The end of the year and holiday season is a natural time to look back — and then look forward to the year to come. Apple started 2014 slowly but more than made up for it in the long haul, introducing the Apple Watch, Apple Pay, Mac OS X Yosemite, iOS 8, an iPad Air 2 with a super-fast processor, the massively selling iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus, and a luscious iMac with a 5K Retina screen, which, it turns out, is priced less than some 4K monitors.
Gushing adjectives aside, what, out of all of this, is truly interesting or groundbreaking? What is going to be meaningful in 2015 and beyond?
Piper Jaffray’s Apple-watching analyst Gene Munsterhasn’t given up on a full-fledged Apple HDTV.
Because most connected TVs aren’t used for much more than doing simple things like streaming Netflix, “the concept of what the opportunity can really hold around connected TVs hasn’t even been tapped, so they (Apple) haven’t missed out on anything,” he said.
Still, Munster is hedging his bets, thinking that 2016 might be the right timing for a full-fledged Apple television set.
Key to Jaffray’s analysis of Apple is a nugget all Apple watchers know but tend to forget: Apple keeps its new products in development for a long time. The result is astounding refinement — but it sometimes feels as if Apple is missing opportunities left and right.
Brains and Beauty
Case in point? The Apple Watch. So many competitors came to market first, but how many of those smartwatches can the average consumer name by name? The Apple Watch isn’t even here yet, but far more people who don’t care about watches still know about it.
Apple is a company that is a catalyst — it has sparked increased interest in smartwatches and health bands, and once Apple delivers the Apple Watch, the space will explode — and so what? Why does this really matter in the big scheme of things?
For the Apple business, the Apple Watch signals a defining moment. Under high expectations, the question is, can Apple deliver another device that millions of consumers didn’t even realize they wanted… but suddenly, desperately do?
Apple can be insanely profitable, but the company’s reputation is built upon lust-worthy products — except, I think that is the old Apple. The new Apple has evolved to striving for something much greater. Sure, a discrete, well-made product is important, but it’s just a building block.
When I look at the rollout of the Apple Watch, I see a surface of glitz that’s designed to attract users, but it’s the insides of the watch that integrate with an owner’s life, surprising and delighting along the way, that will keep them. While other wearables have been abandoned, Apple’s development process starts with short-term attraction — pick your band, pick your colors — and morphs into long-term love.
How does this work?
Consider an impossibly beautiful woman or man. We’ve all seen someone astoundingly pretty, almost hard to look at. If that person actually were to remain in your sphere of life, though, that beauty would become normalized and lose its power. At that point, the beauty would have to be connected to a human that was interesting, that had personality. Who wants to hang out with a pretty shell of a person?
Apple’s focus on customizability and fashion in the Apple Watch design indicates the company understands attraction and desire at first sight. As for lasting value, that’s everything on the inside — and Apple knows this better than any other tech company in the world.
The product has to have substance that goes beyond the pretty surface. Whether Apple hits this every time is up for debate, but Apple thinks about lasting functionality better than anyone else. Case in point? Enhancing iOS and delivering those enhancements to past devices that are a few years “old” –. instead of ignoring them or letting them fade from existence.
Apple’s Secret: Building Foundations First
Although the world seems to have a shrinking attention span, Apple delivered a lot of foundational products in 2014 — pieces and parts upon which it will be able to build a bigger, stronger business.
The way iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite work together with Apple’s Continuity, along with an iCloud that is increasingly friendly to apps and users, shows how multiple Apple devices will be aware of each other and allow users to seamlessly use them for work and play.
Continuity is a vision of the future, a hint at the organizing principles that are driving Apple’s next moves. If you extrapolate how Apple is connecting products, odds are the next Apple TV device will more directly play with Apple services, devices and the home. With HomeKit, all sorts of home automation and connected devices will work together more easily.
For instance, Apple already has developed iBeacon, which is a Bluetooth proximity sensing system that lets devices communicate. It’s initially being used for advertising and customer care in retail-oriented environments.
Imagine iBeacon in the home. Now imagine an Apple Watch walking through a home. Now imagine a new Apple TV set-top device. Suddenly, Apple’s entire ecosystem of apps, technologies, and devices snap together in a more meaningful way.
This is how Apple will make a leap forward — by using technology to integrate into a person’s life. The Apple Watch won’t be just a smartwatch with messages and maps and music and weather. It will be a key to your front door.
When Apple unleashes the next Apple TV and lets developers start innovating, an Apple Watch could be the remote that turns on your Apple TV and launches a new home workout app, delivering exercise instructions while recording and displaying biometric data, all of which could be designed to motivate rather than simply inform.
Or, with HomeKit-enabled devices and apps, you could go to bed and lock the doors, garage, and windows, and power down the lights and thermostat.
How all of our devices connect is the foundation that will bring meaningful change from Apple, not glitzy new watchbands. I believe this integrated thought is going on in Cupertino while most of us are obsessed with how screens on our wrists will look, and how we can cut out a cable bill to stream Netflix and still get live sporting events.
Have you ever wondered why Bluetooth on your iPhone keeps turning itself back on every time you update your iPhone? Apple is training us to leave it on, to let it do its work with Continuity on our Macs, with iBeacon, and with everything else to come.
Apple’s Everywhere Play
Apple clearly wants its products and services to be used at work, in the car, at home, and everywhere in between. Consider Apple Pay: It’s a simple idea that has the potential to rapidly transform how we pay, because it elevates the importance of a device in our lives. Mobile device-based payments have been imagined for decades and available for years, but Apple Pay could be the tipping point that shifts our behavior in large numbers.
More to the point, Apple Pay — while ensuring that the massive corporation that is Apple gets a cut of transactions — is a connective service that makes Apple device ownership more addictive and sticky.
If I can buy a pumpkin spice latte with my Apple Watch, each and every time I acquire a coffee that delivers a caffeine buzz I have a psychological association with Apple. Apple Pay is at the heart of specific actions that result in gratification. This is a very big deal, and it one reason why Apple enjoys a cult-like following with non-techie customers.
Apple Pay is new, but connecting music directly to the Apple brand is not. Because Apple delivered the reward that comes with listening to a great song to its own iTunes store and brand, Apple’s stickiness got a boost other MP3 players did not enjoy.
The Apple Watch, by the way, is a perfect example of how Apple is trying to build products that are not consumable so much as they become part of your life — consider its focus on touch for communication — the ability to touch and swipe to generate a tactile feeling on a person who might be thousands of miles away… the ability to see and feel that person’s heartbeat.
A fundamental challenge behind Google Glass as a wearable is that it introduces a perceived layer between humans. While the Apple Watch is a different product altogether, part of its whole point is to build new connective tissue between people and the things they do.
Apple is a cold and calculating corporation that must make money — let’s not forget that — but the company also is run by humans who actually seem to care about producing great products for other humans that let them do life-affirming things, which is why I remain fascinated by Apple and it’s products and actions: Apple is rooted in humanity but executes its business like a highly evolved alien life form.
So, what’s important to Apple? I don’t think Apple has goals to, say, deliver the best streaming media player with apps to generate a particular revenue number. To me, I see Apple looking to change the living room experience — which is why Apple hasn’t slapped its logo on a well-designed HDTV and started selling it. More to the point, I think Apple is aiming to influence how we approach our lives — seriously heady stuff — and I think the two key products that will show us the way in 2015 will be the Apple Watch and a new Apple TV home hub device.