2013 was a great year for Apple. Of course, analysts might have us believe otherwise, but Apple sold an incredible number of phones and tablets while keeping things solid in the laptop/desktop market. Ignoring sales numbers for a second, Apple released a fantastic range of new products. Perhaps its best yet. Earlier in the year we saw the new, faster MacBook Air which many tech reviewers agree is the best laptop ever made. iOS 7 marked a change in direction for the iPhone and iPad’s operating system, ditching skeuomorphic design and textures with flatness, light font and bright colors. iOS 7 was re-engineered under the hood to give app developers much more to play with including background app refreshing and the ability to hook up physical gamepads. We also saw the awesome iPad Air and the breathtaking Mac Pro.
All in all, if I was to round up my feelings on last year, it’s that it was a prelude to a new phase of product design and innovation. Including a 64-bit chip inside the new iDevices shows us that Apple is thinking big for future mobile computing. Touch ID shows us that the company wants to kick-start a more secure environment for its users. Mac Pro shows that Apple still knows how to innovate at an astonishing level. This is the professional workstation for years to come.
I guess the biggest disappointment of the year (or two of them) was : rumors/leaks and analysts. Before the new iPhones and iPads were announced, we knew exactly what to expect thanks to some accurate and frequent leaks and rumors. Also, analysts throughout the year kept on telling Apple what it needed to do to “succeed”. The problem here is that so many analysts have a faulty scale of success. For them, it’s all about stock value and market share. Apple’s more interested in making great, profitable products. Apple sold loads, and made a lot of money. Its profits still made up the vast majority of the smartphone industry, with only Samsung making any significant profits and that mostly from low-end smartphones. Most other manufacturers struggled to make profit, many (including HTC and BlackBerry) lost millions.
But what does the next year hold for Apple?
One thing that’s certain about Apple is that it has a single-minded focus on what it wants to achieve. It’s not a company easily swayed by the movements of other manufacturers, or by Wall Street performance. As Carl Icahn has also found in recent weeks, it’s also not easily persuaded by anyone, regardless of how much they’ve invested in the company. Some may see this as arrogance, pride or stubbornness. I see it as necessary. Panic releasing “innovative” products isn’t enough. A steady improvement is a much better tactic.
Please let it have a bigger screen! It’s the one feature tech enthusiasts have been demanding for ages. Apple appeased them slightly with the iPhone 5 in 2012, making the screen longer. One thing I think we can be sure of with this year’s new iPhone is that it’ll have a new design. For almost as long as the iPhone’s existed, they’ve released a new form factor every two years. We had 3G/3GS, 4/4S and 5/5s/5c. I can’t even begin to predict what the phone might feature different from the current crop of iPhones, but it’ll almost certainly have a very familiar front face. Touch ID is here to stay, which means the home button is here to stay.
Apple’s biggest challenge with creating a larger screen is deciding on a resolution. It can’t go with industry standard 720p or 1080p panels. It’d make it more difficult than necessary for developers to optimized their apps for the new screen and resolution. Perhaps the screen would only be slightly larger and have exactly the same resolution as the iPhone 5s/5c, but feature a slightly lower pixel density. For instance, if the same 1136×640 pixels graced a 4.5-inch panel, it’d have a density of around 290ppi, which Apple could still argue was a Retina display.
My biggest question for the iPhone 6 is whether there’ll be two versions. With iPhone 5s and 5c we got one premium, glass and metal device and one more playful and colorful device. Both are fantastic and offer something different. Will the iPhone 6 have a plastic, colorful sibling? Who knows. If it does, it would see Apple have 4 different iPhones on the market at the same time. I cannot for one second imagine that Apple would get rid of the iPhone 5c or 5s after just 12 months.
One thing is for sure, Apple has to kill of the 30-pin connector for good, which means the 4s is a certain casualty of 2014.
iOS 8 will almost certainly be unveiled at WWDC in June this year. What it’ll feature, I can’t even guess. I could list all the things I’d like it to have, but they’d be the same bunch of features I’ve been wanting for years: Better Notifications, better multitasking etc.. One thing we won’t see is a drastic change in user interface.
