Apple's next big move: Capture three new ecosystems

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.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief on
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


A United Airlines pilot made a big speech to passengers. Not everyone will love it

A United Airlines pilot made a big speech to passengers. Not everyone will love it

Dear American Airlines customers, your pilot today is a United Airlines trainee

Dear American Airlines customers, your pilot today is a United Airlines trainee

An Apple employee told me the truth about the M2 MacBook Air (that was the problem)

An Apple employee told me the truth about the M2 MacBook Air (that was the problem)