A couple of months back, Apple Pay Cash was made available for the first time on the iOS platform (iOS 11.2 beta). The arrival of HDR and 4K content on Apple TV was met by fans worldwide with great enthusiasm. The reliance of Apple Watch on paired iPhones was brought down significantly – with the provision of cellular connectivity on the former (although the company admitted to some glitches with the LTE connectivity). All Apple operating systems received updates – and for third-party app developers, the release of Swift 4 was big news. The launch of iPhone X was probably the biggest talking-point of the year (the first major redesign of the iPhone since 2014’s iPhone 6). There was considerable interest about the new Mac Pro too. 2017 was well and truly one of the biggest years for Apple in recent times. Let us here look forward to what the Cupertino company probably has in store for us in 2018:
The follow-up to iPhone X and two more models
The fears of the iPhone X being ‘too expensive for its own good’ have been proved to be unfounded. According to a Canalys report, more the than 29.5 million units of the $1000 handset were shipped in 2017 Q4 (outselling both iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus). This year, Apple is set to launch the next edition of the phone – with a more powerful chip (A12 system-on-chip), and other small feature enhancements. No big changes are expected in this follow-up phone though. A larger, 6.5” variant of the iPhone X is also expected, with a larger battery (somewhat like the ‘Plus’ models). It will be mostly identical with the smaller device – and hopefully, will not have any important feature reserved for it (something like providing dual camera only on the ‘Plus’ phones won’t be a great idea). Apart from these two bezelless phones, a third new iPhone – with slim bezels and a 6.1” LCD screen – might also make its debut in 2018. It will come with Face ID, and will be priced at a comparatively lower level. Expecting a sub-$650 iPhone will probably be asking for too much though.
Note: There is already considerable speculation over what the successor of iPhone X will be named. At present, it looks like either iPhone X2 or iPhone XI will make the cut.
New iPads with AI capabilities
After years of flat performance, Apple’s iPad is finally looking up again. In the third quarter of 2017, iPad sales spiked by ~16% on a YoY basis – indicating that there is life left in the tablet yet. Rumours have been circulating about a brand-new iPad Pro with Face ID and a larger-than-ever display (that’s right, no home button). The biggest USP of the device will be the built-in artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, and support for immersive augmented reality (AR). The new iPad Pro will build upon the steady sales figures of last year’s 2017. The ProMotion and TrueTone technologies will ensure top-notch display quality. Once again, the iPhone X is likely to be the reference point for the design of the new iPad Pro. A new iPad Mini Pro might also be in the pipeline (given that the 9.7” tablet is the most successful in terms of sales) – with upgraded features and greater processor power. The iPad Mini 5 did not release last year, and iPad Mini 4 got a refresh way back in 2015. It’s time Apple took a long hard look at this line of ‘smaller’ tablets. The iPad Mini Pro will probably have a Smart Connector.
Note: Apple’s much-talked about Project Marzipan – which will allow third-party iOS developers to create a single app for macOS and iOS – should add more utility to the new iPad Pro.
While reviews have been mixed and user-opinions have been rather divisive, there is not much room for doubting that Apple’s AirPods (launched with iPhone 7 in 2016) have revolutionized the headphone market. There is an outside chance of AirPod 2 – with noteworthy design changes (e.g, a smaller quartz component) will be announced in the second half of this year. KGI securities have confirmed this report – and the strong consumer demand levels also justify the release of redesigned AirPods. The AirPod 2, as and when it is announced, will also have a convenient wireless charging case. The biggest point of gripe about AirPods has been their proneness to get misplaced (and getting a replacement is not a viable option for many). AirPods with charging cases will ease this problem somewhat.
Note: Earlier this week, the Cupertino company had to look into a report filed by a Florida-based user about his AirPods suddenly emitting smoke. Apple clearly has to be very watchful about the quality and safety factors of AirPod 2.
New and improved Apple Watch 4, with greater focus on healthcare
In theory, the arrival of cellular connectivity on the third-generation Apple Watch was big news. The implementation, however, was not as good as promised – with the drastically lower battery performance and the data center restrictions being major pain points. Those up top at Apple have surely noticed the shortcomings (Apple Watch 2 did not have cellular data, but was otherwise an excellent wearable device). At the annual September ‘iPhone event’, the Apple Watch 4 should also be showcased – with all the problems in last year’s model sorted out. What’s more, the company is reportedly planning to make Apple Watch a more useful device as far as healthcare is concerned. A recent Bloomberg report suggests that a high-on-accuracy electrocardiogram sensor (EKG reader) may make its way into the upcoming version of Apple Watch – and the gadget will also have better heart monitoring features. It won’t be a surprise if doctors start using wearables for quicker and more correct diagnosis of patients, over the next couple of years.
