We love our smartphones. Not only have they become our most used computer, but more importantly, smartphones provide an unimaginable amount of power at our fingertips. However, the smartphone form factor leaves opportunities for other devices to provide this same kind of incredible power only in even more personal ways. Apple is laying the groundwork for new platforms based on wearables, the connected home, and eventually the car that will combine to form one large encompassing ecosystem that ushers in a new level of personal technology. We are entering a new Apple era.
The Old Era
Apple's product line used to be thought of as a stool with each leg representing a different product. While a few legs were clearly more popular and financially lucrative than others, Apple was a technology company that sold a handful of hardware devices with iTunes (and increasingly iCloud) serving as the glue that held everything together.
Consensus was set on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac forming an ecosystem that will play a crucial role in our lives. In reality, these three product categories are much more similar than people have been thinking. New platforms are needed to help make technology more approachable and personal.
The New Era
The iPhone, iPad, and Mac are converging into one central "brain" while new platforms will be formed focused on key aspects of our lives including transportation, home, and body (wearables). In this new era, the iPhone is positioned as the center point of our digital lives with iCloud and Apple services representing the glue connecting everything together.
Earlier this year at WWDC, Apple unveiled watchOS, its first wearables platform. Last week, Apple added a new platform to the mix with tvOS. The two platforms serve as examples for how Apple will eventually embrace bigger themes like wearables and the connected home (and eventually the car). All the while, iOS is maturing and becoming a platform for a range of mobile devices with various screen sizes.
iPhone. The iPhone, iPad, and Mac product categories will continue to merge. In the future, the three product lines will run the same operating system with the degree of mobility, as measured by screen size, positioned as the primary differentiator. The iPhone will always have the most power due to its mobility, while the iPad brings multi-touch (and eventually 3D Touch) to a bigger screen. All the while, the Mac includes the best keyboards for those jobs that require a significant amount of typing. The differences between the three product categories will continue to shrink.
Apple's new 3D Touch feature not only brings an additional user interface to iPhone, but should be thought of as the missing piece for allowing iPhone screens to become even larger without increasing the iPhone's form factor. 3D Touch begins to reduce the need for the home button, which has turned into a type of reset button used to switch between apps. By removing the iPhone home button and filling the additional space with screen real estate, the iPhone will only gain more power and capabilities when compared to devices like the iPad mini and Air. Less mobile devices, like the larger screen iPad Pro, will continue to become more like the Mac, with the primary difference between the two product categories continuing to be the keyboard. Bringing 3D Touch to the iPad Pro and supporting a tactile onscreen keyboard may be the next step to further blur the lines between iPad and Mac. At the same time, the Mac continues to move towards the iPad with a new revolutionary design that places mobility as a key value proposition. The end result is a world where iPhone can accomplish most basic computing tasks with iPad/Mac running the same operating system serving the high-end.
Wearables. In just a little over two months, Apple went from selling its first genuine wearable device to unveiling an SDK for native Apple Watch apps. While many have tried to think of Apple Watch as a mini iPhone on the wrist, in reality, the Apple Watch represents a different type of power requiring a complete rethink of what kind of jobs can be done on the wrist. Last week, Apple rolled out a significant update to Apple Watch in the form of a new Hermès collection and new Apple Watch sport bands. This update exemplifies how success in wearables is determined by much more than just the idea of putting technology on a wrist. There are different types of emotions and guiding principles that enter the equation when thinking about devices that are meant to be worn on the body.
Apple's new Hermès partnership is a game changer in that Apple is not just embracing the concept of luxury, but is set on showing the world a completely new type of personal technology. The entire luxury industry needs to take note of what Apple is trying to accomplish as software continues to move quickly into other elements of the luxury wearable market. Apple isn't taking the same page from its iPhone playbook and applying it to wearables. Instead, the strategy is being adapted to fit the environment. It is incredibly intelligent and bodes well for new platforms such as TV (home) and eventually the car. As for wearables, the much bigger concept of body and mind are brought to the forefront as health tracking will likely be positioned as a key value proposition in the wearables category. In addition, identity and geolocation themes will likely become popular. Each case is made possible by the fact that a wearable device does a better job of being carried and representing the user than a smartphone does.
