The beginning of January is a great time to embrace the unknown found with the new year. Instead of trying to manufacture clarity with a long list of predictions for the new year, there is much more value in embracing the unknown and asking questions. This is my fourth installment of Apple questions. Previous years' questions can be found below:
Here are my Apple questions for 2018:
- New iPhones. How many new iPhones will Apple launch in 2018? In 2017, Apple unveiled three new iPhone models simultaneously for the first time with iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X. This dynamic makes 2018 the most interesting year yet when it comes to contemplating the company's plans for new iPhone models.
- Larger iPhones. Will Apple introduce a larger iPhone? One of the more pronounced multi-year trends with iPhone has been a move to larger form factors. A strong case can be made for Apple to introduce a larger version of the iPhone X. By removing the home button and front-facing bezel, an iPhone with a 6.5-inch screen and Face ID would end up being close in size to the iPhone Plus.
- Face ID 2.0. Will Apple unveil a second version of Face ID with additional features and capabilities? Examples include working at closer proximity to one's face or when flat on a table.
- iPhone SE. Will Apple update the iPhone SE? A 4-inch smartphone screen is looking increasingly out of place in today's smartphone landscape, not to mention Apple's product line. However, the iPhone SE represents Apple's entry-level option into the iPhone ecosystem. In addition, iPhone SE is Apple's ticket for building a supply chain and assembly network in India.
- Pricing. How will Apple expand the iPhone's pricing spectrum in 2018? Apple has been aggressive at cutting entry-level iPhone pricing while introducing higher-priced SKUs at the other end of the spectrum.
- Naming. What is Apple's plan for iPhone nomenclature going forward? While iPhone X certainly stands out in the naming department, the name adds a new twist when it comes to marketing new iPhones.
- Upgrade Cycle. Will the iPhone upgrade cycle continue to extend? The average iPhone user is holding on to their iPhone for a longer amount of time before upgrading. A continuation of this trend will have a significant impact on the iPhone business.
- Overserving Users. Will we see additional evidence of Apple overserving customers with iPhone? If a portion of the iPhone user base feels like their needs are being met with older iPhones and less advanced features, Apple will face a new challenge with iPhone.
- India. How will Apple alter its iPhone strategy in India in order to improve accessibility?
- New User Growth. How will Apple respond to slowing new iPhone user growth? The company appears to be running out of pockets of premium smartphone users around the world. In order to expand the iPhone installed base, Apple will either have to appeal to increasingly loyal premium Android users or begin to move down the pricing pyramid to appeal to Android users in lower price tiers.
- New iPads. Will Apple unveil news iPads? Apple does not necessarily follow an annual schedule for iPad updates as it does with iPhone.
- Face ID. Will iPad receive Face ID in 2018? Face ID is the future, and it's inevitable that the technology will make its way over to iPad. However, there are many questions surrounding the timing of such a move and the actual implementation.
- iPad mini. What is Apple's plan for the 7.9-inch iPad mini? The form factor is becoming increasingly awkward in a product line containing larger iPads and iPhones. By removing iPad mini 2 from the lineup last year, the iPad mini form factor lost its place as the lowest-priced, entry-level option for the iPad ecosystem.
- Pricing. How aggressive will Apple become with entry-level 9.7-inch iPad pricing? The company slashed 9.7-inch iPad pricing to $329 ($299 for education institutions) last year. There is likely room for Apple to become even more aggressive with 9.7-inch iPad pricing.
- Education. Will Apple unveil new iPad features specifically targeting education? Management is well aware of iPad's weakened position in the classroom due to school districts and administrators tailoring curricula to cheap Chromebooks.
- New Apple Watches. Will there be a new Apple Watch unveiled in 2018? While Apple seems to be following an annual cadence for Apple Watch updates, running too fast with assumptions can be dangerous when contemplating such a young product category.
- New Form Factor. Will Apple alter the Apple Watch form factor? With only minor cosmetic changes year-to-year, Apple has maintained the original Apple Watch form factor unveiled in 2014.
- Upgrade Cycle. Will Apple begin to reveal assumptions regarding an Apple Watch upgrade cycle? A revised Apple Watch form factor would speak volumes as to how Apple is thinking about a potential Apple Watch upgrade cycle.
