Buckle Up: Apple’s Next 3 Years Will Be Insane

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In the past three years, Apple has dared to be dull.

During Apple’s best years, between 2007 and 2010, Apple introduced the first iPhone and the first iPad, two world-changing products that now define the company (and bring in most of its revenue). These products, along with their touch interfaces and apps stores, were a shock to the industry.

That’s great, Apple. But what have you done for me lately?

Here’s one theory about how Apple works: The company finds a horrible content consumption experience. They figure out how the experience can be made wonderful. They work on the products until they’re ready, both from product quality and price perspectives. Then they ship it and spend the next few years refining and perfecting the original vision.

If that oversimplification about how Apple works is accurate, then Apple isn’t really in full control of when its groundbreaking new products ship. They have to wait for technology, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), or for various industries to come around to making a critical mass of content deals.

In the past three years, every Apple announcement has been preceded by speculation and rumor that Apple would at long last announce an iWatch, an iTV set and other products that would signal a radical new product category for Apple. And every announcement ended in disappointment. Every announcement was about refinement of old products, rather than bold launches of new products.

Will Apple ever enter new markets again, including the ones perennially rumored?

I say they will. The fact that they haven’t shipped the long-rumored iWatch or iTV, for example, makes perfect sense from a readiness perspective.

In fact, I think the next three years will be twice as awesome as the iPhone-iPad years, in the sense that Apple will break into four new businesses. Why? Because the technology and content deals will fall into place during this time.

Here’s what I think is going to happen.

iWatch

There should be zero doubt that Apple will ship a wristwatch, and almost certainly this year. The technologies that Apple has been waiting for include BLE, curved glass that can be manufactured at Apple scale and better batteries and power management.

Have no illusion that Apple’s iWatch will resemble in any way Samsung’s horrible Galaxy Gear (now shattering records for store returns).

The iWatch will be a small, light and sleek iPhone peripheral, showing  notifications and enabling control of some phone functions. It will connect to the phone via BLE and use the phone’s Internet connection.

An Apple patent that surfaced this week exposesApple’s methods for exploiting BLE. Specifically, the patent describes a system for one device to wake up another, exchange data, then shut down, aggressively conserving battery power. This is exactly the kind of functionality that wasn’t possible before BLE, and which is necessary for an Apple-quality smartwatch.

Curved glass that Apple can use — and it’s important to know that this is manufacturing technology above all — won’t be ready for prime time by Corning until next year. Curved glass is necessary for Apple’s iWatch because it’s the only way to achieve a display of reasonable size without Galaxy Gear type bulkiness. (I believe one killer advantage Apple will have is that the watch will be small, sleek and stylish enough for non-geek women to wear — they’ll have half the market to themselves.)

iTV

Apple’s TV set won’t be a TV set. It will be a computer designed to be used from 10 feet away. Yes, it will be cool, and I want one, etc. But what Apple is really waiting for, in addition to the price of manufacturing for 4K displays to drop, is the content deals necessary to make both the iTV and the future version of Apple TV really compelling.

The challenge is live TV and content licensing deals. If you want to watch Mad Men on Apple TV, for example, you’ve got to wait a day, then rent it on iTunes. What Apple needs is a critical mass of partnerships and licensing deals that enable the company to offer these kinds of shows live and free, after a subscription to Apple has been paid for.

Stated another way, the missing element for Apple to win the TV market isn’t hardware. Apple’s advantage will come in the form of solving the content delivery problem, as well as the user interface problem.

Today, people are abandoning TV because it’s a rotten deal. If you want to watch one TV series, you’ve got to pay for a gazillion shows you don’t want as well. (Kind of like music was before Apple forced the industry to sell single songs for 99 cents rather than whole albums for $18.) As the TV content creators and studios slowly lose their grip on audiences, they’ll be pliable enough to cut such deals with Apple. In fact, it’s only a matter of time until Apple is the leading way for TV show creators to make money from subscription revenue. Why? Because they’ll always charge top dollar in exchange for the highest-quality TV experience as their competitors race each other to the margin and revenue bottom.

And all TV interfaces are horrible. Even Apple TV’s user interface is a cumbersome kludge. Apple will have to innovate their way to that magical TV place everybody is screaming for, where you can watch whatever you want whenever you want, and without slogging though every show ever created.

