What’s Next For Apple?

| Editorial

Apple has brought the iPhone to reasonable maturity. The iPad completes our need for a seriously portable tablet device for e-mail, browsing and video. What’s next for Apple?

One question to ask is whether the company needs to soon develop any new, original products given that Steve Jobs likes to keep the development teams lean and focused. Any new product would have to justify the allocation of resources, and it would have to solve a fundamental problem in Apple’s unique way so that, once again, customers would embrace it with enthusiasm. Some, including me, think that product is the Apple TV successor.

Sometimes, serendipity plays a role in product plans. The iPad needs a lot of development work. Heck, it doesn’t even have iOS 4 yet. Now that the device has shipped, Apple knows what’s on its plate for the fixes and even the next version. But one also has to allow the market to speak, and the iPad could be pressed into service in ways that Apple didn’t envision. The recognition of that means that the next version of the iPad could have features that Apple didn’t envision in 2009. Serendipity.

In addition to letting serendipity run its course, Apple is now a large and ambitious company. It’s ready to tackle home theater in ways it couldn’t before. It’s not that the TV industry has changed — the same old players and politics are there. What’s changed is Apple’s size and strength. One could hardly imagine Apple, in 2005, with US$12B in revenue throwing its weight around in that industry. However, in 2010, with iPad under its belt, and a $100B year only a few years away, Apple is in an excellent position to both work with with the TV industry and provide its own special variation of value added.

An Apple TV successor is the only new product I see coming out of Apple for a few years. There’s plenty of work to do:

  1. Revisit and refine Mac OS X
  2. iPad, take 2
  3. Cloud computing initiatives

Does this mean that all the excitement will soon be gone from Apple? Does Apple need to introduce a revolutionary product, like the iPad, very soon to remain the Apple of our eye?

Yes and No.

I perceive that Apple is in a refinement mode right now. Apple’s state is a bit like Intel’s “tick-tock” model, a method designed to coordinate both evolution and revolution.

New Apple products have momentum. Some PC users who bought an iPad are toying with the idea of a Macintosh. iPad owners, as we saw in today’s forum, are slowly altering their usage patterns. Mac OS X users are feeling a bit neglected, hankering for some new jazz. Some “tick” of organization, reflection and strategy are required before the next “tock.”

In addition, the competition is heating up. There are rumors of a RIM BlackPad. Hewlett-Packard is working on a WebOS-based tablet. Microsoft is eager to not let the tablet market slip away, as it did with smartphones. Apple has Android to deal with. For Apple to begin furiously working on something revolutionary would result, possibly, in Apple taking its eye off the ball and hosing up again amidst heated competition. That competition has already seen some weak spots at Apple and is working to gain traction. Further iPhone gains in market share and not guaranteed.

In a nutshell, what Apple needs now is execution and focus. No more antennagates. A fresh start with newspaper publishers and developers would lighten Apple’s emotional loading. Having a solid understanding of the evolution of Mac OS and iOS, what get’s crossed over between OSes and what doesn’t, will be a challenge. That could well be the subject of WWDC 2011.

In time, serendipity and improving technology will enable Apple to come out with The Next Big Thing. These days, however, Apple’s plate is full.

Comments

ibuck

Apple may be cooking up something new, but I think there are still lucrative avenues within the current product families.  I still want a smaller, lighter iPad with a 6-7” screen to compete as a Reader+. In the absence of such an Apple device, the new 6”, 8.7 oz Kindle is very appealing. A new iPad Touch with (I hope) a back-mounted (or reversible back-front) camera could be, along with the current iPad, the hot Christmas gifts this year. An Apple TV that accepts video disks and streams movies (Netflix and iTS) would be a great replacement for the barely acceptable performance of my Roku HD. YMMV. But all of these would just be revs or new form factors of current Apple products. Completely new products, other than accessories like Magic Trackpad, may have to wait until 2011.

xmattingly

Regarding TV: I couldn’t agree more, John - when I read the name of the article and even before I clicked its link, I was thinking “home entertainment and content distribution”.

