A glimpse at Apple’s 2020 vision

Among other things, smart vehicles, immersive AR/VR environments and edge-based device intelligence will drive Apple's new decade.

Apple patents granted in the final moments of 2019 shine a little light into its plans for the next decade.

What the patents say

Apple won 31 patents on Dec. 31, 2019. Three are of particular interest:

  • A passenger safety system for vehicles.
  • A smart headphone system that optimizes the audio for how they are worn. (Might this actually be a highly efficient spatial sound system for immersive environments?)
  • An Eye ID system for a head-mounted display.

In some ways, these patents don’t mean too much. Apple files many hundreds of patents every year and the existence of them doesn’t always mean the company will ship products based on them.

But in other ways, they speak volumes.

Apple is planning the '20s

One way in which they matter is that they serve to prove Apple continues to invest in the development of cars, smart wearables and the long-anticipated Apple Glasses.

It is a trifecta of solutions that illuminate Apple’s goals for the coming decade:

  • To create a vehicle that defines transportation in the same way the iPhone defined mobile.
  • To develop an end-to-end ecosystem of products and services for highly immersive AR/VR experiences for both consumer and business use.
  • To develop edge intelligence models based on distributed intelligence across connected devices.
  • We also know the company is exploring health, a sector Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to say will be what Apple will be remembered for.

Apple is obviously planning for the next decade. With 5G services and devices set to proliferate by around 2023, you can anticipate Apple’s existing media and gaming services will morph into an immersive AR/VR gaming offer – while FaceTime becomes a viable solution for secure enterprise chat.

Apple to speak at CES for first time in years

Think connected devices and most people think of smart home devices. Apple will appear at the annual trade event CES in an official capacity for the first time I can recall. The company’s Jane Horvath is scheduled to appear at a consumer privacy panel on Jan. 7. It is being reported that Apple will also demonstrate its own smart home system, HomeKit, at the event.

Apple announced participation in an important open source partnership to improve the compatibility of the many disparate smart device systems in conjunction with Amazon, Google and others in 2019.

“By building upon Internet Protocol (IP), the project aims to enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps and cloud services and to define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification,”the partners said.

There is a huge need to standardize and secure the Internet of Things. A December FBI report warned of the security dangers of these devices, and the fact that most manufacturers are banding together to create an interoperable standard shows they now understand this, too.

Apple has understood this for longer than any of them.

As devices themselves become more intelligent, the information they gather also becomes more sophisticated. Ultimately it's easy to predict smart devices that work in clusters to provide actionable intelligent insights to your homes, workplaces and factories.

What to look for in 2020

So how will we see these attempts play out this year?

Apple will begin its move to 5G with the release of new iPhones in 2020. Don’t expect too much from 5G yet – most people won’t see stable and reliable 5G connections until 2022-23, and service deployments will be hybrid (5G/4G) for longer than that. This ZeroHedge report explains some of the reasons for this.

The thing is, Apple (like most in the tech landscape) has come to realize that connectivity and bandwidth are absolutely essential to all the solutions it now seeks to make. (This is probably why the company continues experimenting with a satellite-based networking system.)

And this also means one of the most important components of Apple’s plans for the new decade will be successful proliferation of 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and other networking standards (including the aforementioned IP-based standard for smart devices).

Which is why we should watch how Apple evidences its move to 5G within iPhones – and pay attention to its various IP development partnerships (such as with Intel and Ericsson) as it seeks to deploy its own self-developed 5G networking chips.

The latter will be of particular importance, as these systems will become the networking brains inside any future Apple vehicles (or immersive AR/VR devices) – and will need to work well with any other smart vehicles that may also be on the road.

That includes working through walls and underground, because there’s more to Ultra Wideband than just AirDrop. Collision detection, anyone?

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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