Many tech news publications do “year in review” and preview pieces at this time of year. One of the questions I always get asked is what new hardware products Apple might launch in the coming year. Some things – notably the iPhone – are so predictable in their annual schedule at this point they’re barely worth commenting on, while others like the iPad and Apple Watch seem to be settling into something of a pattern too. The most interesting question is often what completely new products Apple might release. With that in mind, here are some thoughts about the new products I think we might see from Apple over not just the next year but the next couple of years.
I love my Apple Watch – I’ve used one version or another all day, every day, since it first came out. It’s made a meaningful difference in my ability to manage incoming notifications, my health, and my general information consumption. Over the past week, I’ve also been using AirPods a lot and those too are, for the most part, great little devices. However, there are some limitations to both of these products which make me think we might see additional wearables from Apple.
One of the biggest limitations of the Apple Watch now that it’s usable in the pool and has GPS functionality, it’s not appropriate to be worn during certain sporting activities. If you play basketball, soccer, football, lacrosse, or any other contact sport, wearing a watch (of any kind) would be either unwise or dangerous for the watch and player safety. If you get a lot of your exercise through these sports, the calories you burn and time spent exercising can’t be captured by the Watch and, therefore, simply go unrecognized by the Activity app. In the past, I’ve used Fitbit devices which I could slip into a pocket while playing and would track such activity for me. So one obvious device for Apple to launch is a companion of sorts to the Watch which would clip onto clothing or slide into a pocket in order to track such activity, syncing with the Apple Watch when you put it back on.
Others might prefer to have just one of these devices instead of a Watch, if they have never worn a watch of any kind – whether or not someone has traditionally worn a watch seems to be one of the biggest predictors of how they respond to the Apple Watch, in my experience. Some other device worn on the body to track activity and potentially buzz for notifications might be an interesting alternative. If it also came with audio controls as a companion to AirPods, that would make it particularly interesting – I’m finding that using Siri to control playback isn’t always the best fit.
In my experience, the biggest advantage home speakers like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home have over Siri on any of the devices where it’s available isn’t functionality of the assistant itself but the size and configuration of the devices on which it operates. Those devices were, without exception, designed first and foremost with something other than microphone performance in mind. They’re mostly intended to be as small as possible, with smooth lines, large displays, and other features which hampers the ability to deliver high-performing far-field voice recognition. As such, if Apple really wants to improve Siri performance, especially in the home, the solution probably isn’t in software but in hardware and that’s where a Siri speaker comes in.
The next question is exactly what such a speaker would involve. Echo and Home are both very similar speakers, but they’re standalone – other than the mobile app used to set them up, they connect to WiFi in the home and operate independently. Google Home does work with Google Cast but, other than that, it is essentially disconnected from any other device in the home. It feels like an Apple home speaker would be more integrated into the ecosystem of devices in the home, becoming one of several outputs for audio, for example, and potentially working together with the Apple TV and/or other devices for whole-home audio. One can also imagine using Siri on phones to trigger music playing on the speaker, for example. Or even using the Siri speaker to trigger playing a TV show on the Apple TV for a child in the other room. I can also imagine using several of these speakers independently to recreate a sort of Sonos whole-home audio system.
Another interesting category is first-party HomeKit hardware. To be honest, I think this category was more likely a year ago, when HomeKit was still struggling to get off the ground, versus today’s much healthier ecosystem. But I still think it’s possible Apple might eventually introduce its own hardware to work as part of the HomeKit system, especially in categories where design and ease of use on third party devices is poor or in areas where the devices would make a meaningful contribution to other aspects of the Apple ecosystem. For example, sensors placed around the home could help trigger lighting and other home automation features through HomeKit.
Having said all this, I continue to believe the smart home space is essentially stuck at the early adopter phase when it comes to these one-off purchases as opposed to managed services. With that in mind, it’s harder to see how Apple could launch products in this category and have a really significant impact on the market unless it also provides some kind of installation and management support. That would obviously be a departure for Apple, whose premise for much of its hardware has always been it just works. But smart home gear is inherently different in nature from standalone hardware products because it needs to be integrated into the home. That means dealing with wiring and other potentially dangerous and intimidating challenges that don’t apply when it comes to phones or laptops.