I don’t know if you saw Jobs’ Q&A session after his All Things Digital interview this year, but a question was asked regarding this, and he talked at length about the problems they have with making money off of TV set tops and working with cable providers. I can’t put it into focus, but something is DEFINITELY up with that billion dollar server farm Apple bought…

pats

@John

Let’s be realistic about the current iPad competition.  There is basically zero competition today and many of the big players are pontificating about their future offerings.  Product demo’s are not the same as mass produced shipping products.  As a minimum the iPad will be the only real choice at least until the Christmas shopping season. 
I agree that the Apple TV is the most likely target.  It would be a relatively simple matter to repurpose the A4 for use in a set-top box and enable a TV centric version of iOS with support in the iOS SDK.  You could repurpose the new bluetooth touch panel as the TV remote and maybe use as a game controller for those who don’t own iPod touches/iPhones.  Just wonder the go to market strategy.  Do they compete vs the game consoles, the CD player the cable/satellite box or what.  Most folks don’t need another box to connect to the HDTV we are running out of plug-ins.

Gene King

How about an iPad sized iPhone?
I’ve had my iPhone 3GS since this past January and likely
haven’t used all of it’s capabilities. I must say, as a
middle aged man who wears bi-focals, I could use a larger
screen for every thing else but making calls. So if you
take the iPhones capabilities put them in an iPad sized
device with a small handset/blu-tooth (sp?) mic/earpiece
it would work for me.

davebarnes

How about “home energy management”?
Can’t get greener than that.
Successful implementation would be huge.
I need something easy to manage:
water
gas
electricity

Allanmacam

In line with a lot of other electronics companies that make similar goods when will Apple produce its own camera or camera/camcorder. Considering the leap that Apple made when it went into the phone business and its own background in digital imagery, bringing Apple magic to the emerging purely electronic camera/camcorder field would not seem to be outside the realms of feasibility.

FlipFriddle

It’s gotta be the TV-convergence thing. The “One Device to Rule Them All” to paraphrase. There is still too much nonsense with all these bits plugged into stereos and tvs and cd players and dvd players and blu-ray and this huge stack of stuff you have to buy a big piece of furniture to contain. We need a box that stores all of our stuff (music, movies, shows) that will then serve it up to all of our viewing devices (iPad, iPod, iPhone, TV, Mac) with minimum fuss and dongles.

I still have a dream that Apple will buy TiVo too

palenoue

I’m still hoping for a 3D printer.  I’d love to make toy and game pieces of my own design, especially if Apple could make the 3D designer as easy to use as Spore.

Dogbrain

Four things really differentiate iPhone 4 and the Androids: one is the whole iTunes ecosystem, the second is the gyroscope, the third is the screen, and the fourth is FaceTime. Competitors will just buy gyroscopes and screens and throw them in boxes. No big deal. It’s the infrastructure and FaceTime that are unique, and Apple clearly wants to keep and lengthen their lead. FaceTime is fine, but it needs as many users as possible to make it useful and sticky. So FaceTime in the iPod Touch and the iPad are no-brainers.

However, what if they put a front facing camera on the iPod Nano, and threw in some FaceTime software and a wi-fi antenna? If they could keep the price at $149 for the 8 gig model, then every college student going off to school would want one for calling their parents. Let me rephrase that: the parents would want their kids to have one so they could call. The kids would use them for other things.

That would give a boost to the poor iPod, and indirectly to the whole iPhone ecosystem.

other side

Apple needs to finish what they have before charging forward.

In particular, iOS 4 and iPhone 4 were clearly rushed and NOT release-quality products.  Apple cannot let that happen again.

When that’s fixed, Apple needs to spread their efforts more evenly across their product lines.  While the current “spotlight” approach generates buzz, everything NOT in the spotlight languishes or even gets forgotten.  Example: when was the last time you heard anything about the iPod?  Does Apple still make them?  You get the idea.

skinnybear

The “other side” said “While the current ?spotlight? approach generates buzz, everything NOT in the spotlight languishes or even gets forgotten.? Example: when was the last time you heard anything about the iPod?? Does Apple still make them?? You get the idea.”

