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.

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?

  • NewHampshire

    They should clean up their basically useless new interface on the iPad, unusable, unreadable, ugly and PC like.. and return to following HIG of iOS 6 where all actions made sense!

  • Totally with Killian. I’m a devout iPhone user, but Apple has been criticized for years that the specs of their phones are always below top tier android. It’d be nice to see Apple significantly bump specs to match or beat android, while innovating something more than 3D touch (still don’t see how a long press equivalent is a game changer?) OLED sharper screens, more ram, better low level light camera; these are what I want in my next iPhone.

  • C0C0tva

    Have you guys been watching the business new at all this week?? ALL tech stocks are taking a beating this week. You know there are real concerns, like is China’s economy on the brink of collapse, that are much bigger factors to a companies’ business than the stale UI of the latest software update. The Dow is down over 900 points which is the worst percentage new year week since they have been keeping track, over 115 YEARS AGO. Apple is actually doing better than most and running right along at the same pace as the Dow and the Nasdaq. Jesus, sometimes it really embarrasses me that I come here and expect “news” from you guys. Just….be better.

    • Nicnacnic

      Yes but do all those tech companies have the history of record earnings per quarter, the amount of cash in the bank, the loyal customer base, and potential sales from future products that Apple has? No on all counts. Simply put, Wall Street needs to measure Apple different from everyone else because they are different.

      • C0C0tva

        Then unfortunately you don’t understand how Wall Street works.

      • Nicnacnic

        I understand perfectly how Wall Street works. Some random analyst predicts X amount of units of the latest gadget and when Apple sells X – 100k units, Wall Street declares it a failure. This is regardless of what the X number is, that’s it’s 10 million units for the quarter, that Apple has netted yet another massive profit for the quarter.

        Wall Street needs to stop with this nonsense every damn quarter and value Apple correctly.

      • C0C0tva

        Ok, that comment just proved my previous one. I will repeat it slower… When the second largest economy in the world is feared to be on the brink of collapse because of currency manipulation, no one gives a rat’s ass about a company selling X-100k units (whatever in the hell that middle school math formula is). Everybody that is relying on said economy as a part of growth is going to take a beating. So, you are either a pedantic troll, or ignorant . Either way, this conversation is done.

      • Nicnacnic

        What article are you reading? I’m commenting in one about Apple having to do something to make 2016 better. Apple could pull 10 miracles out of a hat in 2016 and Wall Street will not give a rat’s ass.

        Can it with the insults. It makes you seem very childish.

  • UZ

    My biggest issue with Apple is that lately it feels average. Everything, hardware, software and services. Which begs the question: why pay more for average? Time for a massive Apple shake-up, focusing on the iPhone 7 (including iOS), but expanding to everything else they’re doing.

    • Larry Fulkner

      Hmm…. I don’t think it’s average at all, especially on the software front. I use both IOS & Android, but IOS 9 really managed to leapfrog Android, with Multiwindow, & pic n pic. And most importantly, Apple has An insane amount of developer devotion, which means when there is a new OS release, developers go nuts implementing every new feature Apple introduces in days (just look at 3D Touch, Multiwindow, etc). This alone, is something Both Google, & Microsoft would kill for, literally. & in many ways, it makes IOS the best mobile software Out. And even on the hardware front, look at IPhone 6s Plus batter life compared to almost every other Android counterpart.

      • UZ

        I really do disagree.

        Lately, Apple software is full of bugs. Some video playback issues, even though reported, has not been fixed in two releases, both on iOS and OS X, to name just one (there are hundreds I know of). Also, my house on Apple Maps is labeled as a restaurant. And the land it’s on is incorrectly sized. I reported this the day Apple Maps came out, but it’s not been fixed yet. Google Maps had it right from day one.

        Some Apple Software simply doesn’t work. I can’t discover my iPhone on my MacBook via Bluetooth, as it has the same name as the one I got rid of. Even Apple Store staff can’t get it to work. And every time I open Photos on different devices, images are not only duplicated but also given new dates. Then there’s Siri, who doesn’t get my accent (I’m not in the US). I can go on…

        The user experience in many software releases have gone backwards. Often I don’t know the difference between a link and a label in iOS, again to name just one. Apple Music / iTunes is a mess. Many people found the Apple Watch interface complex. And the new Apple TV interface may be pretty and have universal search, but for the rest I prefer the old interface.