Where we will see change is under the hood and in the list of APIs available to developers. Perhaps one of those will be an ability for certain apps to make use of Touch ID. The key here – again – is security. Apple’s engineers will need to make an API available that allows temporary access to the fingerprint data secured inside the A7’s secure enclave. Even Apple itself doesn’t store or have access to that data, but it could come in incredibly useful in particular apps such as mobile banking, password/locker/wallet apps. One thing is certain: Apple did not spend a lot of time, money and energy to develop an awesome fingerprint scanner purely for unlocking your phone or allowing iTunes purchases. It will go much deeper than that, and will make its way across the entire iOS device range eventually, including iPads.
Although we’ve seen rumors of a larger iPad Pro, I expect the iPad lineup to be the one that sees the least change in 2014. iPad Air just got released and will likely be the flagship tablet for the next couple of years. Although its design will likely remain, you can expect the internal components to be upgraded in line with the new iPhone and operating system. If I’m 100% completely honest, I don’t think I’d mind that much if the iPad range wasn’t updated at all this year. It’s hard to see how either the Retina iPad mini or iPad Air can be improved (apart from adding Touch ID and a new processor).
Breaking new ground?
The big question, or biggest question, for Apple in 2013 is whether or not it’s going to venture in to unfamiliar territory. Will we see anything new and innovative from Apple? We’ve been waiting since 2010, and it feels about time. It’d also be the first time it will have done so since Steve Jobs passed away, and prove the “this wouldn’t happen under Jobs” crowd wrong. If it does break new ground, where will it do so?
The biggest expectation for most of us is that Apple will make a smartwatch at some point soon. Or – at least – some form of wearable technology. If there is an iWatch on the horizon, the best way to predict what it’s going to feature is to try and remember Apple’s way of working, its mentality and focus. It’s not going to try and compete spec-for-spec with Samsung’s ridiculous Galaxy Gear.
Firstly, it’s got to be different. The iMac was different to every other PC on the market, the iPod was different to the MP3 players of the day, as were iPhone and iPad in their respective markets. It’s why I find it hard to imagine than an iWatch will have a traditional watch design. It has to be a trend-setter and that means it needs to be instantly recognizable. Traditionally, Apple likes to focus on making things really easy and getting them to “magically” “just work”. You’d expect that it might hook up with your iPhone to show you important notifications, access Siri and tell the time as well as track your movements and help keep you fit. In my mind, it’ll be functions from the Pebble and Nike Fuelband but in to something that looks like it was designed by a team up of Rolls Royce and Armani. Really, this is all just guessing.
As for the elusive TV set, I don’t see it. I have no real reason except that the market is very well established, and breaking in to it with any significant impact will take something affordable and incredible.
Apple’s spent the past few months acquiring talent to join its executive team including Burberry’s former CEO as head of retail, a couple of guys from the Nike design studios and – more recently – a former NYT design director. Although there’s clear change with a focus on innovation and design, we’ll also have had a full 12 months with Craig Federighi and Sir Jony Ive working collaboratively together to enhance software and hardware on both the Mac and iOS side. Jony has an incredibly eye for industrial design and manufacturing processes, while Craig has enthusiasm and an almost child-like charm when he presents on stage.
“Apple is Doomed” Stories
They won’t go away. Because they make good traffic, even if completely unfounded and based on the misinterpretation of unimportant metrics.
Leaks from the supply chain are getting harder and harder to stop, so the chances that Apple will surprise us with the iPhone and iPad updates this year are slim. We’ll more than likely start seeing hardware leaks in the next few months, with more and more parts and rumors accelerating to a crescendo in the latter half of 2014.
One thing that is worth watching is the smartphone industry as a whole. It’s almost completely saturated now in the West. Both tablet and smartphone markets are growing exponentially in developing countries like China, India and Brazil. But, those countries are mostly seeing sales of devices below $400. As we know, Apple’s not interested in that sector of the market. That said, if other manufacturers keep on losing money the way they are, it’ll leave only Apple and Samsung to battle it out. Something has to give soon. BlackBerry is only just hanging on for dear life and HTC is struggling. Motorola and Nokia’s futures were secured – for the time being – by being swallowed up by software companies (Google and Microsoft). It makes you worry that those who haven’t might not make it much longer than 12-24 months.
All in all, Apple should have another solid year. With the China Mobile deal finally wrapped up, Apple’s iPhone sales will continue to grow, as will profits, and we know the leadership is keen to keep on innovating as if it’s trying to make its way out of near-brankruptcy, even though its financial situation is about as far as possible from the precarious days of the late 1990s. I’m looking forward to 2014 more than any other year previous, and can’t wait to see if Cupertino will surprise us.