Tech journalists don’t often have to battle our way across hostile terrain in sub-zero temperatures, fight crocodiles with our bare hands, or abseil from helicopters to rescue hostages (though that remains my cover story for the time I broke my elbow by tripping up in an airport).
We do, however, occasionally do something almost as dangerous: make predictions about the tech future, knowing full well that our words remain forever archived on the web for people to dust off a year from now and gleefully point out just how wrong we were.
This is never more risky than in the case of Apple, a company notoriously secretive about its activities, and where there are way more false rumors than reliable ones. But hey, what’s life without a little adventure? So here are my predictions on what I think we can expect from Apple next year …
A larger-screened iPhone
While Steve Jobs was adamant that a 3.5-inch screen was the perfect size from a usability perspective, and that no-one would buy a phone “so big you can’t get your hand round it,” let’s also not forget that he was equally strong in his view that 10 inches was the right size for a tablet. Other manufacturers have proven the first point wrong, and Apple itself sells more iPad Minis than full-size iPads (albeit it at 7.9 inches rather than 7).
Apple has so far remained conservative, opting for a modest boost from 3.5 inches to 4 inches from the iPhone 4S to iPhone 5, and sticking to the same size in the 5c and 5s. But times have changed, and all the other leading smartphones have larger screens. HTC One and Moto X: 4.7 inches. Nexus 5: 4.95 inches. Samsung S4: 5 inches. LG G2: 5.2 inches. And that’s before we even get started on phablets.
To be sure, Apple is perfectly capable of defying the rest of the tech industry and doing its own thing if it believes it knows better. It’s perfectly possible that Apple could stick to its 4-inch guns. But the iPad Mini is (very profitable) proof that the company is also not above revising its views in response to market trends. 2014 is the year when I expect Apple to finally give in and opt for a larger display.
Apple is rumored to have tested a wide range of sizes from 4.8 inches to 6 inches. Those rumors are likely true: Apple tests a whole bunch of things, most of which it then rejects. Bloomberg got more specific last month, suggesting that the company is focusing on two models, with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays, and reporting that both would be released.
Two different sizes of iPhone is not impossible. Couple it to a larger iPad (see below) and Apple would have iOS devices at 4.7-, 5.5-, 8-, 10- and 12.9-inches, which it could be argued covers all the bases and makes it far less likely for an iOS user to jump ship to Android. Apple has also demonstrated it doesn’t mind having two different current iPhones, in addition to legacy ones, but those of course have identical screens.
I’m personally a little skeptical of the two-size theory. Apple favors simplicity wherever possible, and with the 5s and 5c likely remaining on sale as legacy handsets, that would give three different iPhone screen sizes. I think that’s too messy.
I also expect Apple to remain conservative, so I’m not expecting to see a phablet with an Apple logo on it. My money is on an iPhone 6 with a screen size in the 4.7 to 5-inch range. Curved screen? Possibly, but concave rather than the silly convex concepts that have done the rounds.
A larger iPad
The rumors may have begun with a dumb name, but given the persistence of the stories from a range of different sources, and our own poll suggesting strong demand for a larger version, I’d say this seems more likely than not.
Of the various different sizes suggested, 12.9 inches has been by far the most consistent. Three sizes pretty evenly spaced at 8-, 10- and (almost) 13-inches feels like a good range to me. Why do I say yes to three iPad sizes and no to three iPhone sizes? Simply because a 3-inch size difference is a meaningful one, each size appealing to a different type of customer.
I’m still saying a definite no to the ‘Maxi’ name, however! A more plausible suggested name has been the iPad Pro, and this has led to suggestions in some quarters that the 12.9-inch iPad might be some kind of hybrid device, running both iOS and OS X.
While I’ve argued that the two platforms are likely to increasingly borrow from each other, and grow closer over time, I don’t see a dual-boot device coming along anytime soon, and I certainly don’t expect that kind of radical functionality to appear on an iPad ahead of a Mac.