The iTV will just be the frosting on Apple’s coming TV cake, and the whole thing will be delicious because hardware, content and interface are what Apple does best.

iOS for Cars

Apple signaled at its recent developers conference that iOS, as well as Apple Maps, iTunes Radio and Siri, were all headed into car dashboards. This isn’t even a secret, and major car makers like Chevy. Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Ferrari and Volvo are all eagerly building iOS into their dashboard. We’ll see the new implementations next year.

What Apple is waiting for here is the long design and development cycles common to the car industry — measured in years, not month.

They’re also waiting on more partnerships. A short list of carmakers will happily add iOS to a small range of models. However, it’s going to take critical demand and conscious consumer demand for iOS to spread to more makes and models.

I think that within three years, iOS will be a standard feature or a popular option in a very wide range of cars.

Desktop iPad

And finally, I think it’s possible that Apple will roll out a desktop version of iOS and iPad, one with a giant screen too large to carry around.

You’ll note that all four of these big new businesses — iWatch, iTV, iOS for Cards and the Desktop iPad — will all take advantage of the backend software and services that already exist and which Apple continues to refine, namely iOS, the App Store and iCloud. And all of them will be controllable and augmented by iPhone and iPad.

The point of all this is not to predict what has already been predicted, or start rumors about things already rumored. Instead, the point is that Apple appears to be on a three-years-on, three-years-off cycle of explosive entry into new markets, followed by the boring perfection of what has already shipped.

Best of all, the three years of boring is about to be replaced with three years of awesome — starting next year. This is going to be fun.

  • Adrayven

    Interesting view.. Haven’t past cycles been loner though? Granted, technology is moving more quickly, so might Apple have to or rick someone else coming in.. It’s hard waiting.. Many feel they have to release as soon as they have the idea for fear of some loss of momentum or market.

  • Gadget

    Is it really that hard to run a spell and grammar check before posting an article?

  • Obsidian71

    Larger iPad, Wearable Device, HDTV is the low hanging “easy to see” stuff. Think larger and widespread attack on multiple vectors. Apple isn’t just content to deliver evolutionary devices they are building out the fabric that connects this stuff. Think “Internet of Things” Apple style ..Apple ecosystem. Think Home Automation and BLE devices effectively placed around your home ready to dispatch commands via location or direct input. Recently it was noted that Apple acquired 13 companies. We only know of 8 companies so they have some stealth stuff going on that we have no idea about.

  • Taojones_1

    i wish apple would make an i-juke box that would let me play anything in the i tunes store at my local pub possibly charging it to my i tunes account. i hate “internet juke boxes charging me double for anything thats not in its insipid pop collection. theres hardware to make ,artists to get royalties, bars to actually get paid for music played in their pubs and apple in front of the money, ;priceless

  • Steven Quan

    Granted, technology is moving more quickly, so might Apple have to or rick someone else coming in. Many feel they have to release as soon as they have the idea for fear of some loss of momentum or market.

    East Coast mentality, or herd mentality. Apple is the leader, not a follower. They make innovative products and price them accordingly and they could care less what Samsung or anyone else does. They are in this for the long haul not to make a quick buck today. Every decision they make helps to capitalize on their vertical integration with their other services and devices. Apple is well aware of the $200 Android tablets and Smart phones currently eating at their market share. They aren’t in a race to sell the most smartphones, just to make the best smart phones. Momentum is a reflection of your last quarter, Apple doesn’t look backward.

  • Market_Mayhem

    Oh, please. I’m not sure what Apple will be doing, but Tim Cook is going to drive shareholders to financial ruin. Shareholders are getting almost nothing from Apple. Google and Amazon shareholders are making out like bandits. As long as Wall Street values market share ahead of profits Apple isn’t going anywhere in terms of value. Every day I have to read about how Apple is losing huge amounts of market share to Android smartphones and Android tablets. Every so often when I check Apple’s share price it’s stumbling along like a drunken bum with almost no direction except sideways. The general market is practically breaking all sorts of records and it’s like Apple is in some world of its own.

    Thanks, Tim Cook for creating a supply chain with enough holes to drive a truck through. I guess there’ll be no Retina iPad Mini for the Christmas rush. Backlogs and more backlogs of high demand Apple products that they can’t produce enough of. Samsung never has those problems and that’s why they can deliver 3X the amount of smartphones than what Apple can. Yeah, let’s see what else Apple has in the pipelines that most consumers can’t afford to buy. Apple will no doubt survive, but stop with this nonsense about how shareholders are going get paid like Google and Amazon shareholders. Not a chance as long as Tim Cook holds onto that $146B cash hoard like it was his own.

