For the past 6 months, Apple has continually been hitting its stride. First with the iPad launch which was a runaway success, and now iPhone 4 which has been their most successful product launch in history. And of course their is iOS 4, iAds, new Mac Minis, new Macbook Pros (i7, high res screens), the list goes on. But no one can argue that Apple has been executing extremely well. Their market cap is higher than MS (!!), and their is no end in sight. Here are a couple of my takes on what the future from Apple will look like. The first two are short term predictions. The second are more general long term predictions. I have more to say, but that will have to wait until part 2.
iPod Nano Touch
Ok, so ive heard some rumors from unnamed sources in the past, but now that the display has leaked for this device I think its safe to come out and talk about it. Apple is FOR SURE launching a touch version of the iPod Nano. It will run iOS, and it will have 4 icons on its homescreen. This move makes alot of sense and should not really come as a surprise given the success of the iOS platform over the past few years.
The great thing about this new Nano is that the entire thing is a screen, so the entire experience - videos, photos, apps (yes apps) - will benefit from the larger screen size. The touchscreen allows apple to ditch the outdated click wheel, and put that space to better use.
For Apple this move is great, it will bring one more iPod into the iOS family, this streamlines their development process because they no longer have to iterate the old Nano/Classic OS, and it means that new features will hit the nano in sync with other iOS devices (for the most part).
At launch I would only expect first party apps, but at some point they will definitely roll out a SDK/Simulator for the Nano. Its not gonna be as big of a market, and the human interface guidelines will need to be drastically different from what devs are used to on iPhone/iPad, for example it would be very difficult to type on. But having a weather app, or a ESPN type app would be useful, and for Apple having devs make these apps adds so much functionality to their device at almost zero extra cost to themselves. The Nano sells for less than 200$, and in the near future you could be reading your email and checking the weather on one.
This one is basically a gimme, im that sure that its coming down the pipe. Apple has been the champion of the computer industries most recent evolution - Touch. No one thought the iPhone would work because it didnt have a keyboard, well we all know how that turned out. 3 years later they have integrated touch into their iPod line, and of course the iPad which is an entirely new category of device. But, its easy to forget about their current Macintosh products with iPhones and iPads gaining so much attention lately, but their Macintosh laptops and magic mouse incorporate a wide array of gestures. Mac OSX is light years ahead of anyone else when it comes to touch.
The iMac is a perfect device for iOS, the screens they put inside of those computers are absolutely gorgeous the entire front of the screen is glass edge-to-edge, and the picture quality is out of this world, if you have not seen one goto your apple store it is truly a sight to behold. The glass is already a perfect surface for touching, all they need to do is add the digitizer. Ohh and the 27" iMac, try finding a screen in that size with that resolution, they do not exist anywhere period. The all-in-one construction of the iMac is a perfect ideological fit for the iOS platform. So Its coming, and yes there will be apps.
Retina Displays in every Apple product
This is one of those things that might take a few years to finally materialize, but their justification (marketing) for retina displays does double duty. First, it is a gorgeous display that makes everything on it pop out from the device giving the images a lifelike quality. Second, and more importantly, it establishes a bright-line for where display resolution can stop growing. Think about it, science will allow us to make displays with double the PPI of a retina display in a few years, but it wont matter because our eyes will not be able to tell the difference. That means that if you were to bet on the longterm future of what displays will be like in 5 years you could safely say retina, and that can hold true for another 10 years after that. Cleary Apple wont sit on their hands and will introduce Retina+ 'With better color reproduction' 'Even more PPI' etc... but for the most part the concepts and the dev tools will remain the same.
Ok so Retina displays are the future, and eventually they will be in Macbook Pro's, iMac's, and Apple Cinema Displays. As for the iPad, probably in its next iteration. Considering the state of current display technology I wouldnt hold your breathe for these guys but some day. Next to the technological challenges of getting the actual display, what about the software to support it ?
Apple is the only company that could pull off, Windows is stuck supporting 90% of computers in the world which vary on so many different levels, you gotta give MS credit for this, but unfortunately it slows them down when it comes to innovate on a software/hardware concept - i.e. little touch integration. Apple on the other hand only has to deal with a small subset of hardware, and all the hardware they do support is high end. Mac OS X has always been visually stunning and since they already have experience doing retina on the iPhone their time to market for a version of OS X that works with retina displays will be alot shorter than MS ever could, not to mention how long it would take for OEMs to integrate Retina like displays in PC's. If your a PC fan dont worry, you will get the same treatment but probably a year or two after the mac crowd.
If I had to guess as to when we would start to see this, maybe 3 years down the road ? Apple already introduced a new higher resolution screen for the Macbook Pro, and their ties with display manufacturers run deep given their exclusive iPhone 4 Retina display, and their exclusive 27" iMac display.
Touch Screens in every Apple product
So I already touched ... on this with the section about the iMac touch, but in an all encompassing way, we will see touch integrated into every Apple product. There will always be the option of a keyboard and a mouse, and adding a touch sensor to a computer monitor is a small cost, but the software is all ready to go, and people are getting used to using touch as the primary input device. This one is also a no-brainer, but it will take some time atleast a couple years before we see it in their laptops. I think iMac will be first and that should be soon, and then in the Apple Cinema Displays, then laptops last.
Stay tuned, this will be my next post.