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  • 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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