What will Apple do in 2017?
The TL;DR version is: pretty much what they did in 2016. Update popular hardware, expand services, steer clear of new product categories and make a boatload of money.
However, buried inside those pat and rather obvious observations is a company that may be in search of its mojo. There is nothing wrong with Apple or its offerings, but the company that reinvented and reinvigorated numerous product categories has spent the last two years polishing its own Apples.
In my totally anecdotal Twitter poll on which word best described Apple in in 2016 Aggressive, Innovative, Slipping, Successful Slipping won by a commanding margin. Why do people perceive one of the world’s most successful tech companies this way? Didn’t Apple do enough in 2016?
Which word best describes Apple in 2016?
Lance Ulanoff (@LanceUlanoff) November 29, 2016
This year’s iPhones the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are excellent, exquisitely designed pieces of hardware with updated cameras, water resistance, better components and a spanking new operating system. They’re also still iPhones, devices that look very much like the models Apple introduced in 2014.
Apple has failed to reignite interest in its tablet line.
Apple has failed to reignite interest in its tablet line, despite introducing its best iPad ever, the iPad Pro 9.7. Sure, they had to raise the price by $100 to squeeze iPad Pro 12.9 hardware into the smaller frame, but its Apple, so you forgive.
Two years since the Apple Watch introduction, the design remains virtually unchanged. Series 2 is a solid update especially its new waterproofing that lets users take it for a swim but the best changes came, as they often do, through the much-needed operating system update: watchOS 3.
Apple TV has grown in stature and gotten a brand-new touch and voice-friendly remote, but its simply evolving and not changing into the TV set we once thought Apple was building. Like the Apple Watch, Apple TVs software has seen far more radical changes thanks to tvOS.
The most radical thing Apple did in 2016 (apart from taking on the DoJ and FBI) was introducing its new AirPods. People really lost their minds over these wireless audio devices and not necessarily in a good way.
Poor Apple. Seems like its damned if it does and dammed if it doesnt. But dont cry any tears for the company with an enviable bottom line and hundreds of billions of dollars sitting offshore. Its fine and it should be even more fine in 2017, even if there isnt a single new product category to ogle.
iPhone at 10
No tech moment will be bigger in 2017 than the launch of the new iPhone in September, which will happen just a couple of months after the 10th anniversary of the very first iPhone launch. While most expect Apple to call this new hardware iPhone 8, theres a possibility Apple could skip a number or two and go right to iPhone 10.
The tenth anniversary of the iPhone will be a big thrust going into September of 2017, said Analyst and Creative Strategies President Tim Bajarin via email, echoing most other Apple experts I talked to.
Rumors about this huge update started flowing months ago and only picked up steam on the day Apple officially unveiled the iPhone 7. If the rumors prove to be true, your next iPhone could be an all-glass confection, complete with a palm-hugging curve.
People have been talking about the possibility of a curved iPhone screen for years, especially after Samsung introduced its Edge devices. However, as much as people want to think Apple copies other peoples good or interesting ideas, Apple prefers to find ideas that work and then tries to improve them. There really isnt a lot of me too, ethos at the company. My guess is that while well see more glass (or sapphire) on the next iPhone, it will not have a noticeable curve.
Better bets are on an A11 CPU, which likely will be the first Apple-made chip to use 10-nanometer chip tech and wireless charging.
Apple may swap the iPhone’s Lightning port for a do-it-all USB-C connector.
If Apple sticks to their heritage, they wont bring anything out thats not ready, wrote Patrick Moorhead, President and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy in an email. Moorhead, though, does expect a lot of new technology in the iPhone 8 (or 10). He agrees with rumors that call for an OLED screen on at least one of the iPhone 8 models and, if not curves, at least an edge-to-edge display.
The iPhone 8 could also mark yet another port shift; Apple may swap the iPhone’s Lightning port for a do-it-all USB-C connector.
The most interesting new technology, though, could be augmented reality. Apple CEO Tim Cook has already made clear hes a big fan, telling the Washington Post earlier this year, I think AR [augmented reality] is extremely interesting and sort of a core technology.
Bajarin told me that Cook sees AR as a real growth area and the company is already doing a lot of work behind the scenes in this space.
Adding AR to the iPhone in 2017 would make sense for consumers who are not ready to put on VR headgear, but want reality-enhancing experiences as well as for developer partners who can build AR experiences into their iOS Apps.
Whatever Apple does with the iPhone in 2017, it has to be big. Apple needs to knock something out of the park, wrote Forrester VP and Principal Analyst J. P. Gownder in an email. He thinks Apple has the opportunity to reinvent the smartphone entirely with a radical departure on an iPhone 8.
Getting out of the car
I think 2017 is the year we finally learn what Apple is up to in the car space. It will not be a car.
Everything Apple has done in the last 12 months indicates that its cooled to the idea of home-grown automotive hardware. Im sure millions has been spent reaching this decision and we know jobs have been lost, but building a car is a no-win situation for Apple (acquiring an electric car company that starts with the letter T is also highly unlikely).
Analysts I spoke to agree that some car news will be forthcoming in 2017, but it will probably be focused on software, dashboard integration and situation- and location-based AI.
You can also probably shelve those Apple TV set dreams right next to the car. Apple cares deeply about television, but realized sometime last year that the quickest path to someones living room is through a tiny set-top box and not via the more considered purchase of a full-sized HDTV.