Tim Cook has made increasingly enthusiastic remarks about augmented reality over the last couple of years and it seems likely Apple has some kind of play in AR up its sleeve. However, the biggest question is whether it sees the iPhone or some other device as the center of these experiences. We’ve already seen some basic AR features as part of iPhone apps, from an early version of Yelp which superimposed locations of restaurants on a live view of the environment to the more sophisticated merging of the real and virtual worlds in the Pokemon Go app. With dual cameras and the ability to sense depth, the iPhone is certainly capable of more sophisticated augmented reality applications than ever before.
But there are still some categories of augmented reality where a head-mounted device of some kind can provide more advanced functionality and, critically, free your hands to interact with the environment. This could certainly be used for gaming but also be used for educational and other scenarios, too. Apple is reportedly working on at least some head-worn AR devices, though we don’t know yet whether any of these will make it to market. However, it feels like 2017 could well be the year where we see the first mass-market AR devices launch, testing the market for such devices and potentially laying the groundwork for an Apple entry later.
If I had to guess, I’d say the Siri speaker and additional wearables are the most likely entrants in 2017, while AR feels at least a year or two away. I’m still not 100% convinced Apple should be in the first party home automation hardware business at all. And of course, I’ve said nothing about cars, which seem less likely as a future hardware category today than they did this time last year and, at any rate, would be multiple years away. It’s entirely possible we won’t see a major new hardware product category from Apple at all in 2017 but I suspect we’ll see at least one at some point.
51 thoughts on “Thinking about Apple’s Next New Product Category”
I’ll just add my idea of what might be the next one.
Apple is focused on fitness, or so Tim Cook tells us. Managing your weight is central to this. Current scales don’t do a good job of effortlessly pairing to your iPhone and sending up vital health data. Hence I see an opportunity for Apple to provide what they think is a meaningful contribution. They might even try to gamify weight control.
Of course women’s weight data would have to be protected with cutting edge security, maybe on the secure enclave.
on the secure enclave…. and reported via the reality distortion field, along with a camera app that answers “Does this outfit make me look fat?”. 😉
In fact, your comment gives me another idea.
It takes photos of your face, stored in a secure enclave, analysed with AI, telling you “darling, you look fabulous today” or “you look tired. Did you sleep enough?”. Also giving you suggestions on makeup etc.
With Siri, you could even ask “Who is the fairest in the land?” and Siri would be clever enough to provide the politically correct answer (fake news!)
During one of our first arguments, years ago, my wife (notice 4 letter word) said to me the words we all eventually hear sooner or later. With us it was sooner… but I digress…
“You don’t love me for who I am!”…
to which I promptly opened the medicine cabinet, full of make-up, and asked the only logical question while waving my hands in front of the war paint…
“Who the hell are you..!?”
Suffice it to say, we deserve each other. 🙂
You would like this…
That’s a great video, and I’m not even joking.
I think that video is a great illustration of an important human trait, that tech companies need to be more aware of.
1. That video is a great explanation of Facebook’s algorithmic feed, its success, and its issues. People have a strong tendency to listen to what they want to hear, and people often value this more than the truth. This is why Facebook has such high engagement, and is also why it amplifies the fake news problem.
2. If one really wanted to increase engagement of a voice-based AI assistant, a good idea would be to teach it small talk (not to be mixed with Smalltalk), politeness and encouragement. Quick access to the world’s truths and getting things done isn’t the reason why people talk most of the time. Heck, it’s often not even why companies hire consultants. In fact, not saying the truth will often be more appropriate and important.
It is totally possible that the next new product category will come from this approach. With the Internet, it is possible that humans have already saturated the need for truth or usefulness. What comes next may be more emotional.
Just a sense at this point, but definitely something to keep in the back of your head.
The movie is called Demolition Man. It’s an action film set in the future. Among other things it describes a curated society. Co-Op gone extreme, or Apple’s ecosystem if you prefer… 🙂
In the US, northerners often have difficulty doing business in the south when they first move here or first time doing so. They think the goal is to get right to business. What they don’t know is how two southerners start a business meeting:
Business person 1) Hey, Ashley, how’s your Mama doing? Had breakfast with Tim the other day. His auntie is in the hospital. I was sorry to hear that. I know she has been important to your family.
