We've been watching Apple [AAPL] innovate for 35 years. Most recently we've seen it transform the music industry, change the phone industry and reinvent the PC industry with the iPad. This year we're looking at iPhone 5 as wallets, iTunes music streaming, the iPad 2.0 and much, much more. Has Apple moved so far ahead of the pack that innovation isn't necessary anymore? Is it the end of invention?
Think about it, within the next few weeks and months, Apple's much-improved camera-toting iPad 2.0 will be available, as will the four-inch screen iPhone 5 with its payment-making features. In the US, Apple folk will be using cloud-based iTunes services. There will be an iPhone nano and there'll be a whole new world of integration for iOS and OS X users worldwide. Where can Apple innovate next?
Think about cellphones. Cast your mind back to the cellphone you used in 2007 and take a look at the one you're using now: Android, iOS, Windows, RIM or webOS, whatever device you carry in your pocket now is probably a quantum leap away from what you used then. Even the most ordinary phones are looking a little smarter -- though the ill-fated Nokia capitulation to Microsoft should put paid to that.
Compare what we have today to what we had in the 1990's. Then we had the Internet, culminating in the iMac. Today we carry a single device (our phone) which can:
- Access all the Internet's knowledge
- Keep us connected via SMS, email, Facebook, Twitter and that horribly invasive Instant Messaging
- Help us with tasks using any one of thousands of different 'apps for that'
- Listen to music, watch video and live TV
- Create and edit music, video and film (clips below).
- Talk to friends, check maps, get reminders, and much more
How does Apple follow that?
Above: Damon Albarn/Gorillaz recorded the track above on an iPad
Me dot com
Back in 2006 I wrote, "The idea of a user's Home identity being carried on a future iPod is gaining some currency, but I don't believe that goes far enough. I want [.Mac, now MobileMe] to be an online home for my entire user identity. I want to see all my documents, emails, applications, images, movies - all of it - securely hosted online." (There's still work to do on that service).
This was in the days before the iPhone -- well, technically there had been two Apple phones at this point, one the ill-fated Motorola iTunes ROKR phone, the other a super-secret Apple project that was shelved at the eleventh hour -- in any case, notions of a thin platform connected device are moving from dreamtime to reality.
iPhone 5 is coming. With it we'll begin using our phones to pay for things at shops. we'll be using it as a tickets for live events, as a boarding pass, a travelcard, wallet and, eventually, as proof of identity.
iTunes music streaming will launch in mid-summer (ie. It will help boost interest in the iPhone). Given Apple has only one data center (albeit a huge one in North Carolina) I predict the company will launch iTunes music streaming in the US first, rolling it out to other territories as it secures clearances from copyright holders and invests in infrastructure to support its services.
We imagine the iPhone nano will land as part of the iPod refresh in September. Will there be an iPod left after that launch? Will Apple abandon the iPod classic, which remains the fifth most popular personal media player? The iPhone nano will not be called the iPhone nano, of course, it's an iPod "with the best of iOS added to it, so of course, it's also a phone," the company will trill.
Above: Trailer for acclaimed director Park Chan-Wook's iPhone-filmed 'Night Fishing' short movie.
Underpinning all of this is Mac OS X. This will see elements of iOS added to it this year. These will likely include the obvious, notifications, iTunes streaming support, and the not so obvious, more touch-enhanced gesture controls, voice calls via Mac (FaceTime, anyone) and so on.
MobileMe will see improvement. We learned this weekend that Apple will offer the service for free and offer more storage and a host of useful Mac/MobileMe integration options. It is no major speculative leap to predict that MobileMe/iOS integration will also see significant improvement. The stage is set for that very same thin client Mac on any device experience I asked for in 2006.
The Apple planet
So where next? What's missing? Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously rejects focus group discussions. "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them," he told BusinessWeek in 1998.
This year Apple will be offering an always-connected, completely integrated personal ecosystem which combines all the best elements of desktop and mobile computing through the aegis of the Cupertino cloud.
From 2011 every being on this planet (at least, each and every one in a position to purchase the requisite Apple-branded products) will be in position to carry all their data, productivity projects and more with them anywhere, access them from anywhere, and edit and make changes to their own data using any chosen Apple device.
