Apple’s last earnings call made it clear the spectacular iPhone growth of the past has peaked. Although Apple is still doing well in services, Macs, and even iPhones, the drop in iPhone sales has left many people asking if Apple can ever grow the iPhone market again.
In a recent Tech.pinions Insider post, I suggested one way they could significantly grow the iPhone market was to target India with a special iPhone priced more accordingly for that market. That could go a long way toward getting them into a stronger position in India and reap major benefits as more and more of the 1.2 billion people in India move up the economic scale and as the smartphone plays a more important role in their communications, commerce, and education.
However, I believe there are at least two significant technologies that could drive new iPhone Growth and its ecosystem that could, over time, significantly bring back healthy iPhone sales and help them expand their overall audience. Each one could spur growth but, together, they could really take the iPhone up a couple of notches.
Over the last three weeks, I have traveled half way around the world to China and then, after a few days home, off to New Orleans to attend the Collision Conference. At the end of the week, I did a father/son day at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. While most of this trip was business related, there was time for sightseeing and of course, listening to great music and taking pictures at JazzFest, which is a very colorful event.
On the trip, I took a high-end Sony mirrorless camera as well as my iPhone. But, since I did not carry my Sony with me all of the time, 80% of the pictures I took were with the iPhone. Given the decline in sales of DSLRs and pocket cameras due to smartphones, I suspect that, for many, a smartphone camera is also the #1 way they take pictures these days.
There are rumors Apple may be putting dual cameras on the iPhone 7. I hope this is true. If a smartphone becomes my primary camera, then I want the best camera possible and one that, in many ways, works like a DSLR. While in China, I was shown a prototype of a smartphone with dual cameras and, by using the dual cameras, it took on a lot of DSLR features, including amazing digital zoom and special effects as well as more user controls. If this is the case and Apple puts dual cameras in new iPhones and makes an iPhone more like a DSLR, interest in that new iPhone could be huge and drive significant new sales in the next cycle.
The second technology is actually a category but one that, if supported by various tweaks to an iPhone and additional hardware, it too could drive iPhone sales into new territory. As many of you know, VR is poised to make a real impact on the world of computing by delivering a whole new way to see and view images, video, and even information. Its first impact will be in gaming but its reach will be broad and key industries like travel, real estate, sports and entertainment are all beginning to embrace VR in one form or another. With the right applications, it will be a big hit with consumers too.
At the moment, Apple has been silent on their VR plans but we know they have made recent hires focused on VR. Given Tim Cook’s recent comments that VR is something Apple sees as important in the future, I have no doubt Apple will eventually deliver some type of VR solution within the iOS and Mac ecosystem.
However, Apple’s M.O. is not to be first but instead, monitor a new technology or market and, when ready, deliver a comprehensive, well thought out version of their own. They could leap frog competitors and make them the leader in a field even if they are late to the game. They did this with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad and I suspect the same thing could happen with VR.
The big question is how they approach this. Today, there are two means to delivering VR. One is using a tethered device like Oculus’ Rift, HTC’s Vive or Sony’s Playstation VR. In these early days of VR, a tethered solution is the only way to delver a high level VR experience. The other way is to use a smartphone with a Google Cardboard-like device or something like Samsung’s Gear VR that works with Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones to view VR content. Our research shows consumers will eventually want to use a VR headset that is not tethered and delivers the entire VR experience in the headset itself.
To that end, we believe Samsung is working on such a headset where the smartphone technology is embedded in a new version of the Gear. While I was in China, I saw a prototype from a company called Dlodlo.com. They showed me a VR headset that looks like regular sunglasses and has all of the tech needed to deliver a VR experience.
If I had to guess what Apple is doing, I would bet Apple is working on a combination of these two ideas. Perhaps a set of goggles that have a lot of complimentary technology for enhancing an iPhone-driven VR experience. The iPhone itself could have things like a 360 degree camera and other VR/AR features that make it unique and works best with this headset to deliver a great standalone experience. I am sure it could be backward compatible with perhaps an iPhone 4S and any iPhone 6 models but I think it would make sense to create a new line of iPhone VR models that work best with some type of low-cost optimized headset.
I am just speculating on what Apple could do but, after this trip to China and New Orleans, I can see a dual camera gives an iPhone more DSLR-like features and could entice a lot of users to upgrade. I also am a big believer in VR and its potential impact on the computing market and fully expect Apple to do something in VR that gives them a strong position in this space in the not-so-distant future.
Either technologies could impact the demand for new iPhones and help them expand the market for their ecosystem and services. Together, they could deliver another blockbuster product to drive huge new sales and refresh the iPhone in the near future.