BP2) Yeah, Tim’s aunt is one of the nicest people we know, helped us out a lot when times were hard. Mama’s fine. She’s been working hard on her garden, trying to grow another prize winning tomato for the Fair this year. So about this contract…
I also remember talking to a German client once who hates how Americans don’t at least say “Good morning” or even just “Hello” or some other pleasant salutation in their emails.
I don’t think it is about “emotion”, but it is certainly more than data and realizing there is more to truth than facts. There is relationship, empathy, and context involved in humanity.
Oh the Germans….
Not to paint with a broad brush, but a subset of the culture is so formal that…
If a professor holds two Ph.D.’s the proper salutation is Herr Professor Dr.Dr. Soandso.
I agree northerners, but we Americans in general tend to be more cavalier. Almost certainly too cavalier for some.
Oh, my clients were definitely formal. But they _always_ started their emails cordially.
eta: Just to illustrate a spectrum on the other side “just the facts”.
I was editing while you replied.
I agree the human element is a pore polite way to start any conversation. I should do that more myself.
Politeness will be a fun one, standards vary by country and even region. I keep being thrown off each summer by Canadians asking me how I’m doing… I’m fresh off the plane, played with he kids, woke up at 4AM because jet lag, and I don’t so much mind the heat as the humidity… so… “Fine thanks” ? Should I ask how they’re doing too ? probably kinda like me ^^ The French have “Bonjour”, add “Madame” or “Monsieur” if you want to be extra respectful, and doesn’t prompt for a fake answer. Of course Canadians say Bonjour when leaving, which is wrong it should be “Au revoir” ;-p
Standards for small talk vary about as much, ie totally. I keep being disturbed by US talk-show hosts greeting women, but not men, with “You look nice” or something equivalent.
I have a client who is President of both the US and Canadian division of his company. He’s Parisian, with a thick French accent in English. He tells me that when he goes to Montreal, sometimes, he has no idea what some of the French TV programming is saying. I suggested to him that next time he bring an interpreter. 🙂
btw… I was taught that bonne journée is also appropriate.
Meanwhile, I try not to destroy your language with my thick American accent. Paradoxically, I can pronounce other, more phonetically based latin languages like a native.
Bonne journée is fine as a goodbye ;-p
Personally, I’m forever grateful (as should all civilization) of liberté, égalité, fraternité . The pure idealistic principle that extends everywhere in human relations, especially Apple! ;-P
I think there’s a fourth one that’s becoming ever more important: Laïcité, an energetic form of secularism that bans the state from any form of religious involvement, favoritism, proselytism. Our president isn’t sworn in on the bible and his religious opinions/practices are irrelevant; schools don’t teach creationism, ID, controversy; religious monuments/events are forbidden on public land…
The one sore point is holidays, we still have only Christian ones for historical reasons… I think adding more in seen as “too much” (we’ve got about 10 in a year already, incl. christian stuff and wars and revolutions and labour day)… I think it’d be good form to give one up for Eid, and the political before-and after-math would be fun to watch.
I’m sure you’ve heard of our oft quoted principle of Separation of Church and State, a more explicit definition of secularism in governance. To allow Church and State to intermingle serves neither, so it’s a good one.
We have similar issues with religious symbols on public lands, and holidays.
Before I say anything further, let me state that I am a religious person, a Christian. That however is not a societal issue, rather it’s a strictly personal one.
Ever since Reagan empowered and emboldened the religious right, this principle has come under constant attack. The result, Creationism taught in Science classes… a preposterous situation if ever, especially for science class. However you cut it, though both science and religion seek the truth (in principle), the methods are different and incompatible. Why then not math, history, gym… “and then the Lord inspired Ronald Reagan to propose Star Wars”. An opinion to be certain, but certainly not an obvious indisputable fact.
It’s utterly paradoxical that the very groups that are the most protected by the Separation of Church and State are the ones that most oppose it. Conversely, some so called liberals quickly forget that it’s an individual’s right to pray to a light bulb (or Steve Jobs-has happened) if they so choose. What is not their right is the imposition of their beliefs upon others.