- New Features. Which features will anchor a new Apple Watch? Similar to iPhone, Apple likely wants to have two or three marquee features to anchor a marketing campaign around a new device. The easy answer has been "better and improved health sensors." However, the past two years have shown that Apple has been focused on the device gaining independency with key Watch features. In 2016, the key feature was GPS. Last year, it was cellular connectivity.
- New Watch Bands. How many new Apple Watch band collections will Apple unveil in 2018?
- watchOS 5. Which new features will anchor watchOS 5? Apple's strategy to choose quality over quantity with watchOS 4 worked out well for the company and Watch owners.
- New Partnerships. Will Apple introduce new Apple Watch partnerships? Instead of expanding the number of partnerships, Apple has been focused on strengthening its existing ones with Hermès and Nike. However, 2018 may be different, especially if Apple sees the need to remove oxygen from the fashion or endurance smartwatch niche in which Fossil and Garmin are playing, respectively.
- Pricing. How aggressive will Apple become with entry-level Apple Watch pricing?
- Sales Disclosure. Will Apple begin to disclose Apple Watch unit sales? A strong case can be made for Apple to take advantage of strong Apple Watch sales momentum and disclose unit sales. Apple Watch revenue can continue to be lumped in with the Other Products line item.
- New MacBook Pro. Will Apple unveil a new MacBook Pro in 2018? As with iPad, Apple doesn't necessarily follow an annual cadence when it comes to Mac updates. However, Apple management has indicated it is aware of some user complaints with MacBook Pro. Historically, Apple has been quick at addressing issues and problems, assuming Apple views MacBook Pro complaints as legitimate problems.
- MacBook Air. Will Apple continue to sell MacBook Air? The model increasingly appears to be merely a placeholder in order for Apple to sell a Mac portable for less than $1,000.
- Mac Pro. Will Apple unveil the new Mac Pro and standalone display in 2018? We know a new Mac Pro is coming, but the big question is when.
- Mac mini. What are Apple's plans for Mac mini? Despite Tim Cook strongly signaling a new Mac mini is in the works, there continues to be a debate as to whether the Mac mini even has a future at Apple.
- New AirPods. Will Apple unveil new AirPods in 2018? We know a new AirPods case designed to work with Apple's new AirPower wireless charging pad is in the pipeline. There are plenty of new features, including various health-related items, that can be added to AirPods. The question is if any of those features will get the green light to market, especially when Apple is looking to position Apple Watch as the health monitoring device.
- Additional Colors. Will Apple sell AirPods in a color other than white? While there is likely consumer interest in various AirPod colors, it's not a given that AirPods will follow Apple Watch bands and come in a range of color options.
- Additional Sizes. What is Apple's stance on offering various AirPod sizes?
- Launch. When will Apple launch HomePod? Given the company's statement on HomePod launching in "early 2018," a CY1Q18 launch would make sense.
- Features. Will Apple unveil new HomePod features that weren't announced on stage during WWDC? There is still a decent amount of unknown found with HomePod, especially when it comes to how the device is designed to be used with Siri and other Apple products/services.
- Pricing. Will Apple launch HomePod at $349? It would be unprecedented for Apple to change the price of an unreleased product between unveil and launch.
- Pricing. Will Apple update Apple TV pricing? Apple increased Apple TV pricing with Apple TV 4K. The move highlighted a company with a very different view of the video streaming box market.
- iOS 12. What will be the major themes for iOS 12? A release focused more on quality over quantity in terms of new features wouldn't necessarily be met with much disagreement in some parts of the Apple community.
- Features. Which features will get Apple's attention? Candidates high on the list include the camera, photos, ARKit, and HomeKit.
I am giving Siri its own category to reflect its growing importance.
- Vision. How is Apple going to push Siri forward in 2018? The question is left broad on purpose. There is evidence of the digital voice assistant receiving far too much criticism given what amounts to genuine improvement and advancement in recent years. In addition, there is a growing debate as to how Apple looks at Siri's role in our lives.
- Apple Music. What are Apple's plans for Apple Music in 2018? With approximately 35M paying Apple Music subscribers, Apple is about one-third of the way to reaching its unofficial goal of having 100M paying Apple Music subscribers. When taking into account family accounts, there are now between 40M and 45M people using Apple Music.