  • sketaful

    3 years on, 3 years off? And you base this on the fact that Apple has been “on” for three years? I mean, face it, before iphone/Ipad apple really didn’t do to well, and not during three years but a hell of a longer than that. So what really has happened so far is that Apple have had 3 years success, or as you put it, 3 years “on”.

    Couldn’t it just be that Apple have had a great 3 years during it’s lifetime and now it’s over? (I don’t believe that, but it’s as “obvious” as your 3on3off…)

  • Kendall Tawes

    3 years on, 3 years off? And you base this on the fact that Apple has been “on” for three years? I mean, face it, before iphone/Ipad apple really didn’t do to well, and not during three years but a hell of a longer than that. So what really has happened so far is that Apple have had 3 years success, or as you put it, 3 years “on”.

    Couldn’t it just be that Apple have had a great 3 years during its lifetime and now it’s over? (I don’t believe that, but it’s as “obvious” as your 3on3off…)

    While I agree that the 3 years on 3 years off idea doesn’t hold up to Apple’s history, perhaps it will in the future, but Apple certainly has been on before. Look at the success of the original iMac. The iMac’s success righted Apple’s books, set design trends that were copied for years, and it became the best selling desktop computer model. Look at the iPod which became not only the first major commercially successful MP3 player but defined and owns the market. The Apple ][ was a computer that defined the 8-bit computer generation and was so successful the line continues until 1993. They popularised USB, they popularised and made the first inexpensive 5.25″ floppy drive, they popularised 3.5″ floppy disks, the popularised laser printers, Apple popularised the GUI for crying out loud.

    I’ve seen Apple rise and fall over the years with varying success and I can assure you while the timeline the article provides doesn’t hold up Apple has been on and off before.

  • deckert

    I’ll agree that Apple may introduce these products in the next few quarters. However, I do not think ANY of them will provide the top line growth you would expect them to be hunting. I don’t see any iPod/iPhone/iPad level of products in this grouping. But…

    What if Apple introduces “connected” clothing – they create a cloth that can be imprinted with a design that you can wear. Think of it as a a cloth that you can upload recipes – each recipes is a design (a whole new category in the app store). Now – what if YOU can make the cloth – say, with a 3D printer. Disposable clothing takes on a whole new meaning! You by the template from apple – and they sell you the design – which you can change every day (if you wish).

    If you look at their recent hires – it is obvious (at least to me) that they are designing LIFESTYLE products – and I think (I could be wrong) that clothing is the largest category in that segment.

  • bruceketchum12

    The first iPhone was released June, 2007, and the first iPad was released April, 2010 – that’s almost a three-year gap. The first iMac was released August, 1998, and the first iPod was released October, 2001 – that’s a little over three years gap. The next new category hardware release was the Apple TV in January, 2007 – now that’s a gap. The iPhone came a few months later. Good things come to those who wait.

  • Howard_B

    Excellent article. The only factor that he misses is the user experience. Cook will not release a product until he is happy that it has a smooth and comprehensively good user experience.
    Cook also couldn’t give a monkeys about the shareholders thankfully. Dumb people think that revolutionary products can be conjured up on a treadmill, but they can’t. They will come when they come.
    Personally I am sceptical about the iWatch. As a user I canot see it enhancing my iPhone experience and I think that that is what Cook is looking for.
    Desktop iPad ? Not a chance.

  • 4bryan

    Interesting vision outlined here. But perhaps it could benefit from some proofreading (iOS for Cards?). Just mentioning for your benefit (and also, the Facebook Connect login app is in sandbox mode and doesn’t seem to work on this site).

  • Maqboolfida

    The article doesn’t mention the idea of an Apple Printer!. I read a while back that Apple is working on a printer that works flawlessly and it would take at least 4 years from concept to launch and is in the works!! Apple realizes there is very little disruption in the printer space and has only a few vendors! Maybe this is something to watch out for!

  • KelDommage

    It’ll be interesting to see how the BLE (4.0) patent shakes out. Since Pebble announced it’s 2.0 SDK last week, it announced that the watch has a dual-channel Bluetooth process: low-energy for notifications to the watch, and full-power for adding apps and watch faces. It already sounds a bit similar in design, if not implementation.

