generation iPhones and iPads? Or does it mean a whole new device that will resemble a fancy electronic wristwatch, to be dubbed iWatch? Or does it mean some other device that only has a passing resemblance to a smartwatch, at least because it’s small?
The question of a TV set is even murkier. It all goes back to that oft-quoted statement from Steve Jobs, as quoted in Walter Isaacson’s official biography. Sure, Apple might have developed the greatest TV interface ever, but does it have to appear in a TV set? What about a revised Apple TV?
Indeed, speculation about the next Apple TV is mounting. Apple recently moved it from the Accessories spot to its own space on the online store. That clearly signals a greater emphasis, as there should be since Apple took in $1 billion in revenue from the product last year. You can hardly call that a hobby, since entire companies make do with far less.
What’s more, there is yet another quote attributed to Steve Jobs, that there is no profit in the TV industry. That’s something that the current manufacturers seem to be demonstrating over and over again. As prices go down, they struggle to find more snazzy technologies to entice you to buy a new set, preferably one that costs more.
So we had 3D, but there were few takers. Even after 3D moved down to cheaper sets, there wasn’t much evidence of interest, and so you see fewer 2014 models that sport the feature. But there are also reports of a new 3D technology, one that doesn’t require the glasses, which may debut next year. So the TV makers are still trying.
Another scheme to get you to pay more is 4K or Ultra HD. Having four times as many pixels, twice as many horizontally and twice as many vertically, may sound great on paper. But it’s mostly a specs game, because you need a really large set to see much of a difference. There’s still the question of delivering higher resolution content on today’s Internet pipes. Samsung’s answer is to sell you a $300 hard drive on which 4K movies are installed. If you want more movies, buy another drive I suppose. But this is from the company that brought you the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, so I’m not expecting much.
But the long and short of it is that an Apple Store is not configured to be a big box retailer. The TV market is more than saturated, and Apple would probably do as well or better with an enhanced Apple TV, along with content deals with the entertainment industry and the cable providers. There are even recent published reports that Apple is talking with Comcast about delivering content through an Apple TV. Clearly things are happening, but it doesn’t seem to be about a TV set with an Apple logo.
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- Apple in 2014: Are There No Original Ideas? So you've heard nearly the same chatter from a number of sources about what Apple might do in 2014. Certainly Tim Cook has made some big promises, about great products and some new product categories. That ought to be quite sufficient to fuel the speculation, and there has been plenty of that. But even the vaunted tech site Ars Technica hasn't delivered any compelling new ideas. It's all about variations on the theme. Now before I go on, let me confess that I am not a product designer or engineer, and I do not play either on radio or TV. But I have written sci-fi novels and I do have a slight feeling for the future, so maybe I can contribute a little. I would, though, expect more of the tech media, and it doesn't seem they are delivering very much. So first we have the usual iterative upgrades. A faster, more energy-efficient Mac lineup, an iPad that, after a major change to the flagship product this year, will be confined to modest updates in 2014. Maybe there will be slight changes to the aging iPod lineup, but then there's the iPhone. Apple revises form factors in alternate years, even though the media hasn't gotten the memo. It would seem, then, that an iPhone 6 would look at least somewhat different. Maybe it'll have a larger screen, and several measurements between 4.5 and 5 inches have been bandied about. Logic dictates that the iPhone 5s and 5c will be sold for $99 less, each, meaning the 5c will be free with a two-year contract. Nothing surprising so far. In fact, if the iPhone 6 goes this route, the only question will be whether Apple will divide the product line with more than one new size. But since fragmentation isn't their game, I expect not. Sure, it'll have snazzy looks and all, with more powerful guts, perhaps more battery life and a camera with a higher megapixel count, but there are no surprises in any of that. So what's left? Well, the tech bloggers, and the financial pundits for that matter, demand Apple do something original. But when you ask them what they are thinking about, it's pretty much the iWatch and an Apple connected TV set. Sure, perhaps there will be an iWatch or some other wearable device of some sort. There is that unconfirmed