- Apple Video. When will Apple launch its video streaming service? The company continues to build out its Apple Studios division as a billion dollar content budget is put to work to assemble a bundle of original content programming.
- Content Bundle. Will Apple combine Apple Music with Apple Video to form an Apple Entertainment bundle? Such a product would certainly give both Apple Music and Apple Video differentiation in what is becoming a crowded market.
- Podcasts. Will Apple look to leverage its long-standing power as a podcast distributor into something else?
- Apple Maps. What are Apple's plans for improving Apple Maps in non-U.S. geographies?
- Apple Pay. Does Apple have a strategy for increasing Apple Pay adoption among U.S. retailers?
- Acquisition Targets. Which companies will Apple buy in 2018? This question is left open-ended on purpose. One would expect AR companies to remain high on the M&A target list.
- Investments. Will Apple take a deeper step into venture capital and tech fund investing? The company has said such investments will aid in the discovery of new technology in an increasingly competitive landscape.
- Objectives. What are Apple's plans and objectives for Project Titan in 2018?
Washington and Wall Street
- U.S. Manufacturing. How will Apple respond to increased pressure from Washington to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.? The company's primary response has been to ratchet up the PR around job creation. Will Apple expand its manufacturing fund for U.S. manufacturers? The company has been gifting sizable amounts of capital to U.S. suppliers in exchange for improved supply of critical components needed for Apple products.
- Cash Strategy. When will Apple bring back its foreign cash? Once the cash is in U.S. subsidiaries, how will Apple remove excess cash from the balance sheet?
- Buyback. How much will Apple spend on share buyback in 2018?
- Dividends. What will be Apple's new quarterly cash dividend? The announcement will be made in the spring.
- Turnover. Will there be any high-level turnover at Apple in 2018? There is no obvious candidate in the SVP ranks that is either at risk of being removed or close to retirement. The most recent departure was that of former general counsel Bruce Sewell, who retired at the end of last year.
- New Faces. Will Tim Cook expand Apple's executive team? The last addition to the SVP ranks was Johny Srouji, who was promoted at the end of 2015 to SVP Hardware Technologies.
- Tim Cook's Inner Circle. How will responsibility be split among Tim Cook's inner circle? Jeff Williams, Eddy Cue, and Phil Schiller are each overlooking key aspects of Apple's business. Williams oversees Apple Watch and health. Cue is becoming Apple's content czar, and Schiller was given leadership over the App Store across all platforms.
- Power. Which executive will gain power and influence within Apple in 2018?
Apple Industrial Design
- Jony Ive. Will we get any surprises from Jony? With Apple Park mostly completed and the new design language for Apple Retail finished, Jony appears to be dedicating time and attention to new product initiatives.
- Turnover. Will there be additional turnover in the Apple Industrial Design group? Apple lost an industrial designer in both 2016 and 2017.
- New Hires. Will Apple add to its Industrial Design group? While Jony may want to make the team even smaller, there is space for one or two new industrial designers. An additional benefit of a few new hires would be adding fresh ideas into the team dynamic underpinning Apple Industrial Design.
- New Workspace. How will Apple's industrial designers adapt to Apple Park? For the first time, Apple will have one large design studio housing hundreds of designers instead of a web of disconnected spaces. This process will inevitably lead to changes in team dynamics.
- Product Events. How many product events will Apple hold in 2018? Apple held only two events in 2017 (WWDC in June and the iPhone X / Apple Watch event in September at Steve Jobs Theater). One theory as to why Apple experienced a number of hardware and software delays in 2017 was that the company had to prematurely announce products since there were only two events to unveil them (June and September).
- Health and Medical. Does Apple plan to announce new health and medical initiatives?
- Public Image. Will Apple alter its public image in 2018? Changes can include a renewed focus on a particular area of the business.
- New Product Categories. Will Apple unveil a completely new product category this year? In recent years, Apple has unveiled a number of new accessories. In 2015, Apple unveiled Apple Pencil. In 2016, Apple unveiled AirPods. Last year, Apple unveiled HomePod.
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