There's been a lot of chatter lately -- chatter subsequently dismissed by Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller, although there seems to be confusion surround this story -- that Apple has been planning to tweak the iPhone in some way -- size, price -- in order to take sales to the next level.
But let's face it, a rejigged iPhone is still an iPhone, and won't bring with it the same sort of hype that a new product would generate.
New products are vital for any company wanting to remain relevant -- and that's no different for Apple. New products take advantage of changing technology and consumer habits, and can also be used to create markets that previously never existed.
Just to be clear, this isn't one of those "what Apple should do next" or "what Apple needs to do to survive" pieces. A look at the company's financials suggests that it is doing very well. This is an exploration of where Apple might go over the coming months and years.
So, what is Apple's next big thing going to be?
There's been endless speculation that Apple is (or has) been planning to make an assault on the living room with its own television set. According to analyst speculation, Apple's TV would either look like a scaled-up iPad, or a scaled-up iMac. I have yet to read anything from a pundit or analyst that suggests Apple could bring any new innovation to a television.
See also: Why Apple doesn't need a cheaper iPhone
Every Apple TV postulated by analysts and pundits is essentially a high-definition television from any other vendor -- Samsung, LG, Sony, and so on -- with an integrated Apple TV set-top box.
Since the television set is the focus of most living rooms, it might make sense to think that Apple would want to make a grab for this prominent position in people's homes. The problem is, the television market isn't strong enough for a company like Apple to enter into. The market is crowded, profit margins are tight, people seem uninterested in new technologies such as 3D, and people don't buy new television sets regularly.
While Apple would see significant headwinds if it tried to enter the TV market, television content would be a different matter. After all, the problem with current TVs is not the hardware, but what's being displayed on the actual screen.
While it seems clear that the broadcast networks are resistant to Apple getting a foothold in this market -- otherwise they'd be falling over themselves to partner with Apple already -- television is the last of the media that remains mostly untouched by the pervasive influence of Apple and iTunes.
Apple has changed the way that we watch television -- substituting the television for the iPhone and iPad -- and if it got into the television broadcast market, the way that we watch television could change forever. This, assuming that the networks play ball -- has the potential to be huge.
If Apple weren't interested in center stage in the living room, then maybe it would be happy taking on a supporting role. One way the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant could do this is to come out with a games console that attaches to any high-definition television using a free HDMI port, just like the Apple TV set-top box does.
An Apple-branded gaming console sounds far more compelling than an Apple TV does for a number of reasons.
First, it would be a lot cheaper -- both for Apple to produce and for consumers to buy -- than an entire TV.
A games console is also a device with a limited lifespan based on factors such as storage and processing power, so the upgrade cycle is going to be much shorter than that of a TV. This is a proven market that the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo rely on.
A games console could also leverage Apple's massive iOS user base not only by running the iOS games that people love to play on their iPhones and iPads, but also by allowing iPhone and iPad owners to use their smartphones and tablets are controllers.
A games console could take iOS gaming to a new level, adding features such as multiplayer support, and larger, more immersive games. This could be a massive money-spinner for Apple and developers alike.
This could work, partly because many of the required and necessary pieces to make this work are already in place.
We carry the iPhone and iPad -- we don't wear it -- so wearable computing is a market that's pretty much open for Apple if it wants to take it. Question is: is there a real market there?
I've been reading about wearable gadgets for almost as long as I've been able to read. They are a staple of the sci-fi and spy genre, and it is surprising that it hasn't taken off.
I view wearable computing pretty much as I saw the tablet market pre the iPad. It's a good idea waiting for someone to make it work. That "someone" could undoubtedly be Apple. The question is, where would Apple take this. A watch? Glasses? Something completely new? This market space certainly has potential.
Want to control your lights, heating, TV, and so on from your iPhone or iPad? You can already do this using third-party devices, but how about adding that Apple logo to the equation?
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While the idea that Apple could leverage the huge iOS user base to push its own home automation products, this feels too nebulous to me.
Not only is it unclear as to how big the market is for such devices, but it is a fragmented market where Apple would need to manufacture dozens of different devices to cater for everyone.
Nest came to the market with an intelligent thermostat that grabbed headlines, but it's still a niche product that's light-years away from going mainstream. I'm not convinced that Apple would want to wade into such a niche market.
Cars are probably the most expensive accessory that we hook up our iDevices to, so why shouldn't Apple horn in on this market?
While the market for in-car entertainment -- both factory-fitted and third party -- is big, it feels like an odd match for Apple. If Apple were interested in getting into the accessories market, then it could enter it in a smaller, safer way with Apple-branded docks or speakers.
It's hard to see what Apple could bring to in-car entertainment that it hasn’t already done with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.