rumor that Apple has over 100 engineers working on the product, and some executives from the fashion industry might have been hired to handle the development and marketing of wearable gear. Apple is also trademarking iWatch in some countries, but that could be a defensive move to reserve the name in case something does come down the pike. It doesn't mean it's happening in 2014. Indeed, is there a demand for a smartwatch from anyone? Does Apple have to build one? So far, smartwatches haven't gone very far. The overpriced and underpowered Samsung Galaxy Gear was a miserable failure, with Samsung being forced to confess that the claim of 800,000 sales was based solely on shipments. But that's their usual game when it comes to reporting sales. The other supposed "lock" from Apple is some sort of enhanced Apple TV box, a connected TV, or perhaps both. Much of this seems to come from the statement from Steve Jobs in that authorized biography about developing the magic interface that will revolutionize the industry. Maybe. But Jobs might also have said that to spook the competition, forcing them to deliver something, anything, to head off Apple. Just remember how a number of tablets were introduced ahead of the arrival of the iPad in 2010, but most never saw the light of day when Apple's tablet solution was launched. Of course, they've been saying that Apple has a TV set in development for a couple of years now if not longer. There are rumors that several display sizes have been sampled, no doubt for prototypes. There are no doubt prototypes aplenty in Apple's secret labs, but most of those prototypes will never be released for manufacturing and sale. True, Tim Cook has said that TV and the living room remain areas of intense interest for the company, but how or when that interest will manifest itself is still anyone's guess. All right, that's the 2014 story that you've heard about in various and sundry ways across the media. There are minor variations here and there, but does any of it come as a surprise? Well, maybe a larger iPad, but is that all Apple can do? The real question is whether there are other product segments that Apple is working on that may be reflected in new products this coming year and beyond. That's the real question that isn't being answered. Just this week, there were published reports about Google's pact with Audi, the luxury car maker owned by Volkswagen, which would install Android as part of the brand's infotainment systems. Microsoft is already there with mixed results. It seems to do all right with the Kia UVO system, but not nearly so well with MyFordTouch, a flawed design that has caused Ford to get far lower initial quality and reliability ratings. Apple has iOS in the Car under development, and Siri support is already beginning to appear. The media wants to portray this as a fight to the death between Apple and Google to control the auto interface. So far so good. But that is fairly predictable. It doesn't mean Apple will release an iCar, a full-blown motor vehicle. What's more, purchasing Tesla, the electric car maker, wouldn't make very much sense either, although some have demanded just that. At the end of the day, is Apple planning something us that'll amaze us and send us scurrying to consult credit card and checking account balances? That's the real question, but I've yet to see a compelling answer.
- 2014 — The Year the Sky Didn’t Fall for Apple At the start of 2014, even the most diehard Apple fanatic might have wondered about the future prospects of their favorite fruit company. Sales didn't always meet Wall Street projections, and profits were flattening. The stock price was way down from historic highs. To no surprise, some members of the mainstream media were calling for CEO Tim Cook to take a hike. Could it be that Steve Jobs' handpicked successor was a monumental screw up, or was there a long-term plan in place that would set things right before long? Questions, questions. Many of the particulars are ably recorded in a no-holds barred editorial from Daniel Eran Dilger, a frequent guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, over at AppleInsider. So I will be brief about some of the details. Now understand that the perception that Apple was on the rocks was largely manufactured. When Steve Jobs introduced iterative upgrades to Apple gear, that was part of the standard upgrade cycle. When Tim Cook did the same, there must be something terribly wrong with Apple's mojo, and the company clearly lost its power to innovate. After all, Cook was the supply chain expert. What right did he have to operate a company known for its amazing innovation? You'd think that Apple was supposed to upend a market every year. The critics forget the years that passed between the first iPod, the first iPhone and the first iPad. Miracles don't come every day, but where were the trendsetting products from Tim Cook's Apple? This didn't stop iPhone sales from climbing, at a time when