Apple's next big move: Capture three new ecosystems

Apple's next big move: Capture three new ecosystems

Summary: At Apple's WWDC 2014 event this week, most of the attention will be focused on new product updates. The real moves you should keep an eye on are three big ecosystem plays.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Apple
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apple-wwdc-2014
Image: James Martin/CNET

While the world continues to wait for Apple to enter the "exciting new product categories" that CEO Tim Cook has been promising for over a year, the world's largest tech company is quietly staring down three new opportunities.

I'm not talking about a smartwatch, a phablet, or an HDTV set. I'm talking about three ecosystems that Apple appears ready to enter in a much larger way. In all three cases, Apple could become a catalyst for bringing the digital revolution to more people in more places -- exactly the kind of the stuff they love to chase (and then make two-minute video essays about it to play during events like WWDC).

As you follow the updates coming from WWDC 2014 this week, keep an eye out for developments in the following three ecosystems where Apple is poised to make a huge impact.

1. Digital health

For the past couple years I've been saying that if Apple decided to make a smartwatch the coolest thing it could do would be to build a platform and an ecosystem around it that would allow it to connect to various health devices, from heart and oxygen monitors at the doctor's office to exercise equipment at the gym to a digital scale at home.

Think of the way a whole ecosystem of accessories for music emerged around the iPod. The sheer scale of the iPhone, especially in the U.S. market, makes it ripe for an ecosystem play in health care. There are already heart monitors and blood pressure monitors and wireless scales that connect to the iPhone. Apple just needs to go a step farther and create some standards for using wireless protocols to connect and create a common software platform to integrate the data.

For connecting, Apple could use Bluetooth Low Energy, in similar ways to what it's doing with iBeacons (which we'll talk about in a moment). In terms of the software, Apple may already have that in the works. Reports have been surfacing since the beginning of 2014 that Apple will release a new app called Healthbook as part of iOS 8. Key watch for potential Healthbook announcements at WWDC this week. And, of course, if Apple does release an iWatch then this ecosystem play will have already laid the groundwork.

2. Smart home

Similar to digital health, another area that has been long overdue to transform for the 21st century is the smart home (a.k.a. home automation). A report surfaced last week that Apple is going launch a smart home software platform at WWDC 2014. The software would allow third party hardware and software providers to connect their smart home systems to the iPhone and iPad.

Presumably, Apple would build a smart home app into iOS 8. According to the report, this would allow an iOS device to control everything from a home security system to home lighting to smart appliances. This could be related to the patent that Apple was awarded in November 2013 that shows a system of home devices and actions working together, with special functions based on location. For example, the lights could detect when you enter the room and automatically turn on or the garage door could detect when you pull up and automatically open.

SEE: Apple, Cook, and the power of evil empires doing good (TechRepublic)

3. Retail experience

The retail store experience remains much as it has for decades in terms of the ways people wander through stores, choose products, see promotions, and check out when they are ready to buy something. With over a decade of experience running its own highly profitable retail stores, Apple has now been preparing to digitize the retail experience more broadly with iBeacons.

Using Bluetooth LE, iBeacons are small, inexpensive tokens that can be placed in various locations and then communicate with nearby phones. They can be used to help shoppers navigate stores, get product information, get alerts about special deals, save shopping preferences, and do lots of other store-specific activities. Plenty of big retailers are experimenting with this. But right now, one of the biggest hang-ups is that you have to use lots of different store apps to get the full experience. If Apple could streamline this in iOS 8 and create a more coherent platform and user experience then this looks like it's ready to take off.

Just last week, General Electric announced that it was integrating iBeacons into its new LED light fixtures for businesses, including Wal-Mart. So again, this is another area where Apple already has ecosystem momentum building.

Follow WWDC 2014

To follow all of the news and analysis of Apple WWDC 2014, you can watch our live blog and live show over on CNET at 1:00pm Eastern on Monday (June 2) and then come back to ZDNet for all of the analysis of what it means for businesses and the enterprise.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on Monday Morning Opener

Topics: Mobility, Apple

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  • How long can you go without hearing the endless squeal of Apple hype

    This company has long overstayed their welcome, antagonized by the epoch mindless hype that permeates from the cracks and their techless meanderings will not go anywhere without the real technology breakthroughs that comes from others including many of their competitors.
    sickntired44
    • sdsd

      sdsd
      Yestu1954
    • If you do not wish to hear about Apple

      it would probably be best not to click on articles with that company's name in the article title.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • How long…

      How long can people like you go on making things up, sickntired44? Why falsely claim that Apple does not make technological breakthroughs? If you don't want to read about Apple, don't open the article.
      deasys
    • Squawk...SQUAWK....

      Squawk....Squawwwwwkkk.....

      Seriously. Just can it already. "whaaaa, Zdnet is talking about the one of the tech companies on Earth before their upcoming developers conference. I don't personally like Apple. So don't force my finger to click on this story and force my eyeballs open to read it."