        The software itself may give access to hoards of features, but to me, really good software is simple. It’s so intuitive that you don’t need right click or 3D Touch (as an example here to make my point, it could also be useful). It’s so well thought out that it seems almost too simple.

        Often software is US centric, not considering regions outside the US or often thinking it should behave the same when it shouldn’t. Google is really great at localising their software, Apple is poor at it, at best.

        Lastly, there’s no blow-away software. Often Third Party apps are much, much better than Apple’s native apps. What happened to that close relationship between hardware and software Tim brags about, when soon other companies follow who don’t do both? It’s because Apple is no longer going deep enough, but rather try to spread themselves wider. And that WILL make them more average than ever.

      • Larry Fulkner

        Hmm… In regards to bugs. There will always be some. I’ve never seen an OS release in history with no bugs. But IOS 9 has been one of Apple’s most bug less releases. Now if we compare this to any other Mobile software maker out there, we have another story. Using Android M has been hell. I can’t remember when Apple has ever had “Blow Away” software. It’s the same Apple they’ve always been. There’s always been bugs, but the experience ( as a whole) has for the most part been a little better there competition. Continuity has been a great feature. And Apples Apps have never worked better than the Apps in there App Store. But U can guarantee that if Apple releases a new API for there devices, developers will be clamoring to add those features on Day one. That’s what I was saying. This alone makes IOS an insainly powerful platform (developer devotion). This is the dream of every software platform developer. And using the iPhone 6s, feels like there software and hardware are closer than ever. Buttery smooth. Same as iPad air 2. But hay IMO

      • UZ

        Ok, let’s agree to disagree. You’re looking at it from a Dev viewpoint, I’m looking at it from an average User viewpoint.

        As for bugs, yes they’ve always been there, but I’ve never experienced so few things working as advertised out of the box (in the 25+ years I’ve been an Apple user).

        Blow away software (baked into hardware): first the clickwheel interface of the iPod. Then the multitouch interface of the iPhone. Sadly, I think the digital crown of the Apple Watch is inferior to the rotary face of Samsung Gear (which is easier due to the bigger size and position). And 3D Touch is a bit meh, at least in terms of how I use my phone. Continuity is a bit useless to me, it doesn’t really add value to my life (but may for others). The point I’m trying to make is that I’d like to see a big change in the core, baseline software to make it easier and simpler for all, and THEN have the extended features in the niche areas.

        As a UX Analyst, I recently reworked a site of 300 transactional pages into 20. I was ruthless and had a huge uphill battle with stake holders. The result, however was a much cleaner and easier product that had 100% growth in users in 3 months, 200% increase in transactions, and 80% reduction in maintenance and support. When I look at Apple Software, I can see all the things they can do to achieve similar results, but they just don’t seem focused on it.

      • Larry Fulkner

        Yeah, I can see where your coming from, in regards to user interface simplicity. Many of there products work great out of the box as advertised for me, and I think for most. From what I’ve heard from many every day non tech users. Apple Watch….yeah, not as simple as it could be. But, hay Apple has a long way to go, and every year there’s a chance for something new. So we’ll see. Actually…funny thing is, surprisingly the New Apple TV OS is the simplest easy to use and understand OS they’ve created lately. & really nice looking to. It’s more along the lines of what I want to see as a new starting point.

      • UZ

        I’m actually going to agree with you that the new Apple TV interface is nice looking. But good looks is not necessarily good user experience. I’ll explain:

        They have a giant hero image at the top, and you can only see two or maybe one and a half lines of options below that. It looks good, but I prefer to see more lines of content, and less of a hero image with vast amounts of open space. To easily spot the app or channel or content I’m looking for.

        Next, typing. While the remote made it easier, I’m using tap on My MacBook rather than click to execute. When using tap when typing, it jumps to the next character. Inconsistent behaviour to other devices…

        Talking of inconsistent. The buttons on the remote doesn’t always mean the same thing either, depending on where you are and what you’re doing.

        I won’t go into the issues of the remote, as we’re talking software here, but I’ll at least summarise it to better raise my next point:
        – Symmetry means I don’t know which side is up in the dark.
        – Tracking often invoked accidentally, resulting in jump.