Apple TV, however, will shift to center stage in 2017 as the company updates the device’s tvOS and continues negotiating with streaming services like Netflix, as well as content creators and networks (especially local channels), to consolidate access on its Apple TV devices. The sticking point will continue to be the ability to search across all the services at once. At issue is how Apple basically hides third-party branding from the results. Yes, youll still watch The Crown on Netflix, but wont know its on Netflix until you start watching, which is why Netflix isnt participating.
2017 will bring a handful of Apple-supported streaming TV shows, but dont expect Apple to launch its own channel full of streaming programs.
Apple Watch family
Apple calls the Apple Watch one of the most successful watches on the market. Thats right, not just for smartwatches, but for all watches. According to the Vontobel Watch Industry Report, its annual sales are just behind luxury watchmaker Rolex. We also know that Apple Watch is a multibillion-dollar business. That’s all good news, but the Apple Watch simply isn’t a success on the level of, say, the iPhone or even the iPad.
Even so, Apple is probably just getting started in the wearable space and 2017 may be the year it branches out, a bit.
Forresters Gownder told me that smart glasses featuring augmented reality is a possibility. Apple has floated a few goggle patents over the years, but Im not convinced. The more likely scenario is Apple builds out from its wearable center, adding Apple Watch variations: a more affordable composite model or a more connected option. Moorhead agrees that we should expect an Apple Watch connected over a low-power flavor of LTE like LTE-M or Narrow Band-IoT.
Aside from the next big iPhone, Apples biggest focus in 2017 may be on AI. In 2016, Apple executives were, shall we say, a bit annoyed that people saw them as playing catch-up in a field they claim to have all but invented for consumers. Siri, Apples groundbreaking voice assistant arrived with the iPhone 4S in 2011, but AI didnt become a part of a larger public conversation until the surprising success of Amazon Echo and its Alexa voice assistant and, more recently, Google Assistant on Google Home. Suddenly people were asking Apple where its home assistant was. In Tim Cooks lengthy interview with the Washington Post, he took umbrage at that assumption, adding that, going forward, AI will be a critical part of the Apple ecosystem.
AI will make the [smartphone] even more essential to you. It will become even a better assistant than it is today, said Cook.
Artificial Intelligence is not just about Siri and the iPhone, though, Apple made it clear to me in 2016 that AI is threaded throughout numerous Apple products and services, a strategy it will continue to pursue.
Apple is moving us more and more toward the role of voice as an extension of their influence on user interfaces and making Siri more powerful and more contextually accurate is a big goal, said Bajarin.
However, 2017 will not mark the beginning of Apple doing it at the expense of privacy.
A battle won and a line drawn
2016 marked the year Apple took on the Department of Justice and the FBI, refusing to build a tool that would crack is own encryption code for fear that the hack would get released into the wild. The FBI never actually backed down instead it found a third party to do the work while Apple escaped without ceding the moral high ground.
Even so, Apples Artificial Intelligence efforts may only go as far as the data its fed. How, in 2017, will Apple maintain the balance of individual privacy and tools smart enough to know what you want before you want it?
The company introduced the concept of Differential Privacy at WWDC in June, but has done little to explain it to consumers. The idea is that instead of collecting user profiles and the data that goes with them, Apple takes data samples and inserts noise to anonymize the data.
In 2017, Apple may try to come up with a more consumer-friendly name for differential privacy and a more palatable explanation, especially as its AIs get smarter and smarter.
The big, bad market
Apple sells tens of millions of iPhone each quarter, which makes them a chief source of revenue. However, those sales numbers have been declining and experts like Moorhead predict single-digit growth” for the smartphone market in 2017. There will be a nice Q1 bump reflecting full-quarter iPhone 7 and 7 Plus sales (it might even beat projections), but the rest of the year wont hold up as well.
The potential iPhone sales decline in 2017 could be cause for concern.
Moorhead told me that the once-promising narrative in China has changed, and not in a good way. He also doesnt agree with Tim Cooks belief that India is a big growth opportunity, at least in 2017. Lacking those growth engines, and with saturated North America and Western Europe markets, the potential iPhone sales decline in 2017 could be cause for concern.
That is, if those predictions hold true. My take is that it will not be a stellar iPhone year, but it will still be good by most measures. The next blockbuster year, though, wont arrive until 2018, when Apple can start counting all those iPhone 8 (10?) sales.
Services will play an even larger role in Apples 2017 bottom line (Cook predicted that part of his business alone will be the size of a Fortune 100 company next year). Next year, Apple will diversify existing services and add new ones as well.
The X Factor
A Trump White house is probably something Apple and Tim Cook didnt predict or, possibly even prepare for. Tim Cook briefly spoke to the President-Elect on the phone in November and was one of the guests of honor (at least judging from the seating) at Trump’s recent Tech Summit in New York City.
The substance of the phone call and summit haven’t been fully disclosed, but Cook revealed his thinking to Apple employees in a leaked memo, explaining that it was important for Apple to engage with government since it controls policy that directly affects the company. What Cook and company do to influence that policy will all be predicated on what Trump attempts push through Congress in his first year. The fallout will come in 2018 and beyond.
There is one thing that is a certainty in 2017: Apple will finally open and start moving into its brand-new spaceship campus. Within that massive circular structure, Apple will dream up the future of its products, services and innovation. If Apple hopes to reclaim the mojo some believe it has lost, the effort will lift off from there.