Home. Apple TV is the start of a much broader move by Apple into the connected home category. The primary takeaway from the all-new Apple TV is that Apple is including a new user input in the form of voice. Siri not only took front and center stage when it came to Apple's September keynote invites, but the personal assistant is quickly being able to handle an increasing number of tasks beginning with content curation and discovery, and then eventually handling automation tasks. Apple TV may be focused today on delivering content to a big screen but will likely move to become a device able to turn spacial and facial recognition into a new realm of personal computing. Apple began controlling the living room years ago with the iPhone, but Apple TV will begin to better address the ideas of the connected room in a more direct way than the iPhone will ever be able to. Similar to wearables, Apple is relying on a new class of hardware (and user interfaces) to make technology approachable and personal.
Car. Apple wants to design its own self-driving car. This is a company that has no interest in just creating a platform so that less capable car manufacturers can ruin the user experience. We are quickly moving to a world where technology will take over the transportation industry, and Apple has no choice but be part of the mix. The Apple Car's key value proposition won't revolve around performance, but rather good design and an intuitive user interface (not having to drive at all is an entirely new level of intuitiveness). A self-driving electric vehicle is nothing more than a mobile room on wheels, which only emphasizes the concept of personal technology as we all won't want to ride in the same kind of room. Accordingly, the themes of connected home and self-driving cars become intertwined.
Apps Provide a Personal Touch
Apple wants to position apps as the guiding principle of its strategy to move from a company that sells a collection of computing devices to delivering a complete user experience that spans most tasks that make up our daily lives. The app ecosystem transformed the iPhone into an all-powerful device by allowing each device to become something unique to its user. Apple is looking to do the same with Apple Watch (watchOS) and now Apple TV (tvOS). The hardware remains a critical requirement for ultimate success, but apps complete the picture.
Looking back at Apple's WWDC keynote, the significance of the "The App Effect" video that was shown takes on a whole new meaning after seeing Apple unveil watchOS and tvOS. While the video was focused on iPhone apps, it is reasonable to one day replace "iPhone" with "Apple Watch," "Home," and even "Car." Apple looks at apps as the path to accomplishing its long term goals.
Apple's new platforms will be embraced by app developers because the categories that Apple is playing in are simply too large and lucrative to ignore. App developer characteristics may change as larger developers begin to control more of the app environment, likely continuing to push down the price of paid downloads with business models based instead on subscriptions and services. At the same time, Apple is in a prime position to embrace and help push its own suite of apps. The IBM partnership may be positioned today for iPad in the workplace, but such a partnership could one day embrace a range of new apps across product categories. Along similar lines, the Cisco partnership is already expected to begin embracing new product categories other than iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
The Long-Term Plan
The iPhone was launched in 2007 and in just eight years has gone on to not just change the world, but provide a framework as to how apps and software can begin to take over other key aspects of our lives. As we look much further into the future, it is likely incorrect to assume that an iPhone will always be required in order to get the most out of the connected world.
In the future, the iPhone may melt away, and a range of devices will be able to provide an unimaginable level of personal technology. Apple Watch will likely be able to stand on its own in due time. As the definition of work changes, more and more will be designated for the wrist, further strengthening the appeal of wearables. Transportation and the connected home will be looked at as providing the same kind of personal experience.
Targeting our Time
Apple's long-term goal is to bring personal technology into new parts of our lives. Looking ahead, the iPhone will not be able to bring this kind of technology to every part of our lives. Instead, Apple will rely on new platforms and devices suited to address our particular needs. The best way to predict where Apple is looking to expand is to look at the time. The aspects of our life that take up most of our time are the most likely opportunities as to where Apple will see if it has something to contribute.
Making technology personal entails moving beyond just simply combining hardware and software. Instead, the way the hardware (and software) looks, feels, and moves will become crucial factors, all of which are things Apple has been perfecting for years. The groundwork is being laid for an era in which the iPhone is just one piece of the personal technology puzzle.
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