        – Tracking is too high up, and clicking too deep, resulting in thumb fatigue.

        Now, image they created an AppleTV remote with a clickwheel. Something a lot of users already know how to use. The wheel is also the tracking device for moving, or in typing mode to scroll the alphabet. It would have all the functionality today’s remote has, but with the software mated to a clickwheel. That would make it easier and simpler to learn: just one circular button around one other central button, all of them clickable, with the circular one tracking as well. I suspect the reason they didn’t do this was for gaming, BUT if we look at the typical game controller, adding a button or two on the other end of the remote would make it look and behave much more like a Steam / XBox / Playstation controller.

        And that’s really what I mean with blow-away software. Making it exceptionally simple, by using hardware in the right way that is uniquely Apple.

  • David Malcolm Puranen

    Why does Apple need sharper displays? That’s a stupid request. The pixels are already tight enough that you have to stand the phone on your nose to make out individual ones. (And nobody uses their phone like that.) So given that, why waste battery life by packing more pixels in when they are immediately redundant.

    A switch to OLED screens would be good because then they can save power when black pixels are displayed. (It would also lead to iOS being less of a white on white affair.

    What I care about in a display is colour accuracy. They’ve already gone to the dentistry that makes sense. Increasing density means dropping battery life and GPU performance while offering the customer nothing. Kilian should be ashamed of himself for suggesting something so poorly thought out.

    I think one thing they need to work on from a supply chain perspective is to work out a deal with one of the major chip manufacturer (TSMC or Intel probably) and buy enough supply so that every time a new iPhone, Apple TV, or Apple watch is released they are running the newest A series chip. The iPad air didn’t have the new SOC dropped into it (I assume) because of supply constraints. The mini also gets this treatment all the time. (The mini this year was just upgraded to last year’s iPhone specs) This has a negative psychological effect on consumers (at least the ones in the know) who will then put off buying whatever the new iPad or Apple TV is because it’s already not bleeding edge tech.

    They also need to start evolving the iPad. Why should I buy a new one when my last one does everything the current one does just slightly slower? Particularly when my iPhone which is now faster than my iPad can run almost all the same apps? My Mac is way more capable of doing things than my iPad is. The iPad Pro looks killer, but they need to bring pencil support to the new Air and Mini, as well as well as to the iPhone 7.

  • jay

    biggest problem which nobody sees is that apple doesn’t have enough manpower. so many things they working on and nothing is really finish,from iPod to mac pro everything is not 100% ready for primetime.

    the other thing is pricing. here in Canada the iPhone 6s on contract is 400$. who buys that iPhone?

    not even talking about screens for that price i like to see a better screen specially when i upgrade from an iPhone 6 plus. i didn’t upgrade this year because my iPhone 6 plus still works fine. so no need for an upgrade but with a sharper screen i may would.

  • digitaldumdum

    “Apple needs something spectacular in 2016 — but what?”

    What Apple •really• needs in 2016, and what would be spectacular, is less digging on it’s small failures, and more respect for it’s great products and achievements. It’s just too easy for tech and business blogs to point out each and every glitch in Apple’s massive software universe, and to nitpick every decision Apple makes. Most tech and stock market ANALysts do not understand a tech juggernaut like Apple, mainly since there’s never been one as big and influential in so many areas. Few who criticize and make their pronouncements have the vision of Cook and company, but insist on weighing in on every move the company makes… even those that are nothing but rumor.

    Apple doesn’t •need• more love, but it seems to me there is just too much Apple bashing, and for silly reasons. Some is the result of ignorance, some is the result of the predictable desire for more clicks and taps, and much of the bashing is just plain old Apple hating that’s been around since the company’s inception. Cult does this a bit to often for my taste, but others, like the totally bogus entity known as BGR are far worse. Just one man’s opinion (and an unabashed Apple fan at that), but it seems to be Apple gets a lot more than it’s fair share of negative news and opinion.

    • UZ

      I appreciate your opinion, but I disagree. There are blatant software issues that a company such as Apple shouldn’t roll out knowingly. They’re indeed huge and like nothing we’ve seen before, but spreading wide must never come at the cost of going deep with software (and hardware), as that is how Apple got there in the first place. Lose that, and you’ve lost what Apple is all about.