      Jeez.
      NBrazil
    • Apple might soon begin to regret going after google/samsung quite so much.

      Both have lots of patents related to wearable tech... and in googles case it's gobbled up some big players in home automation and has lots of intellectual property as a result.

      Samsung has been a player in that field for a while now too.. so it's possible that Apple will be handing back most or all of their phone patent winnings in licensing fees instead of paying it back as part of the purchasing bill from Samsung as they have been.

      That might even be why apple/google reached their recent "end all litigation" agreement recently, because Apple is about to tread in someone elses turf and want to start discussions from a better standpoint then they have.

      If that's true, I'm hoping to see Microsoft end up in the same place, forced to pay licensing payments to companies they've been collecting from for Android having "two file names for the same file" and other such patents that they were not prepared to risk a judgement on in the Barnes and Noble litigation that they changed into a 350 million dollar "investment" in a Barnes and Noble joint venture that appears to have achieved very little. (but it did end the litigation which means it probably achieved it's big goal.)
      frankieh
      • Good that that war is over.

        Google certainly fired the first volley by Eric Schmidt's continuing to attend Apple board meetings where the future of the iPhone was discussed even after Google got serious about Android. Bad form; he should have recused himself.

        Apple had a point, then and now. But the point was made loud and clear some time ago. Had Mr. Jobs stayed on board longer he'd likely still be fighting that war. Mr. Cook saw the diminishing returns and wisely stopped the tit for tat.

        If Apple has to pay licensing fees to Google for some of the technology it wants, well that's meet and proper. It's got its own share of patents to collect on.

        The only thing that will put an end to this nonsense is patent law reform. Since the current Congress prefers mudslinging on both sides of the aisle over actually legislating, don't hold your breath.
        Technologist6
  • money for hype

    By mid 2015, Apple's $130 billion will vanish due to stock buybacks. The money they have now is use to buy influence in the market place and less on improving products and services. Once the money dries out, their position in the market place will drop like a rock
    Nathane Grave
    • What?

      First Apple currently shows $150 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet, not "$130 billion." Second, only a small part of that is earmarked for stock buybacks. Third, do you think Apple's cash inflow has come to a halt? So silly…
      deasys
  • Work at home special report..............WWW.WORKS23.US

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    Yestu1954
  • Home automation on a a device is new?

    How is this new? There are multiple solutions out there that can be centrally controlled from a smartphone or tablet with simple interfaces!! Seriously if people give apple kudos for getting into home automation I may be sick.
    andyk_79
    • They didn't invent phones or tablets either.

      But they did make them more usable, defining what they are now. If they can create a platform for all of these different home automation companies, it would make it easier for common consumers.
      thenitewatch@...
    • Again? Really?

      How many times do you have to hear it before it sinks in? Apple's genius is in taking existing products and making them not suck.
      baggins_z
      • So, you finally admit that they don't innovate, and just take

        existing things, and "make them better"? There was a company that used that mantra in their advertising, and now, Apple can do the same.
        adornoe@...
        • Do you even understand English?

          Seriously, do you?
          NOTHING he wrote even REMOTELY implies that he feels they don't innovate. You differ? Quote EXACTLY what he wrote you claim does, so you can be taken to task by those, including the O.P. who actually know what words mean.
          .DeusExMachina.
          • Apparently, I understand English a lot better than you do,

            because, baggins himself stated that...

            "Apple's genius is in taking existing products and making them not suck."

            That says that, Apple doesn't make the original product: they just make them better.

            Using existing products and making them better, is not the same as creating the product, or creating an "innovative" product. A better mouse trap is a good product, but it isn't the original product, or the product of an innovative mind.

            From the dictionary meaning of 'innovation':

            1. A creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation

            2. The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new

            So, where has Apple created something, anything, new?

            I'm just agreeing with baggins, and you seem to not understand the meaning of his words, or any words.

            BTW, how are your logic lessons going? They're not helping you at all, from all appearances.
            adornoe@...
          • Apparently you don't

            The first definition of "innovation in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is "a new idea, device, or method."

            Seems clear enough to me. And it seems that Apple's devices clearly fit into that definition.
            deasys
          • You're misinterpreting Merriam-Webster definition, to fit your preferred

            beliefs.

            There is nothing that is a "new idea" with Apple's products. Their devices are not "new", and are basically, improvements on what was there before. The methods they come up with, are not earth-shattering, nor anything that wasn't already available from others.

            Just like any set of statistics, a definition can be twisted to mean whatever one wants to make of it. You took a definition and completely twisted it to fit your beliefs.
            adornoe@...
          • And you're misinterpreting reality to fit your prejudices & preconceptions

            Apple's devices do embody new ideas and the devices themselves are new as are the methods they employ. Pull the wool off your eyes.
            deasys
          • Ibid

            .DeusExMachina.