Note: For all the complaints associated with it, Apple Watch 3 has been a strong performer in the market – with the rate of shipments being almost 2X that of its predecessor.
The arrival of the (already delayed) Apple HomePod
Originally slated to launch in December 2017, Apple HomePod finally hit the markets earlier this week (February 9). It will be interesting to note how the devices manages to fare in the already competitive smart speaker market – particularly with rivals Google Home and Amazon Echo both already having fairly high popularity levels. The most interesting point over here is how Apple has positioned the HomePod as a device with unmatched sound quality, and of course, the smart design. Less focus is placed on the artificial intelligence factor – where Siri clearly has some catching up to do with Google Assistant (or Amazon Alexa, for that matter). The 6-microphone wireless music player from Apple is priced at $349 – making it significantly more expensive than the $129 Google Home and the $179 Amazon Echo.
Note: Invoke, which works with Microsoft Cortana, is yet another AI-powered smart speaker that the HomePod has to fight it out with.
Face ID made more mainstream
FaceTime for Mac launched back in 2010 (in the ‘Back to the Mac’ event). While minor improvements have arrived with each new OS update – Apple should really consider giving things a serious overhaul. The success of iPhone X has shown that the company’s ambitious TrueDepth camera system has the room to grow further – and this year, Apple can take a hint from Microsoft Hello, and bring facial recognition for the first time in desktops and laptop computers. Face ID on Mac systems will make it easy for end-users to securely lock/unlock their machines in a handsfree manner. This year’s iPhones will, of course, come with Face ID too – as will the proposed new iPad Pro device (maybe even the iPad Mini Pro?). If the reports are anything to go by, 2018 will be the year when facial recognition becomes the ‘common thing’ on most flagship Apple devices.
Note: Arrival of Face ID on Mac computers would also bolster the webcams of the latter.
Apple Music to become a media subscription service
Not much can be confirmed regarding this, but there are indications that Apple Music will evolve in a big way in 2018. The value of the global video-on-demand industry has been estimated to swell to more than $60 million by the end of 2019 (growing at a CAGR of >19%) – and Apple will probably look to capture a share of the pie over here. The company already has plans to bring back a much-loved Spielberg series (‘Amazing Stories’), in collaboration with NBCUniversal. Similar deals with other leading television networks – like CBS or Viacom – cannot be ruled out either. What’s more, the Cupertino tech giant has set aside a whopping annual budget of $1 billion for original video content this year. With well over 29 million Apple Music subscribers, there is no shortage of audience – and Apple surely has the financial strength to deliver high-quality media subscriptions.
Note: In the United states, Apple Music subscriptions are growing at a rate of 5% – considerably higher than the 2% growth rate of Spotify (its main rival, and the market leader). Globally though, the gap is much wider.
The first glimpse of AirPower
Apple was already late to the wireless charging game, when it announced the AirPower charging mat (alongside iPhone 8 and iPhone X) last September. The Cupertino company is now looking at a March release of AirPower. While wireless charging of smart devices is not a new feature per se – Apple’s AirPower will be the first-ever device with the capability of charging 3 gadgets – the AirPods, the Watch, and of course, the iPhone – simultaneously. According to early reports, the nature of the surface on which the AirPower is placed will not make much of a difference. As is the case with practically every other Apple device, the AirPower will be a more pricey charging pad than similar third-party products.
Note: The AirPower will be powered by the Qi standard, and can have a price tag as high as $199.
More investments on augmented reality
iOS 12 is coming this year, and augmented reality will be one of the biggest USPs of the platform. From iMessages (as stickers), to Photos, iMovies and even Apple Maps – AR can be integrated in a wide range of key elements of iOS 12 – heightening its utility, efficiency and immersiveness. At the other end of the spectrum, ARKit (which was released as an integral part of iOS 11) will be made more advanced. That, in turn, will allow iPhone app developers to come up with the finest AR-powered applications till date. Apple is also ‘secretly’ working on a new AR headset/AR smartglasses – but that is not expected to see the light of day before 2019. Over the last few quarters, the company has made several interesting AR-related acquisitions (Flyby Media, Vrvana, and others) – that clearly indicate its seriousness about making a mark in this field.
Note: From an estimated $18 billion in 2018, the global VR/AR market will spiral to more than $143 billion by 2020. Not surprisingly, Apple CEO has referred to augmented reality as ‘profound’.