  • tedcranmore

    Killian…Wow….is this Business Inside drivel or something? Please don’t state things that are 100% incorrect.

    “Should it address falling iPhone sales first” – iPhone sales are NOT falling. Repeat this 3 times so you can update your statements and not look so foolish. There is SPECULATION, from some analysts, that sales might fall, but this has yet to happen. This is based on reduced order to component manufacturers, but the is always a seasonal drop following the holiday quarter, it’s only the magnitude of the drop that should be in question. Being an S year, Apple could easily have has fewer production issues early in the cycle, allowing them to build more inventory, which then allows them to have a bigger drop in the quarter following launch. We didn’t see as long as a period of shortages so this could corroborate that theory. It could be possible we didn’t see the shortage because sales are dropping, but we won’t find that out until Apple’s quarterly results are posted on Jan 26. Until then, you are spreading manure (and I don’t think you want your reputation sullied like those others sites that does that as part of their click bait mantra).

    Tim Cook has several times warned analysts about making projection on iPhone sales from ‘channel checks’. You don’t have enough data point to tell – did they pre-build more, did they shift more production to another manufacturer, are they bringing out other models sooner so starting to bleed the channel early, etc – we will not know until Jan 26. Personally I expect a small year over year *increase* in iPhone unit sales despite last years huge increase for what some call a ‘super-cycle’ due to the larger phone and Chinese sales. So the only thing that will be shrinking is the growth rate, not the sales themselves. Please stop repeating incorrect information. When you use that as a basis for your arguments, your entires structure folds like a house of cards and you look rather foolish.

    Your other points – higher screen resolution. No thanks, I’ll take battery over resolution I can’t detect.
    Wireless charging – sounds like a decent idea. What percent of owners take advantage of that?
    Better camera – most techies measure the specs, not the quality of photos taken by real people in real situations. For real people, I don’t think the specs you value really matter…fast focus and the capabilities of the hardware/software combo to create a good image matter most. Don’t measure specs, look at the photos taken by 100 average users in real situations. Only geeky spec-meisters make this an issue. People are after better photos, not cameras that appear to be better on a spec sheet.
    More key features – the devices are getting so full of features that the average person doesn’t even use them.

    I do see a lot of people excited for the 6S, and perhaps I’ll grant you this is less than we saw a few years ago. This is because everyone now has a smartphone, and all the platforms and devices are maturing. I don’t see excitement in the Android aisle either. Again, not because they are bad devices, but because this market is maturing. A very small percentage of tech geeks get excited over specs, and yes, that is your online reader base, but you really haven’t mentioned anything that will excite the 90% of smartphone users.

    I also wouldn’t be too smug about Android, I see a very large number of people converting from Android to iOS, and I expect we will hear more numbers on that from Tim Cook on the 26th.

    One last thing, while there are always software issues, it’s purely selective memory that states it’s worse now that before (iOS 7….now that had issues). What I find so interesting here, is the ink that a bug in Apple software gets vs. the quiet response to an Android or Microsoft issue. Microsoft actually issued an apology for the Surface software, but it certainly didn’t make any headlines. If Apple had the same issue, it would be “Sleep-gate’ and put out there everywhere to garner page views for all the hit whore sites out there. Always interesting to see the psychology behind what generates ad revenue.

  • Diogo

    The thing is, Apple has been playing this game for years. It took a couple of years to bump the screen size of its iPhones line up. They waited until people started to move to another platform to release the bigger phones. When they did, people went crazy (me included) and started migrate to iPhones again. They always do that, make people wait and then release with people want for ages, unfortunately.
    I totally agree that they have to focus on iPhone 7 and not only catch up but go beyond. I don’t believe raw specs makes that difference on iPhones. However, they have to go OLED and preferably quad hd. The camera needs to be improved a lot on night photography. I am very tempting to move to the Nexus 6P just because of screen resolution and camera. The only thing that holds me back it the fact I really like iOS (Badges notifications, cleaner visuals, etc.)
    Also, as an Apple Watch owner, I would love to see drastic improvements on Watch OS 3. I basically use my watch to receive notification and reply to messages sometimes. I would like to see Apple opening the OS to developers to create 3rd party watch faces.
    Lets wait and see.