What’s Next For Apple?

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.