Samsung's sales began to falter. The claim that Samsung had it all over Apple when it came to high sales and meeting the needs of a variety of customers was shown to be shaky. Yes, Samsung still sold loads of mobile handsets, but far too many were cheap, with little profit. While Apple continued to make huge profits from iPhones, Samsung's margins continued to shrink. Tepid response to the latest Galaxy series didn't help. Apple moved far more iPhones. Amid rising sales, Apple's first maneuvers for 2014 were financial. Stock buybacks and the seven-to-one stock split pleased Wall Street. But was Apple just stalling, avoiding the question of what innovative products were in the pipeline? Yes, Apple made promises, but when were they going to deliver? WWDC came, as usual, in June. The critics said it was all about the software, but Apple added an amazing number of new features to iOS and OS X. The bill of particulars was far larger than what Google and Microsoft were promising. True, some suggested Apple bit off a little too much this time, but the bugs are being vanquished, and the end result presents many new opportunities for developers to make a profit and to benefit customers. For regular people, the real significant event came in September, with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, a phablet with a 5.5-inch display. The critics had been long clamoring for Apple to enter the larger smartphone space, but Apple, as usual, took its sweet time about developing the right product. Certainly the public embraced the new gear, with record sales the very first weekend and chronic shortages through most of the holiday season. But some people realized that the romantic ideal of the larger smartphone wasn't quite so compelling after you spent a little time with one. One-handed operation meant something, and the larger handsets could be difficult to fit in a smaller pocket or purse. And don't forget Apple Watch. An early production model was demonstrated, and delivery was promised in early 2015. October brought new iPads, but the flagship model, the iPad Air 2, thinner than its predecessor, was the lone compelling upgrade. The iPad mini 3 was little different from its predecessor aside from Touch ID, and it still cost $100 more. It wasn't such a great deal, and the jury is out how well tablets sold this holiday season. But the iPad Air 2 is, as my friends across the Atlantic are apt to say, a marvelous piece of kit. It will be hard for my wife to give up the one she is using when the Apple editorial loan expires in February. The other product intro in October, the iMac 5K, was simply stunning, particularly the picture and the technology that makes it happen for a price that even Dell couldn't match. Last I checked, Dell's 5K display is just about the same price as the 5K iMac, but Apple gives you the computer as part of the package. None of this means everything went perfect for Apple. Don't forget the missteps — or alleged missteps — depending on your point of view. So those celebrities whose nude photos, stored in iCloud, were hacked and circulated online have only themselves to blame for poor password choices. Why did they have those pictures there in the first place? But the iOS 8.0.1 update was the worst sort of failure, fixing most iPhones, but causing some to lose their cellular connections and Touch ID capability. Apple pulled the update in little over an hour, and released a fixed version the very next day, but the publicity fallout continues. Yes, Microsoft has done worse, far worse, but this is Apple. Please don't get me started about iTunes 12. The complaints haven't been stilled, and I wonder whether Apple needs to get back to the drawing board to sort things out. Some alleged scandals were just nonsense. An iPhone 6 Plus was no more prone to bending than other large mobile handsets. No, Apple didn't suddenly out of the blue sneak a security update onto Macs with OS X Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite. That particular update came using the App Store update mechanism, the successor to Software Update. Where there's an automatic install option, as there is in Yosemite, you can switch it off. Besides, the NTP security flaw, impacting the time syncing feature of OS X, Unix and even Linux distributions, could allow a remote attacker to gain control of your computer. Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security got in the act to report the danger, so was it wrong for Apple to protect you in a way that did no harm? For 2015, we know the Apple Watch is coming, but there is no consistency on how well it'll do. And what about the fate of Apple TV? Is there an Apple TV set on the horizon? An iPad Pro, a version with a display that's 12 inches or more? Is there something out of the blue in store? And what will Apple do to flesh out the features for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11? And I will not speculate on the code name for the next Mac OS.