In future I can imagine we'll see Back to My Mac improve to the point that an iPhone or iPad user will be able to remotely access their home computer, launch applications and make changes remotely, with a full-screen view (like iChat desktop sharing). It will be a step toward software-as service. None of this is new, of course, but this will be the first fully consumer-friendly implementation.
At the center of that statement is a world of work. It has taken Apple 35 long years to get to the point at which it can offer such stunningly complex solutions with such stunning simplicity.
Artists of digital design
Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive said a long time ago, "Simplicity speaks of the care of how our products are developed. It's not obvious how hard it was.
"We try to solve very complicated problems without letting people know how complicated the problem was."
Innovation is a love that dare not speak its own name. It isn't just about the features you see up-front -- that is 'just' the user interface -- it is also about the insanely complex technologies underlying those features. And their simple expression.
Above: Apple's iPhone 4 ad. It has Jony Ive at the beginning.
Consider the complexity that went into the myriad decisions that drove development of the A4 (and soon A5) processor. Or the equally complex issues of supply chain management, or the frustrating yet challenging complexities of reaching deals to enable cloud-based music services, or the many, many decisions that stand behind even one line of code within iOS, or OS X.
These matters are all dealt with by different teams at Apple, usually working in isolation from the big idea, but each team contributes an element to the grand design. In its way, each team are artists, contributing finesse and style to their own piece of the jigsaw.
Imagining a future
Design is everything -- it isn't just the look of the device, it is the feel of the device, the build quality, the inherent capabilities of the gadget, everything. Apple does this. You can expect it. You can't expect this from the fragmented Android market. You don't expect it from Microsoft, or Nokia.
Take the MacBook Air. We already know this will eventually become Apple's de facto standard notebook offering. We also understand that desktop computers will become ever-more ambient, objects whose inherent beauty gives them an aesthetic as well as a practical function for your office or home.
We know the OS will be ever-simplified and ever more powerful. We know processors will improve and code will be streamlined for the mobile age. Perhaps one day code will go backwards, and we'll see more calls on system and component functions, leading to further trimming of the need for extensive application code.
Under acting CEO Tim Cook's watch, we can expect Apple's focus to change a little. Apple will focus on protecting its existing markets, aggressively using every last iota of its power and supply chain management experience to defeat competitors. Cook will consolidate everything that Apple has gained so far.
What will be the next great idea?
Life after Macintosh
I think the next step will be to remove the Mac.
Hear me out. I'm not saying the Mac is dead. Macs will still be there for those who want them. Macs are selling in bigger numbers than ever before. But just think on this, with all our data held in the cloud for ease of access from a multitude of devices and all our Apps increasingly moving to a model in which they run on all our devices the notion that we'll eventually access Apps on a service model is no big stretch. And the next step after that is to lose the computer completely...
We'll be accessing our data in the cloud and accessing our applications remotely. We're already accustomed to one computer with several user accounts servicing different people in our homes.
We'll find ourselves making ever less use of our Macs. We'll end up asking, "Why do I need a computer at all"?
That's when Apple or some other enterprising firm will offer up a computing on-demand service. You'll pay for the time and processing cycles you need, you'll pay for use of powerful applications. You won't own a computer, you'll own your Apple-hosted Home folder, and your iDevice will run all the Apps you need. (Larry Ellison must be pleased).
What's in the way?
As with NFC-based payment systems, the challenge now will be security. Without huge innovations in security, no one is going to trust Apple with all their data, all their user identification details, all their music, movies and projects, all their digital everything. Security is essential.
This is why security firms are warning Mac users to take steps to be a little more security conscious.
Security has never been sexy. It just isn't. Unless you are fond of men in uniforms. Some people are. Most are not. Security is a shadowy world of white hats and black hats and Anonymous and known. Security is a fact of life that no one likes. Security, like back-up, is a problem everyone has and no one wants to understand.
Security must be sexy
Apple's next step will be to make security sexy. It must. Because the future connected-planet needs security to be over 100 percent before it is born. The company has already begun. Last month it appointed former National Security Agency analyst and author David Rice as its global director of security. Security is the biggest challenge Apple faces as it moves to define the future of technology in modern living. Security is the new frontier.
What do you think? Where can Apple make security sexy? Can the company continue to lead the industry, or will it take time to consolidate what it has gained so far? Let me know your thoughts on this in comments below and if you'd like please follow me on Twitter so I can ping you as I post new articles here first on Computerworld.