What does Apple have planned for iPhone, iPad, Watch, TV, Mac, and more in 2017?
Apple will announce new products in 2017. Some will be innovative and some percentage of us will hate the changes. Others will be iterative and some percentage of us will claim boredom at the lack of change. Either way, the year will be filled with equal parts surprise and delight and doom and gloom, just like every year. What'll be different is the stakes. The tenth anniversary of iPhone approaches. Apple's mobile silicon is eclipsing Intel's and iPads are becoming serious portables. Apple Watch is doing great in a world where other wearables have all but perished, at least for now. And a choice is going to have to be made about the future of desktop Macs.
Apple Campus 2, the company's biggest physical product ever, is going to ship, and perhaps forever change how everything else ships. WWDC 2017 will bring us iOS 11, macOS 10.13, watchOS 4, and tvOS 11. And there just might be a few surprises revealed along the way.
So, with all that in mind, here's what I'm expected — and not expecting — from Apple in 2017!
While iPhone 7 was the tenth iPhone Apple produced, 2017 will mark the "tenth anniversary of iPhone" — ten years after Steve Jobs announced it in January and Apple shipped it June. Depending on just how nostalgic Apple is feeling, that could mean nothing. Or it could mean everything.
Apple often works on multiple prototypes, some more conservative and easier to ship, others more audacious and more challenging to ship. This year, though, rumors suggest we might actually see both!
iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus would be another step along the same path Apple's been heading for a while now. iPhone 8... would be a leap.
Wireless charging sounds like a lock, but how close Apple gets to "you walk into a room and your iPhone simply starts charging, no connection necessary!" remains to be seen. (Also, what product will sit at the other end of that charging broadcast?)
OLED is also a persistent rumor. 3D Touch currently works off an LED system, though. So, how will Apple re-engineer it? The rumor is Apple will return to a glass sandwich design, similar in concept though not execution to iPhone 4, with an edge-to-edge, perhaps even curved display to keep gestures flowing. But if the Home button goes away, how will Home button and Touch ID functionality be preserved, and how will Apple maintain accessibility?
I first wrote about what's becoming iPhone 8 back in January of 2015. A lot has changed over the last two years, but I'm still hoping we get bigger screens in smaller casings, and that makes everyone from iPhone SE to iPhone Plus aficionados happy.
The camera is one of the biggest features on any new iPhone and Apple's goal continues to be enabling better photos under a wider range of conditions. Obvious features like optically stabilizing both lenses in the new fusion system, increasing the low-light of levels of zoom and portrait mode, and adding additional uses for depth effects are... obvious. But how will those features, which all require more room inside, contend with the insides getting smaller?
And how — or when — will Apple reconcile Lightning with an increasingly USB-C world?
iPad Pro 2
There are some logical steps Apple could take with iPad in 2017. The first is to unify the technology. The iPad Pro 12.9 has faster USB-3 speeds. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a better camera and a P3 wide gamut display with True Tone ambient color matching. Getting them both on the same page makes a lot of sense. So does giving iPad mini Apple Pencil and Smart Connector support, if Apple wants to continue the 7.9-inch size.
There are also rumors that, like iPhone 8, the there'll be at least one version of iPad Pro with a higher screen to bezel ratio. It would make it closer to 10-inches on a device about the same size as the 9.7. It means Apple will have to raise their already excellent palm rejection, just like they did when iPad mini thinned the side bezels. But ultimately, the bigger the canvas the better.
If iPad gets updated in March, that'll mean an A10/X Fusion processor, but whatever other iPhone-style features it manages to assimilate as well remains to be seen.
So does iPad-specific software. I've been asking for an iPad-specific version of iOS for years, but, unlike iOS 9, iOS 10 came with very few big-screen features. Drag-and-drop and other wish-list items have been prototyped but haven't yet shipped.
iPad doesn't need to and shouldn't become a Mac, but it needs to and should pretend the Mac doesn't exist, and then become the best computer it can be. Hopefully iOS 11 shows Apple is doing just that.
Apple Watch Series 3
The original Apple Watch didn't ship with LTE because Apple didn't want to make a giant wrist boat that ran super hot and burned through battery life. As soon as they can make an always-connected watch that's small and cool and gets phenomenal battery life, they will. Until then, the focus will remain battery life, battery life, speed, and battery life.
Always on, ambient time, though, feels like something worth spending some power on, and sooner rather than later. The inability to glance at your watch without flicking or raising your wrist is the one thing that still makes Apple Watch fail at being a watch.
Apple probably won't screw around with bigger sizes or rounder casings, like the less successful smart watches have been doing. New materials and additional partnerships, like Hermès or Nike, are always possible.
Expanding the amount of sensors, including health and fitness sensors, is tricky. Apple could do it where it makes sense, but could also get into more specific health wearables that go through FDA and similar national screening processes without the pressure of consumer technology shipping deadlines.
watchOS finally feels like it's getting its coherency legs under it, so figuring out how to move it forward without returning to it any unnecessary complexity will be the trick. No one should hold their breath for unrestricted custom watch faces, but there's still a lot that can be done to improve both performance and convenience.
