CES 2013: Apple [AAPL] isn't at the show, but there's a selection of new solutions in discussion at or around the show that may get picked up by Cupertino's I/O execs who have been seen prowling the exhibition floor. These include better wireless, more responsive displays, and much more.
[ABOVE: Apple didn't strike first with Wi-Fi -- but its '99 AirPort and iBook launches arguably bought wireless technology to the mass market.]
The evolution of mobile devices and the emergence of cloud-based services demands better connectivity. A recent job ad suggested Apple to be looking to deliver better wireless through deployment of the 802.11ac standard, which Broadcom calls "5G Wi-Fi".
802.11ac seems to promise speeds three times faster and -- crucial for mobile devices -- six times the power efficiency of what we're using now.
This suggests better battery life for your devices, and better connectivity to the Internet via a wireless connection. Some suggest the speed you can look forward to is close to that you'd expect from a wired Ethernet connection.
Broadcom puts it this way: “5G Wi-Fi offers consumers the world’s fastest, most reliable wireless coverage for HD-quality video and near instantaneous data synch."
In essence it should make it possible for reliable video streams in HD on future iPads, and also delivers the kind of levels of robust connectivity that may support future cloud-based SaaS (Software As A Service) solutions. Or, indeed, for playing fast paced video games on your iPad, while watching them on the TV screen.
Apple's seeming interest in 802.11ac also suggests the company's putting together plans for future AirPort device and Time Machine improvements, as you'll need a hub to handle the hits.
There's a caveat emptor here: the ad no longer makes explicit mention of 802.11 ac, though when first published it said the applicant should have: "Technical knowledge of WiFi (802.11a,b,g, qc) and Ethernet network environments."
Touch technology isn't perfect yet -- there's always a glitch or too to solve (and this applies to any touch sensitive device). The video above shows a glitch you encounter on the iPhone 5, a glitch Apple is addressing by looking to an alternative touch technology.
A China Times report cited sources in Apple's supply chain who said: “Apple intends to switch to alternative touch technology for its next generation of mobile phones, stating that a ‘Touch On Display’ panel is being developed by Taiwanese Apple supplier Innolux.”
The report continues to explain that these panels will be just 0.5mm thin and more sensitive than the existing displays.
In other words, Apple continues to improve the inherent capability of its products to the nth degree. As you might expect when product design lead, Jony Ive, has a track record of sweating the small stuff in order to continuously make his devices better.
An obvious next step for mobile devices, wireless charging systems' big problem is that they aren't especially green: there's a lot of power waste when you charge your device.
One interesting exhibit is a Toyota armrest (above) that uses Qi to charge a compatible smartphone - just pop your phone on the armrest while you travel. Interestingly as the images here show, the Toyota demo saw an iPhone picking up charge with the addition of an enabled Qi case.
It's possible Apple may choose to leave this as an optional technology, allowing a third-party market in iPhone/iPad cases equipped with wireless charging support.
It's got to be unlikely iPhones (for example) will ship with this feature until the technology becomes only as power wasteful as conventional wired recharging. Not least because the company is already exploring ways in which to create greener power solutions.
Intel's new chip family
A recent report claims June's MacBook family upgrades will see the company begin a move to a "new processor architecture".
That seems to dovetail nicely with Intel's CES introduction of new low power versions of its fourth generation Intel Core Processor family, aka, Haswell; alongside the introduction of mobile chips which require just 7-watts of power. (Which the firm says will help in: "Enabling thinner, lighter, touch-based Utrabook convertibles, detachables and tablets).
There's been much talk that Apple may move across to ARM processors in its MacBooks, however this still seems unlikely to me -- the company benefitted enormously when it migrated to Intel processors earlier this Century, as it made its products peer contenders with the Wintel machines of the time. That advantage remains, with the added boost of Boot Camp support, enabling users to easily migrate from a Windows machine to a Mac, incrementally.
On the other hand, Intel's attempt to breathe a little life into the Ultrabook industry and its continued thrust to put Atom processors inside mobile phones means the two firms continue to compete.
The new lower power chips are expected to appear in devices from Acer this spring, while the next-gen Haswell's are promised for late this year or early next.
There's an interesting revelation within Intel's press release: "This year, Intel expects more Ultrabooks and all-in-one (AIO) systems to offer applications for voice control (Dragon Assistant) and facial recognition (Fast Access) for convenience and freedom from passwords."
This brings us neatly to the fifth technology likely to be of growing interest to Apple users across the next 12 months…
Rumor has it that Apple is working on a robust security system for its devices. Australian IT last year claimed the company had reached a deal with Australia's Microlatch; also last year the company invested millions in mobile security firm, Authentec.
These firms specialize in aspects of fingerprint-based security systems, that's nice and in conjunction with your password should make your mobile devices -- and potentially even your Macs -- that much more secure.
However, there have been a few additional revelations that suggest the company's cooking up a fairly comprehensive range of implementations that together should make its platforms extremely secure.
- Lightning connector cables include elements designed to boost future security, Chipworks said last year.
- An Apple patent last year discussed a system which may alert users when their phone has been lost/stolen, and/or prevent it being misused in the event it is so mislaid.
- The company also has a series of patents detailing ways in which fingerprint or iris scanning may be used to secure its devices. While these focus on phones, I can't help but feel such protection might also be invaluable on Macs, particularly laptops. Of course, news that Intel's new processors are already capable of support for facial recognition systems adds a little grist to the Mac rumor wish list/unicorn hunt.
NFC remains a euphemistic term which could more accurately be used to describe expectation of Apple's future adventures in the development of payment systems. Pass Book is the current iteration, but it's pretty clear NFC hasn't changed the world, even where it is available.
People are resistant to migrate to virtual currency; and are also concerned at the security implications of having their entire life stashed inside a mobile device.
With this in mind, security needs to be sufficiently robust to convince customers that payment systems are safe to use. Without guarantees of such security, consumers are left exposed, and while this may be fine for early NFC adopters eager to play with first-gen payment technologies on those devices and at those retailers which do support it, for mass market use, security is essential.
That's why I'd argue that robust security implementations are an essential step on Apple's journey toward the 'iWallet', meaning security enhancements are extraordinarily likely to be part of Apple user conversation this year.
Also worth watching:
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