It’s also been suggested that a larger iPad would be made available first to the education market, with textbooks in mind. I do think Apple cares deeply about the education market, and very likely sees it as a key target, but the idea that it would not allow consumers and businesses to buy it at launch just holds no water for me.
Finally, it’s been reported that the 12.9-inch iPad is already in production and will be released early next year. I don’t buy that: I’d have expected to see a lot more evidence of its existence were that the case. I do expect it to be launched, I do expect the screen size to be 12.9 inches but I don’t expect to see it launched until October.
Thunderbolt 4K display
I wrote a whole piece on this recently, so won’t repeat it, but the TL;DR version is that it’s on the way, and Apple is simply waiting until it can produce something of the right quality at the right price.
Right now, we have a completely split market: cheap-and-cheerful 4K TVs (that can act as monitors) for a few hundred bucks, and high-end monitors (which we love) in the $5000 range. If Apple had intended to enter the market at the $5k level, it would have launched it with the Mac Pro. Since it didn’t, we can be fairly sure it’s waiting for costs to fall to a level that can be sensibly pitched to a larger market than AV professionals.
It will be a while before a high-quality 4K panel reaches the $999 price of the existing Thunderbolt Display, but something in the $1500-2000 range ought to be possible by the end of the year. I’m expecting to see it launched alongside next year’s MacBooks.
Apple 4K Television
So now we leave the more comfortable territory of incremental change to the rather stormier waters of attempting to predict Apple’s plans for completely new product categories …
I am at least on pretty safe ground in predicting that Apple will launch something completely new next year. Tim Cook is on record as saying that Apple has ‘big plans’ for 2014:
We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love.
No upgrade to an existing product would justify that description.
Apple has already done a huge amount of work into turning its Apple TV box – the product that Steve Jobs described as “a hobby” – into an increasingly sophisticated offering. Again, I won’t repeat what Jordan covered in his comprehensive look behind the scenes at Apple TV development, but the TL;DR version there is that Apple has been busily signing content deals and looks close to offering an Apple TV SDK that would really open up what can be offered on the platform.
If Apple does indeed launch its own 4K monitor, as I fully expect, then it’s a pretty small step to combine that with the functionality of the existing Apple TV box to create an Apple Television. From that perspective, you might think it’s a no-brainer. Perhaps even just launch the one product: the Apple Thunderbolt 4K Television.
But Apple took its time moving from computers to mobile devices, and the move into the living-room would be at least as big a leap. So far, it shows all the signs of being prepared to take all the time it needs to get it right. So yes, I’m pretty confident we’re going to see an Apple Television at some stage, but I’m less confident it will launch next year.
There has been a lot of speculation about the user-interface, with both Siri and gestures getting some chatter (and some sillier suggestions, of course). While I’m personally a big fan of Siri, my enthusiasm isn’t universally shared, to put it mildly – suggesting it would be a brave move on Apple’s part to make voice the primary interface. My guess is that Siri will be supported, but – as with your iPhone – you won’t have to use it if you don’t want to.
Gestures have gotten a better press. Simply pointing to on-screen icons would make for a very slick user experience.
But more important than any of this, in my view, is intelligence. We shouldn’t need to control the television manually to too great an extent as it should know what we like to watch and proactively offer those things to us. If it knows your favorite program is Game of Thrones, then it should of course record it for you but also immediately offer to play the latest episode when you sit down in front of the TV.
If three people are in front of the television, it should know all the things each of them watch and offer those things that all three like. That’s my idea of a radical new user-interface, and that’s exactly the kind of thinking I expect from Apple. At the same time, it’s not that hard to do. I don’t own a TV personally, getting my TV fix from Netflix, and it’s scarily good at suggesting things I might like.