10. Growth in services division and the ‘super cycle’ of iPhones
The iPhone is still by far the biggest money-churner for Apple Inc., but it has other sources which generate high revenues as well. A case in point will be the Apple services section – comprising of Apple Music, App Store, iCloud and iTunes – which showed an impressive 18% YoY growth in earnings (2017 Q4). To put things in perspective, the services division of Apple has now grown to be at par (or even slightly bigger) than an average Fortune 100 company. There is, however, quite a bit of doubt over whether the much-discussed ‘iPhone supercycle’ – a scenario where users keep their older handsets for longer than earlier, before purchasing the latest flagship – will start in 2018. If the latest quarterly sales of iPhones are anything to go by (77.3 million vs 78.3 million in the holiday quarter of 2016) – the ‘supercycle’ is not going to happen – at least not this year. However, that would not affect Apple’s revenues in any way, and the company will continue to earn big from its ‘other products’ and ‘iPhone accessories’. There has been a 36% YoY rise in the sale of such products, in 2017.
Note: Revenues from the Apple services section in the final quarter of 2017 was more than the combined earnings from Apple Watch, AirPods and the iPad.
11. An upgraded Mac Pro
Just like the revived iPad sales, Mac systems are doing very well of late. Sales were up by nearly 25% in 2017 Q4 – and ~10% more units were sold in the quarter, than the corresponding figure in the previous quarter (5.39 million vs 4.88 million). The new iMac Pro – released in December – also garnered mostly favourable reviews. All eyes are now on the Cupertino company (Jony Ive, are you listening?) for the launch of the third-generation Mac Pro sometime in 2018 – with a completely refurbished design, and significantly enhanced functionalities (it might come with user-upgradable options). Last April, Apple owned up to the problems in the last Mac model – with the thermal heating problems being right at the fore. The ‘pro users’ have been waiting for long – and Apple is likely to provide them a glitch-free, new Mac Pro this year.
Note: The 2nd generation Mac Pro hit the markets in December 2013.
12. Updates on the autonomous Apple Car
Both Google (with Waymo) and Tesla (with Autopilot) have been very active in the domain of self-driving cars. The same, however, cannot be said about Apple – which has been very secretive about the Apple Car project. In June 2017, Tim Cook offered a confirmation that the company is indeed working on such a project – and touted it as the ‘most important project in AI’. There are many confusions though – with a 2016 report stating that Apple has scrapped plans for full-blown autonomous electric cars. There are two alternatives open for Apple in this context – it can either launch its own self-driving car and try to move ahead of Waymo (not an easy task), or it can develop a proprietary car operating system for getting into agreements with leading vehicle manufacturers. In 2018, we can reasonably expect to get some more news about the autonomous car project of Apple.
Note: By the end of this decade, more than 9 million autonomous vehicles should be on the roads.
13. A smarter, more feature-rich Siri
There was a time in the early 2010s, when Siri was the shining beacon in the market for virtual assistants. Things have changed pretty radically since then though – and a combination of Apple’s relative neglect, and internal culture and development-related issues have seen Siri fall behind both Amazon Alexa, and in particular, Google Assistant. Many sources have reported that Siri is set to become smarter than ever before – with more intuitive conversations, and better, direct on-the-go virtual assistance. A common complaint has been that Siri cannot ‘understand’ or ‘answer’ questions as properly as Google Assistant. Apple enthusiasts are looking out for a series of enhancements in Siri on iOS 12. Let us see how, or whether, Siri becomes competitive once again.
Note: The development of Siri was handled by Eddy Cue and his team till last August. It is now managed by Craig Federighi and team (who also handle iOS and macOS).
14. Software updates
As it happens every year, new versions of all the major Apple software platforms will also be announced in 2018. We will get a first look at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2018) – before the final rollout happens after September. watchOS 5 has every chance of being the first Apple Watch platform to not have a public beta version. Given that the performance of watchOS 4 was not great on first-generation Watches – the new version might also have limited backward compatibility (Watch 1 may not get the update). On the smartphone front, the stage is set for the first look of iOS 12 – with all the new iPhones and iPad(s) running on the platform. Next up is macOS 10.14 (name not confirmed yet) – the follow-up to last year’s ‘High Sierra’. It will have the usual round of betas before the final release. With the growing availability of 4K content in iTunes for Apple TV, the arrival of tvOS 12 will also be worth looking out for.
At the end of November 2017, the market capitalization figure of Apple stood at $903 billion (almost 31% greater than the market cap of Alphabet) – underlining its position as the most valuable company in the world. Tim Cook and his team will be looking to consolidate that position this year – and make big strides in the domains of AI, AR and other fields. A couple of high-profile acquisitions – maybe from the digital entertainment/original content sector – might also happen this year. 2018 will be a mighty exciting year for Apple fans in particular, and tech lovers in general, that’s for sure!