Go into an Apple Store and you will see that iPod is relegated to a small area. iPods have been replaced by the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. The classic iPod will fall into the eMac category within several months. Look for an Apple TV improvement or replacement with some new name. Apple does not need to promote MacBooks or iMacs since they are still selling like hotcakes. (although I never saw hotcakes sell in large quantities).

You are correct that the new next thing should not be rushed to market.  The iPhone/MobileMe debacle of two years ago and the iPhone 4 problems are definitely recent trends that Apple needs to reverse if the company wishes to keep the competitive edge.

freejak

One word; gaming. This is the one app realm that Windoze still owns. There might not be money in set top boxes, but there’s a BIG pile that’s going somewhere besides Cupertino being spent by gamers.

How Apple breaks into this I don’t know. But Steve’s a lot smarter than me.

Apple’s got the OS, devices from iPod Nano’s to iPhone 4, their own passable office suite, all the goods for media artists; what they don’t have is an insanely great, compelling, high powered (I don’t count the iPad, yet) gaming platform.

Lee Dronick

Apple does not need to promote MacBooks or iMacs since they are still selling like hotcakes. (although I never saw hotcakes sell in large quantities).

iHop?

You are correct on several points. iMacs and MacBooks are selling very well. The “traditional” iPods are getting much less table space in the Apple Store. Even the iPod accessory part of the wall is getting slimmer.

Maybe it is time for the Apple TV to stop being a hobby.

brett_x

NIce ideas here. Clearly the Apple TV needs some love, but I agree that it may be difficult to monetize without huge sweeping agreements across multiple providers (who are already making money with their own set-top boxes) and across different countries.

Home energy management? That’s a nice idea, and something I wish some competent company would tackle, but way out of scope for Apple.

I tend to agree with freejak. Gaming is not far out of line from Apple’s entertainment suite. They’ve really turned some heads with iPhone and iPad casual gaming. I remember rumors of Apple buying Nintendo some time back. I could see Apple fitting into a similar role as Nintendo- not the hardcore gore games like the other consoles provide. The Wii is the feel-good console. Look- you can exercise with it !
But imagine combining a console with Apple’s other devices - iPhone, iPad, iPod touch - for additional controls/ views. There could be some good family or friends gathering around it. Each person brings their own i-device, and changes the game play a bit. It’s also a way that old devices keep their usefulness. I have an iPhone now, but keep my iPod touch as a remote.

And the more Apple’s devices invade people’s homes, the more likely it is that they’ll buy a Mac when their PC gets infected. Again.

Or maybe they’ll just add lyrics to your purchased iTunes songs. hmmm

Tony

I think Brett_x hits the nail on the head…I’ll just throw a few other ideas out.

Apple doesn’t make less than billon dollar bets anymore, and this tends to focus the possibilities. Cable/TV is ultra-competitive, well developed, and sophisticated compared with the music biz which Apple turned upside down in a couple of years. Gaming is a massive growth opportunity, and the population of games is rapidly expanding and taking advantages of the capabilities of the iPhone hardware and iOS. Xbox, Nintendo, Wii all do what they do well, but what Apple does is COMBINE functions elegantly in ways that make singular function devices rapidly obsolete. What can you do with a gyroscope capable iPad with multitouch? Can you imagine the full screen movie and gaming possibilities not needing to take up screen real estate when you have a device with menus, weapons, maps, other options… and make it location aware with the gyroscope, compass, wifi and GPS? IMO so much money can be made on gaming the TV part could be a wash.

Combine streaming vid and music with cloud-based gaming… tap users with multiple devices from iPads, iPhones to iPods… server parties run off a single elegant AppleTV Next Gen.

And then create the family of collaborative tools through a cloud based iWork for whiteboards, polling, chats, etc. How about a groupware advancement? Family or business-wide discrete messaging, photo and file sharing and Facetime?. Create personal networks that don’t have the downsides of facebook. Is there a reason why Facetime is so named?

I guess the main question I’m left with is what to do about bandwidth? It would be interesting if some kind of streaming technology combined with a compression approach made streaming over say, 100K wifi or sub-3G a reality.

Leif E

I think the next big thing is another camera, about eyes width distance apart. Combine that with a 40 inch 3D Screen.

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