Apple in 2014: Assumptions and More Assumptions

December 18th, 2013

Predictably, financial and media pundits are busy churning out pieces speculating about what you can expect from Apple Inc. in 2014. Predictably, some of those articles make long-disproven assumptions about the company’s history, and use that incorrect information to make questionable predictions.

So there is one article, from a large tech blog (which does not deserve a link), where it is assumed that the iPhone has been left way behind by Android when it comes to features and overall technology. How? Well, Android phones, for example, have more pixels, and more pixels are better, right? Perhaps in theory, but a Retina display means that you can’t see the individual pixels that make up the image at a normal viewing distance. So why do you need more, other than to give a company some needless bragging rights?

And, no, it’s not the same as having a car that can travel at 150 miles per hour when, aside from the race track, there aren’t many places to legally test that potential. A higher top speed usually means faster acceleration to normal or slightly above normal freeway speeds. More passing power can be a good thing even if you don’t speed. But having pixels you can’t see, pixels that don’t improve visual image quality, is a useless luxury with no practical value.

But that’s just part of the spec argument. The other is that you need a quad-core processor on a high-end smartphone (or maybe even six or eight?), although Apple’s dual-core A7 manages higher real benchmarks most of the time. I say “real,” because of the tricks Samsung has been known to pull to make their speed ratings score better in some benchmark apps, but not otherwise. But please don’t get me started about useless apps that do little or nothing but make bullet point lists larger.

Apple will, however, add features that trump the competition. The 64-bit A7, for example, freaked out Qualcomm, the large mobile chip maker, and nobody has matched the ease and efficiency of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

The other questionable argument is that Apple will enter a new market at the top and eventually be relegated to niche status. That didn’t exactly happen with the Mac, which has always been a minority platform. It didn’t happen with the iPhone either, because other smartphones had already gotten a hefty piece of the market, although Apple’s entry made that market larger.

Sure, the iPod took over the digital media player market, but it stayed there, and never became a niche product. Instead, it is essentially a fading product since the iPhone arrived. With the iPad, I agree Apple had early dominance, but even today’s lesser share is not niche by any means. The vast majority of tablet-based Web traffic comes from the iPad, and you can hardly call a $50 tablet a true competitor.

But what does this mean for 2014?

Well, the unnamed pundit makes the standard arguments about an iWatch, that Apple allegedly has over 100 engineers on the project (though this hasn’t been proven), that the iWatch tradename has been sought in some countries, and that Apple has hired some fashion industry executives to do, well, something.

Unfortunately, the assumption is made that an iWatch must be a limited feature accessory for  the iPhone, with some fitness apps and such and the ability to send you notices. That is in line with the image of today’s smartwatch, as typified by the Pebble. But that approach has gone nowhere. Pebble sold 80,000 units as of a few months back, with no evidence that there will be a sudden surge of any meaningful proportions this holiday season. A number of companies are building this stuff, but there’s no breakout product so far.

Apple’s well-known expertise is in taking a nascent market and finding a solution that actually works. It happened with tablets and music players. The iPhone made smartphones more compelling for the average consumer, which is why other companies built imitations. So, you can expect that, if an iWatch came to be, it would not be quite the same as current products. To assume otherwise breaks the logic threshold.

My personal feeling is that Apple would seek a way to make an iWatch operate as a standalone gadget. That doesn’t mean it won’t mate via Bluetooth with your iPhone, but it would take the iWatch beyond the mere accessory category and possibly blaze a whole new path. What path? Well, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

As to the TV space, the latest speculation speaks of support for 4K or Ultra HD. Having all those extra pixels on your TV will mean something with a very large screen if you look real close, but real world tests have shown that you can’t tell much of a difference between Ultra HD and 1080p on a 55-inch set at a normal viewing distance. Besides, there’s not much in the way of 4K content yet, although there will be if a real demand can be demonstrated. It won’t be like 3D, however, which never really took off even though more and more affordable sets offer that feature.

But with 4K slowly expanding, that capability would seem to be a given if Apple decided to build their own set. But it would have to offer a lot in terms of user interface and other features to set it apart from a very crowded field. Unlike other markets that Apple has entered, the TV space is extremely saturated, and, unlike a personal computer, there’s little incentive for people to upgrade very often. A well-built TV set can be expected to last as much as ten years or even longer before troubles arise. I recently sold, for a very tiny sum, an 18-year-old 27-inch Sony CRT set that worked as good as new.

Yes, there is plenty of anticipation for what Apple will deliver in 2014. But some of the speculation appears to be moving in the wrong direction.

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