  • markymac

    Great write up and synopsis. Just watch those spelling and grammar errors. Don’t rush.

    Otherwise, I agree and think the next few years is gonna be huge for Apple as they’ll prove that they can innovate and transform technology categories like no one in the industry.

    You can’t convince me that they don’t have napkin drawings and diary entries from Jobs just waiting in the wings to release at just the right time. Heck, they might even decide to wait another year until all their devices, including MacBooks, are using sapphire crystals (thanks to the new factory in Mesa, AZ, a hop-skip from my house) so they have security parity across all devices.

    Stands to reason that the next line of MacBooks will have trackpads made from sapphire crystal or similar material that will have a similar form of one-finger, TouchID-esque authentication of an iPhone/iPad.

    Indeed, the next years, not to mention the 2016 opening of the spaceship campus, are going to be incredible years for Apple.

  • christophirefl

    Aside from the few typing mistakes that can be corrected and the somewhat controversial 3 years on, 3 years off, which obviously is the author’s view and speculation (He in fact, uses the term oversimplification). I believe the article works great as a general outline for the way Apple has been working over the past years and as a bet on things to come.

    Upon reading the comments, some pointed out that a desktop iPad is very unlikely and others mentioned printers or clothing. Heck even one has established a connection on the company’s welfare and the shareholders poor income in comparison to Google or Amazon’s ones.

    As of now we know for sure that the iWatch and iTV will see the light eventually. Due to the continuos filtering both allowed or not by Apple but more importantly because Tim Cook himself has said so, that we will have brand new products. But it takes time on finding niche markets and develop a product that can please consumers and maintain Apple’s demanding standards too.

    So a desktop iPad is not that crazy, the company already showed us that they are willing to take risks with product cannibalization. Still for me, the bet will be more on the side of a MacBook or iMac touch, or even an iDesk, some designers and engineers are working on this right now. I don’t know about printers or clothing, maybe leave that for third party developers. My other bet is on the side of home automation or domotics (yes that’s a neologism) specially since the cost on that particular brand of industry has lowered.

    Regarding the matter of shareholders. Is not that much of an issue. Well yes there is pressure from the board of directors and the people that eagerly want something new. But look how well a company like Twitter has done prior from entering Wall Street. And Apple is not a brand characterized to deliver things based on those pressures. In recent months we have seen some mayor flaws, but also some great improvements.

    I mean has anyone forget about the Mac Pro?, just wait to hear from customers the beast of a machine it is. And as it happens with anything Apple related, it will have tons of criticism but far more compliments too.
    Whatever is what Apple ventures on the future, as I have said, it takes some time, but it will be marvelous. Trust me on this. Thanks have a nice day. : )

  • Steven Quan

    You can’t convince me that they don’t have napkin drawings and diary entries from Jobs just waiting in the wings to release at just the right time. Heck, they might even decide to wait another year until all their devices, including MacBooks, are using sapphire crystals (thanks to the new factory in Mesa, AZ, a hop-skip from my house) so they have security parity across all devices.

    Apple isn’t waiting for anything. They will ship when it’s ready. The iPhone 5S has a fingerprint scanner yet the new iPad Air and iPad Mini Retina do not have fingerprint scanners. Doesn’t look to me like Apple is putting a priority on having security parity across all their devices. Even the iPhone 5C does not have a fingerprint scanner.

  • Don McDonald

    Will Apple really ever do anything exciting? They roll out products on a ongoing scheduled calendar like clipping coupons on Granny’s savings bonds. Hey, released an iPhone last September, let’s wow the market and release one in September again! No upgrades for you until then! Meanwhile the competition rolls out products routinely. Yes the iPhone 5 (and obligatory iPhone 5″S” with the actual power, was faster and different than the 4 and the obligatory 4S, but it was a significantly cheaper feeling device, The 4 felt like a piece of art or jewelry, the 5 feels like a Droid.

    They progress by increments at predetermined intervals. Where is the creativity and excitement in that? So by the time the 6 rolls out, we will have heard about it for nine months. Come on Apple be a wild card, release products and surprise us! But that would go against their product life cycle mentality, which is wait until they are due, not when they are ready. Buick is working on bringing more excitement to their image than Apple. Maybe Jony Ive should do like Jobs did and buy the employees a car, but this time it would be a Buick as opposed to a Porsche.

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Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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