Apple in 2014: Are There No Original Ideas?

December 31st, 2013

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.

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3 Responses to “Apple in 2014: Are There No Original Ideas?”

  1. Ted Schroeder says:

    Sad to say, but as time goes by, it’s looking more and more like Steve left the Labs at Apple with not much on the selves.

    I think for a lot of their customers, Apple would do best to make the software work right before moving on to super-duper hardware efforts. iWork, iLife,, iCloud – I’m looking at you.

  2. Kaleberg says:

    It sounds like Steve Jobs left Apple with lots of interesting avenues for development. After all, Apple is just about implemented the fantasies of the late 1960s and 1970s, the stuff that got off track but was later enabled by the introduction of the personal computer. I don’t see Apple developing a TV or car so much as creating the computer age equivalent, and a lot of this is going to require getting distributed (1970s) or ubiquitous (1990s) or cloud (2010s) computing to work reliably and securely. That means reviving and completing a lot of old research on capabilities, protection domains, distribution and other abandoned concepts.

    iCloud is a good start. As usual, Apple tends to release a basic API with a limited set of user benefits. Then they add stuff, see what other people and redesign the API and tweak it until they have something useful. Given how both the iPhone and Mac have been looking more and more like 1970s capability machines with sandboxing of applications and browser tabs, each with specific access rights and privileges, I’m expecting Apple to make some headway on the one-application / one-datatype problem. Their approach to giving transit directions in Maps gives an idea of their thinking, though they haven’t thought through the more general case yet.

    My guess is that IOS 8 and Mavericks Surfside will be the clean up versions of their systems, and that close inspection will give some clues to where they are headed. Steve Jobs was a software guy in a hardware guy’s body, so he understood how computers evolve. The media is hardware obsessed, so they are basically clueless.

  3. AdamC says:

    Gene, sorry this is totally out of context to this article but one related to the previous I think, you mentioned that NPD is pretty accurate with their figures relating to chromebooks sales can you provide a link for that.

    Basically these hired guns will report whatever their masters requested of them or tailored their research to their master’s needs if I am not wrong.

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