I once had a list of dangerous people: religious extremists, communists, and shrinks, because they all have a “complete” worldview that leaves no room for any alternative belief/understanding system, and they’ll kill and oppress to make sure to prevail. At the time, the far right wasn’t even a blip on the radar, I feel I need to add that in now – sad times ^^. And the shrink part might be an over-reaction to the 2 I got in my family, who are unbearable, hurtful human beings.
Most don’t fall in the “extreme” category thankfully (and I ended up casting my first ever ballot for my outgoing communist mayor, not his far-right challenger… nose energetically pinched ;-p) . What’s bothersome is the ease with which each lends itself to a clique mentality and to readings that promote violence.
Anyhoo… happy new year !
Looking forward to 2017. Happy New Year!
Until then we have this:
I guess minimalism and abstraction isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be… 😛
Wishing you wonderful holidays Joe.
Happy holidays to you as well, and to everyone else here.
A great idea. Weight measurement is one thing that the Apple Watch simply cannot do, but it’s a key stastic in health management. I would like to see scales as part of a future development, coupled with body fat measurement in a future iteration of the Watch.
In addition to an Apple Ring.
That would be the device to wear during competitive sports, measuring heart rate, energy consumption etc.
Wifi scale have been on the market for years. I use Withings and it talks to Apple Health App.
Yes, I know. I haven’t been able to test them, so I don’t know how well they work. Having said that though, there were a ton of Bluetooth headsets before AirPods, MP3 players before iPod, and many smartphones before iPhone. Apple tends to enter markets which already have products, but which don’t work quite well enough. Apple hopes that by providing the last missing piece, they can make that category mainstream.
Apple is excellent at learning from other’s mistakes. Very smart!
Although probably completely unrelated, it is interesting to see Apple pulling Withing’s products from its online store.
I wonder if something like the Nike+ sensor in shoes could ever be extended enough to provide accurate weight information. Seems like more Nike’s realm than Apple’s. Interesting though.
Those toe TouchIDs will need to be a bit larger ? Or the sooo misguided CookApple will make them for pinkies ?
I think you got that the wrong way around. Amazon’s Echo is taylor made for frictionless shopping with some good search features. Google’s Home is taylor made for search and answer. The sort of things I expect from a digital assistant. Siri’s appears designed to .. I’m not sure what Siri does beyond telling to look at the web site link it found. Siri is useless as a home digital assistant.
In a home, you may be sharing the device with other people. Some adult, some children. Who’s account will Siri be linked to?
Both Amazon Echo and Google Home are the dumbest, over priced products of the Christmas season. Voice is cutie at best, but mainstream, I don’t think so.
Care to add some context and clarity?
I feel the same. These are Sharper Image level products championed by bored technology enthusiasts. Just add voice control to Beats speakers to check off the box.
In any case, a distributed solution like Siri — something with you wherever you are — is better than a centralized solution that’s stuck to the wall. AirPods is far more interesting to me than something like Echo.
“interesting category is first-party HomeKit hardware.”
Actually If Apple does this I think they will go the exact opposite direction than you and make a “homekit HQ” device that provides simple, elegant integration and control over all your homekit devices. That’s where the money is, not in endless cheap, insecurely networked this’s and thats.
Most likely they would then partner with specialized companies that would enter the home, make a digital map of it and all its outlets, and set up the HQ device to know what is in your home where. Then you’d be able to control all your smart devices by tapping on a floor plan of your house rather than by the techie name of each device.
There are already software packages, used by kitchen installers, where you put down paper markers in a room and then take photos, and the app takes those photos of the markers and creates an accurate 3d representation of the room. Make a smartphone app for that, with extra markers for each smart device/outlet, and it ought to be possible to create the necessary house plan for smarting your home without needing to pay a professional. As long as we are talking retrofit smart devices.
Something where you tap on the icon for each outlet in the 3d floor plan and then touch the phone to the device, and it gets automatically configured so there’s no dealing with wifi network addresses or the techie name for the device, its in the 3d map and touching it brings up a scheduler for turning it on/off, whatever.
Home automation/intelligence is one area that someone could make serious improvements. At least serious improvements are needed. The fundamental two questions in my mind are Is there enough money and how to go about it if there is?