Apple TV 5
Support for 4K screen resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) are the updates for Apple TV hardware that everyone expects. iTunes 4K HDR content should be there to go with it. Upping the processing power to support all that without upping the price on the box is the hurdle Apple has to clear.
The larger debate will be around microphones and cameras in the living room, and what they could enable in terms of functionality but also what they'd need to protect in terms of privacy.
tvOS got a huge update in the U.S., thanks to single sign-on and the new TV app but it's unclear how and when that'll start rolling out internationally.
MacBook Pro was just updated, but spec bumps to Intel's Kaby Lake platform, such as it is, and AMD's next generation graphics chips, should follow shortly. Likewise MacBook, through an update including Touch Bar, Touch ID, and two USB-C ports, would be even more welcome. MacBook Air will, of course, subsist until MacBook can hit the $999 price point, and then go away.
iMac's display is still state-of-the-art but it too could use a bump to Kaby Lake, along with USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar and Touch ID. (Though, personally, I join Serenity Caldwell's wish for Apple Pencil support.)
That leaves Mac Pro and Mac mini, Apple's two headless desktops, and machines that haven't gotten updates in several years. Eons in the technology world. Worse, the last versions of both were appliances that few if any could update on their own.
This, to me, feels more like a philosophical problem then a technological one. Apple's made fantastic Mac mini and Mac Pro hardware for over a decade. They simply have to decide what they're going to do and then communicate their intentions to update, not update, or periodically update, so customers can make informed decisions.
I'd love to see one of the updates they've been working on ship since I think it's vital Apple remain in that space but multiple years of silence isn't doing the company or the community any favors. Sometimes secrecy isn't delightful, it's just disrespectful.
My beautiful dream: Apple returns to Mac mini and Mac Pro that own their niche-appeal, are easy to update and expand, and that show the world why we still need trucks and just exactly what they can do.
Apple is always working on special projects. You don't get to a thousand nos without a thousand experiments to ultimately say "no" to. Some, like televisions, never ship. Others, like watches, do ship. Still others, like car platforms, we'll have to wait and see. So, what's possible in 2017?
Apple Campus 2
AC2 should start coming online this year. If everything goes according to plan, we'll likely have our first event hosted there in 2017, see the new theater, and maybe get a peak at a little bit more.
Internally, though, it should be even more interesting. Tens of thousands of Apple employees will all come together at in the same place for the first time in a long time. If and how that changes the internal dynamics of the company, the levels of collaboration and coherence, remains to be seen. (As does how they'll find each other inside, "Hey, I'm on level 3, ring 1, 87.3 degrees! No, 87.3 degrees!")
Either way, Apple will have their new home and the base for their next generation of products.
Once upon a time if Apple didn't ship a smartwatch within 3 months, a "financial analyst" said, the company would be doomed. Now Apple Watch is doing just fine, all other smart watches are failing, and rather than learning from history, we're getting pelted with — wait for it — "if Apple doesn't ship a smart home hub..."
Techo chambers aside, there's a lot of potential for a better Siri implementation in the home. Especially if Apple can nail the multi-personal assistant.
With rumors of Apple abandoning the AirPort routers, it also makes room for a device that can route, but can also stage, and can house the type of tech needed to make voice, if not vision, a great experience.
Again, privacy will have to be carefully weighed, but if there's any company that can do it, it's Apple.
Anyone waiting on an ARM MacBook running a special version of iOS will probably need to wait a little longer.
Making iOS better suit the capabilities of a laptop is far more efficient from an engineering resources standpoint than trying to retrofit touch controls into macOS — just ask Windows 8. Where iPad Pro ends and MacBook Next begins is a line Apple's going to want to draw and tread very carefully, though.
Given how well Apple can control its own silicon and how hard it's been for Intel to keep x86 on schedule, though, has to be frustrating for all involved.
2016 saw huge changes to Apple's rumored Project Titan, taking it from a far-ranging exploration of the future of mobile computing to more of a platform focused on next-generation driving. Wherever it goes next, one thing is clear — we won't be seeing much if anything public on it in 2017.
And yes, like Apple Hub and AI/ML, that means the loudest and least informed voices will claim Apple's lagging behind the next big thing. And just like iPhone, iPad, or Watch, none of it will matter until a product ships, and then it'll stand on its own merits.
AR and VR
Apple can tie into the existing virtual reality (VR) ecosystems whenever they choose to ship Macs with graphics powerful enough to drive HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Whatever the company is doing with its own, internal, VR projects, it's likely very much not that.
Augmented reality (AR) feels like something different in kind. Standard screens aren't so much a product as something embedded in almost every computing product we use, from watches to phones to tablets to laptops to desktops.
AR will no doubt be it's own thing initially, like in Hololens or Spectacles, but eventually it might just be ubiquitous. We'll have heads up displays wherever and whenever they make sense, around the house, at work, in the car, and even out-and-about. Not having to go to a screen but having the screen come to you has so many advantages.
How and when Apple chooses to productize their own AR efforts remains to be seen, and may not even be seen in 2017. But I think we'll start hearing about them sooner rather than later.
What do you expect from Apple in 2017?
There's still more on the list, including health devices, iPod touch updates, and new services and partnerships Apple may choose to debut or announce this year. I've shared a few thoughts above already but I'd love to hear what you expect from Apple in 2017!