214: What should we expect from Apple this year?
2013 brought us quite a lot from Apple, backloaded as it might have been. For the first half of the year, there was almost nothing. Then, at WWDC 2013 in June, Apple showed off iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, released the Haswell MacBook Air and 802.11ac AirPort and Time Capsule base-stations, and teased an all-new Mac Pro. July saw the launch of Logic Pro X. September is when things really got started, with the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, followed in October by the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, the Haswell MacBook Pro and Haswell iMac, and new, free-with-purchase, versions of the iWork and iLife. So what can we expect from Apple in 2014?
There's three main tracks to explore here. One are rumors and leaks, which, this early in the year, are subject to so much change, and come with so much baggage, that its value is limited. Another is to analyze past behavior and extrapolate future behavior, which is serviceable if rather boring. The other is to look at problems that need solving in a way Apple excels at solving them, and wonder out loud what they might be and how they could be tackled. That's the most interesting, but also the least reliable.
So, instead, let's be just be candid — Apple is making an iPhone 6. Anyone who doesn't know it can easily guess it. It's one of the safest assumptions in the world. There'll be new iPads as well. Baring Ragnarok, or a substantial alteration of the laws of economics and thermodynamics, Apple will keep doing in 2014 what they did in 2013. Do they need increased screen sizes? Is Apple, or are Apple's customers, suffering from the lack of a 5-inch iPhone or 13-inch iPad? If the iPhone does change screen sizes, like it did in 2012, will the iPod touch once again change with it? Where would an Apple A8 processor take mobile that an Apple A7 can't? And what software and services do iOS 8 and iCloud need to provide, beyond fixes, to make proper use of it all? Which acquisitions play into that? There are obvious gaps, like transit in maps, services in Siri, and OS X features that would fit really, really well into iOS. Thanks to the major interface transition being all but complete, there's also more time this year to fit things.
On the desktop, hopefully the Haswell Mac mini question will be answered sooner rather than later. Intel's chipset roadmap plays such and important part in Apple's Mac roadmap, that availability of one is typically the best hint of coming availability of the other. Mac on ARM — a MacBook Air-type device that could last a day — has long been a dream of many inside and out, but can Intel come down fast enough to keep that project out of production?
Things like whether Apple can, or wants to, reboot the Retina MacBook Air now that iPad Air-style battery advances have been made, and whether Apple can, or wants to, move upstream to a 4K/Retina iMac and Thunderbolt display, have less obvious tells. Could Apple's plans for their next-generation Mac operations system, OS X 10.10, code-named Syrah, could include bringing some of the new iOS 7-style interface ideas back to the Mac? And now that they have the iOS engine, could iWork and iLife development focus on getting them back up to speed?
What's going on with the Apple TV and with the iWatch project are perhaps the biggest questions. The Apple TV hasn't had a hardware update since 2012, and while it did get new software this year, there were little in the way of user-facing improvements. Given the talent at Apple, the potential of the living room, and how long Tim Cook and company have been pulling that particular thread, perhaps 2014 will yield results commensurate with the areas intense interest? The smartwatch space isn't anywhere nearly as mature as the set top box, but it also doesn't have cable companies (or carriers) holding it back. Apple waited until they saw precisely how the smartphones of 2006 needed to be improved before introducing the iPhone in 2007.
And that's ultimately the best indicator of where Apple's going. For the most part, they're people just like us. They love and use iPhones and iPads and Macs just like us. They want better gear just like we do. They're just as frustrated when Touch ID doesn't let them easily log into their iPads as it does their iPhones, when all their screens aren't high density, when all their batteries don't last most of the day, when Siri isn't as helpful as it could be, when their friends and families can't find apps as easily as they should be able to. They want the future of hardware, software, and services as badly as any geek among us. And, for the most part, they're empowered to bring it to us.
When Tim Cook and Jony Ive and Phil Schiller say Apple's single, driving focus is making the best products possible, they really mean it. Because they want them just as badly.
So what should we expect from Apple in 2014? Pick up your iPhone, iPod, iPad, or Mac, and think about what would make it easier and more delightful to use, for more and more people. And that's just exactly what we should expect, to the limits of available technology and economics. This year, and every year.