Right now I think the most logical path is through home security. That system by nature is about keeping an eye on my home and knowing everything that is going on at, around, and within the four walls.
But I think that is going to face the same obstacles Apple will face in wanting to provide a solution to auto makers. It cedes too much to someone else.
In the end, if they get serious about being a hub, I think Apple is going to have to make the whole widget. I think everyone else feels the same as Apple, the only way to control your own destiny is to make (and be in control of) both the hardware and the software. Otherwise you are at the mercy of some other company who may or may not care about your ideas or products.
I’d like Apple break into music instruments category. With music lessons in Garage band. Starting with a digital piano.
It already happened.
What I mean I would like to have physical musical instruments from Apple. i know Garage Band have virtual instruments and even some musical lessons now.
That’s interesting, and I don’t want to be dismissive about what Apple can bring to the party, but what can Apple bring to the party?
Physical musical instruments that teach how to play would be a huge place that I think they, and MS, and Google, and other’s can make a huge impact. Never mind AI, how about RI?
Some things already exist, like the Jamstix guitar, which costs more than a real one. Not the right example to follow.
Apple usually redo the popular products categories to make them sexy and easy. They already have Garage Band, so Apple being famous for a vertical integration I would expect them to provide the whole solution – an instrument and musical lessons. Also I don’t know whether it plays out or not, but Force touch is worth a try in a piano.
I’ve been saying for at least a couple years that the next thing will be an Apple Network of Things. I suppose that falls under “Additional Wearables”, kind of, and it touches on the idea of a Siri speaker as well as HomeKit. Apple is uniquely positioned to provide an experience that is greater than the sum of the parts. We may not see a single ‘next product’, but rather iterative progress and an expansion of useful devices and accessories (both hardware and software) that work well together and provide value. Apple has lots of work to do on this front, lots to improve, which also means there is a lot of opportunity.
Apple’s entrance into routers and time machine backup solutions was motivated by providing a particular customer experience. It’s not like they wanted to get into the “lucrative” wi-fi router business. I feel the likeliest new product would be of a similar motivation.
Best guess: Wireless over-the-air charging transmitter.
Wireless charging has been rumored for the next iPhone. I think people generally assume this is going to be inductive charging — and they might do that too — but there have been reports of Apple hiring engineers from uBeam and rumors of uBeam working with a Valley company that they are forbidden from naming. Additionally, there are patents by Apple going back to 2010 related to various distance charging investigations.
It wouldn’t charge an iPhone or iPad so much as supplement the battery so that it effectively drains slower. Where I might get 8 hrs from the iPhone on a typical day without the OTA charging, now I’d get a couple days. And for lower power devices like the Apple Watch or a Magic Mouse, it could effectively remove the need to charge.
I think it could be a standalone device or combined with other devices like the Apple TV or a Siri speaker. For example, there’s a patent they have using an iMac as the transmitter.
Charging at a distance is interesting, I would need to be convinced as to it’s safety. Yes, the science of it all…
Most of the mid range wireless charging being worked on is using tech you’re already exposed to. uBeam for example uses ultrasound, a few orders of magnitude less powerful than what is used medically.
I will be looking at two most important things as far as I can tell
-Intensity of energy transfer, as you’ve already eluded, because to fill an X mAh battery will require the transfer of at least X mAh worth of energy (definitely more), with X being a very significant amount of energy.
-The emitter of the energy must put out energy in the form that (ideally) only the receiver can absorb. This is the less obvious problem. Did they even think of “blinding whales” when they invented sonar?
Not to be preachy, but my high school teacher taught us (as every one else’s high school teacher did) that energy is the ability to do work. Here the hard part is doing ONLY the desired work.
I’ve long been wanting to get rid of cabling in the entertainment business, especially lighting. We run so much 12/3 wire to lights, it is back breaking. Easily tens of thousands of feet for each production.
That’s a lot of energy, but it’s important to dream.
I was sure bluetooth electricity was around the corner!
Things are getting better with LED technology. 1000 watt lights are easily being replaced by 100 watt fixtures. But since this is now solid state technology we have to run data cable along with the smaller power cable. At least it is all a fraction of the weight.