If all we have to do most of the time is say yes or no to a suggestion, or point to one of the six or seven suggestions displayed on the screen, either voice or gestures would do the job well. And if Apple offers that kind of functionality wrapped up in a gorgeous case, it’s going to be a pretty irresistible product.
Update: downgraded from 70 to 50 percent after my US colleagues told me how poor US download speeds are
The evidence for Apple working on a product commonly dubbed the iWatch seems compelling. Cook himself wears a Nike fuelband, sits on the Nike board and has expressed enthusiasm (for Tim Cook values of enthusiasm) for the smartwatch concept.
I think the wrist is interesting. It is somewhat natural. I think for something to work [on the wrist], you have to convince people why it is worth wearing them. The sensor field is going to explode.
We’ve also seen evidence for the iWatch in Apple’s hiring. As long ago as February, the company was said to have a team of over 100 product designers working on a ‘wristwatch-like device,’ in August hired a key Nike Fuelband developer Jay Blahnik, adding top Nike design director Ben Shaffer to the team a month later.
The Nike links give the biggest clues to the likely focus of the iWatch: sensor technology. Many existing smartwatches are really not all that smart, essentially acting as little more than a second screen for a smartphone. Couple the fitness focus to the M7 chip found in the iPhone 5s, and I’d say it’s a safe bet that the iWatch will be bristling with sensors.
Calorie-counting will be only the start. That M7 chip looks to be a pretty clever beast, able to use motion patterns and speeds to determine whether you are walking, cycling, driving or eating, for example. Couple that to a built-in heart monitor and perhaps one or two other health sensors and you have a setup for providing a much more holistic view of your health than just how many steps you walked that day.
As someone who looks at today’s smartwatches as a solution in search of a problem, Apple will know it’s cracked it if it manages to sell me one.
Apple, of course, cares as much about form as function. Existing smartwatches are clunky. I’ll go further: they’re mostly downright ugly. Pebble tried harder than Samsung (who basically bolted a few components together and called it a product), but even the Pebble doesn’t look anywhere close to a candidate for wearing an Apple logo.
There’s been no shortage of iWatch concepts doing the rounds, from the gorgeous to the stupid. Apple is pretty conservative in its designs, so I don’t think we’re going to be blown away by anything radical in terms of the looks, but I do think a lot of people who would never dream of wearing any of today’s smartwatches are going to think “Ok, that I’ll wear.”
More interesting & exciting Apple Stores
I have to confess I try to avoid Apple Stores. The London ones at least are over-crowded, under-staffed and feel just a little too frantic for my tastes. I buy almost all my Apple gear online. But I’m guessing the developments we’re going to see next year may tempt me back inside the glass temples.
First, there’s a new sheriff in town. Angela Ahrendts had big ideas about the future of retail stores when she was CEO of Burberry, and it seems pretty clear that Tim Cook is going to give her free reign to put her ideas into action at Apple. If you didn’t watch this video when we first posted it, do so now – it’s a must-watch in my view.
Apple has of course been busy putting iBeacons into its stores. Bring together all that tech, couple it to the purchase data Apple has associated with our Apple IDs and visiting an Apple Store could be a radically different experience. Apple will need to balance privacy concerns against functionality, but here’s a little taster of the kind of experience that could be possible …
Walk into the store and see a personalised welcome message on your iPhone. Based on what you already own, and perhaps even influenced by the interests revealed by the apps you’ve purchased, you’re asked if you want to see a new product that might interest you. You’re shown a photo and a brief description.
You hit Yes, and you are guided through the store to the product in question. Once you’ve seen it, your phone offers to play a video showing you how it works. Perhaps that video plays on your phone, or maybe on a screen in the product area.
You have some questions the app can’t answer, so it sends a member of staff to you. The assistant already knows your name and the product you’re interested in. Your questions answered, you say yes to buying it. By the time you’ve approved the purchase with your fingerprint on your iPhone 5s, the companion app for the gadget is already automatically downloading.
Let me know your views in the comments, and happy new year!