- So Whither Apple TV The Apple TV has been considered Apple's next potential great thing for quite a while. First a hobby, it's now a supposedly full-fledged product that seems strangely unfinished. To many, it's just another streamer, a way to deliver TV shows and movies to your TV set, and content from your Mac or iOS device courtesy of AirPlay. But where does Apple expect to take it? In the wake of the best-selling authorized biography of Steve Jobs from Walter Isaacson, I'm sure many of you expected something amazing was about to happen. Jobs said Apple had devised the best TV interface anywhere, but where is it? Knowing his time was short, was Jobs merely trying to spook the competition into wasting money to compete with a product that was never to be? Just what is Apple's final solution to take the living room into the 21st century? Certainly there are plenty of hints. We know from Apple CEO Tim Cook that TV remains an area of intense interest. We know that millions own an Apple TV, but enhancements in recent years have been minor since the 2010 redesign. In 2012, support for 1080p video was added, and there was a minor processor upgrade the following year that did nothing to change performance. Since then, the Apple TV has gained new channels, but also gained complexities because each channel just gives you yet another app and interface to navigate. Here Roku might offer the better alternative since you can search content across services. Indeed, according to published reports, Roku outsells Apple TV nowadays, and offers over 1,800 channels on its streamers compared to a few dozen with Apple. All right, you have to manually add most of them via Roku's web-based interface, so it's not what you'd call an easy process, not even close. Still Roku appears to be king of the hill. There's a decent product lineup starting with the $39.99 Roku LT stick, topped with the $99.99 Roku 3. I've had the latter for a while, and it is razor fast, with a decent interface that allows for fairly quick navigation. Roku specializes in offering loads of third-party services, which means you have to go directly to each site to set up new accounts and send your payment information. Nothing just works. So Apple TV is second or third best nowadays in both sales and content offerings, depending on which estimates you read. The easy integration with Apple services and your Apple gear is a huge plus, and if you stick with iTunes for content, you don't even have to establish a new account. You merely have to enter your WI-Fi login info and your Apple ID and you're good to go. But Apple TV's interface doesn't break any new ground. It's flatter these days, closer in concept to iOS conventions. Aside from having more channels, there's not a lot new there, and it seems Apple just ignored its streamer for the holiday season. All the attention is on the iPhone 6 series and the hot-selling 27-inch iMac 5K. TV? Well, there is 4K, or UHD, the higher definition TV sets that are supposed to be the big stars for the holiday season. When a 4K TV was several thousand dollars, sales were low. Now that you can get a pretty good 4K set for less than $1,000 from mainstream makers such as Vizio, TV makers are hoping it's the magic bullet to jump start the flagging industry. Certainly, 3D did nothing. Vizio, in fact, has killed the feature on new sets, and I haven't heard much in the way of complaints. You can still buy 3D sets from other companies, but most 3D viewing is confined to the local multiplex. Being forced to put on a pair of glasses and sit in a confined space in your home when you want to watch TV is a non-starter for most, even though prices are only slightly higher than regular TVs. But even 4K may be a hard sell. Don't forget that you really can't see the improved picture quality unless you sit real close or have a really large set. I expect that over 60 inches is a sweet spot, though I've seen 55-inch 4K TVs that, when viewed from a decent distance, seem to offer a superior picture. Unfortunately bringing a 4K set into your home is only part of the problem. What about content? The demonstrations I usually see at the local Best Buy are largely confined to still pictures, which help exploit the resolution advantage. But there are few movies, and few ways to deliver them. We don't have 4K Blu-ray players in stores this year, and TV services are just beginning to work at deploying content. DirecTV is offering a 4K promotion with Samsung sets, but you wonder why other brands aren't involved yet. Netflix is also supposed to deliver limited 4K, but how many of you have broadband connections that offer enough speed to accommodate the higher bit rates? It's another chicken and egg problem, though I suppose there will be enough 4K content if sales are decent. But who will buy until there's content, unless they just want to future proof? In any case, 4K sets scale up regular HD content with varying degrees of success. Meantime, I suppose the next Apple TV — which appears overdue at this point — will support 4K. That will give Apple one temporary advantage. The other would be an interface that makes it easier to grab content across channels, and perhaps simpler integration if you have several devices hooked up to your set. I know Apple prefers to live in its own ecosystem, but people do buy game consoles, soundbars, Blu-rays and other accessories. Integrating all that hardware is not always easy, even with the best universal remote. If Apple wants to bring TV viewing into the 21st century, why not start with the issues discussed in the previous two paragraphs? I'm sure you can add to that list, and I haven't even considered the possibility of a 4K set from Apple.
This article was posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Apple, Apple Store, Apple Tv, comcast, Galaxy Gear, iPad, iPad Air, iPad Pro, Iphone, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iWatch, Samsung, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Wall Street Journal, Walter Isaacson.