Apple needs something spectacular in 2016 — but what?

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Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

2016 is here, and so far, it hasn’t been good to Apple.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2Just this week, the Cupertino company saw its stock price fall below $100 for the first time since 2014 amid countless reports that iPhone demand is weakening at a rapid pace. Apple needs to do something, but what?

Should it address falling iPhone sales first and focus on making iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus the best smartphones money can buy? Should it put more effort into making iPad the tablet it once was? Or is it time for something new?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over all this and more!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell (Writer, Cult of Android): So, just four months on, it seems consumers are already bored with Apple’s latest iPhones and awaiting something new. But what?

We’re almost certainly not going to see an Apple Car just yet, and we’re yet to hear of any other “revolutionary” new products Apple is working on. So, it seems we’re going to have to just be happy with upgrades to existing products. With that in mind, I think Apple should plow everything into iPhone.

The latest models certainly aren’t bad — I think 3D Touch is probably the best innovation we’ve seen on a mobile device in years — but as ‘S’ upgrades, they’re not all that exciting to the average consumer. They’re also quickly falling behind the competition, and running software that hasn’t changed significantly in years.

iPhone 7 needs to be a big upgrade. It needs a sharper display that can match those on the latest Androids, an even better camera, and features like wireless charging, which truly makes life easier. It also needs significantly better software that doesn’t just contain under-the-hood improvements that we quickly get bored of.

Wouldn’t you agree?

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac): When people think about what needs to be “fixed” about Apple (and, let’s not forget, we’re still talking about a company that’s almost unfathomably profitable) there’s no doubt in my mind that software comes way ahead of hardware.

There are tons of software problems Apple is grappling with right now — and I think very few people would argue that that Apple is doing software as well as it has in the past. There are lots of third-party applications which are better than the products Apple offers, which isn’t something I can ever recall being as notable as it is right now.

But I wouldn’t say that Apple should be focusing all its attention on the iPhone. If reports are correct that Apple’s starting to find its level when it comes to selling iPhones (unless the company adopts a totally different strategy and targets a new lower-cost iPhone at developing markets, which I personally think would be a mistake), then it needs to focus on its other products to keep growing. The iPhone continues to be the best smartphone on the market, although I know you’ll disagree with me as a rabid Android fan.

But it’s the other parts of Apple’s business I want to see tweaked. Apple Music is still not living up to its potential in my view, iTunes is a mess, El Capitan is buggy, and so on. Don’t neglect iOS, which is Apple’s big money spinner of course, but I hope that Apple can work to improve other facets of its business. Right now, it’s so reliant on iPhone that a simple rumor about manufacturers lowering production can crash stock prices. If Apple could get people more excited about the iPad, Apple TV and the like that would be a definite improvement for me.

iPhone-7-concept
Can iPhone 7 save falling iPhone sales?
Photo: Eric Huismann

Killian-FNFKillian: I certainly agree that Apple needs to fix its software issues. I don’t remember iOS ever being as buggy and as unstable as it is today. And I agree that others are doing things better — which is why I think iOS 10 needs to be Apple’s biggest upgrade yet. It can’t just bring the performance and stability improvements iOS 9 promised; it needs to be more than that now. Android has gotten so much better at so many things, and iOS needs to catch up. Why is the home screen still just a page of icons, and nothing more?

Whether or not the iPhone’s the best smartphone on the market is subjective, so I don’t think we need to debate that here. If iOS is your platform of choice, then sure, it’s the best. But Android is better in many ways, and Android phones offer much better hardware — and often at cheaper prices. Apple needs to catch up. 720p displays aren’t good enough on a $650 smartphone in 2016.

If Apple focuses its efforts elsewhere, and it doesn’t address those things, it is basically allowing it’s biggest and most profitable business to slump. iPhone demand is already falling because iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus aren’t exciting enough; Apple can’t afford to let the iPhone 7 be another disappointment for fans. It has to be a must-have upgrade — even more so now that Apple is pushing users to upgrade every year with the iPhone Upgrade Program.

Apple won’t make enough from Apple Music, iPad, Apple TV, and the other businesses you’ve mentioned to make up for a decline in iPhone sales. Those things just aren’t as exciting at the moment, and iPad and Apple TV aren’t products that most customers will upgrade every 12 months like iPhone is.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: Look, I’d never suggest that Apple lose concentration on the iPhone. Having owned iPhones for years now, I believe I’m right in thinking that I’ve owned more iPhones than any other Apple product line. It’s certainly the Apple device I upgrade most regularly. But alongside growing the iPhone market, I’d love to see Apple focus a bit more on other parts of its business — make them seem like major areas of interest for the company as opposed to just “hobbies,” which is how Apple labelled the Apple TV for years.

While there are definitely nitpicks I have with specific iPhone apps, there are far more problems I encounter when using an Apple TV, or Mac, or Apple Watch. Solve those, and that will go a long way toward upping people’s perception of quality control.

iOS 9 is good, but iOS 10 needs to be spectacular.
iOS 9 is good, but iOS 10 needs to be spectacular.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Killian-FNFKillian: I see your point, but I just don’t think the businesses Apple already has are ever going to be as big as the iPhone business. I’d like to think Apple Watch will reach iPod sales levels at some point, but I just don’t think it will happen. Apple TV won’t be much more than a hobby until it can truly replace cable — especially for those outside of the U.S., who never seem to get as many services.

Maybe there’s hope in the iPad business yet. As we’ve discussed many times before, I believe Apple could breathe new life into it with some kind of all-in-one — like an iPad Pro that also runs OS X, but done properly. Unfortunately, Tim Cook has said Apple will never do that, which is a shame given how well devices like the Surface Pro appear to be taking off now.

With these things in mind, I think Apple has to keep making the iPhone its priority and continue to deliver significant improvements until it’s ready to add something entirely new to its lineup. We don’t know what that will be yet, but there has to be something exciting in the pipeline.

And when I say significant improvements, I mean it needs to catch up. The iPhone 6s is a beautiful smartphone, and I love 3D Touch, but I own other devices with sharper displays that really are great to look at, even better cameras, wireless charging, and other things a modern smartphone should have. Without all this, the iPhone just isn’t that exciting anymore, and it’s no wonder demand is falling.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: Well, let’s turn this over to readers. With Apple’s fingers in more pies than ever, where do you think the company should focus its attentions this year in terms of what needs fixing? Do you think Apple needs to get the iPhone perfect, while keeping other areas distinctly second-tier in priorities? Or is the company missing a trick by not focusing on businesses that, when combined, may one day offer a nice rival to iPhone sales?

Leave your comments below — and have a good weekend!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?