Whether your like Apple or not, the company has very clearly stirred up the tech industry with several innovations over the past several years. It totally revamped and spurred a revolution in the smartphone market with the iPhone. It did so again in the tablet space with the iPad. Neither device was new in the fundamental idea of a smartphone with a touchscreen or a mass-market tablet, but both attracted the consumer market unlike any other previous device.
I’m not saying firms such as Samsung, HTC or LG copied the iPhone, far from it, but I think Apple’s innovations allowed those firms to enter a market space that hadn’t reached full maturity. A Samsung executive recently said that his firm watches the market and builds to the likes of consumers. Apple, meanwhile, has been known to create products and ideas that had, so far, not necessarily been proven to be attractive (until they hit the market, of course).
In the case of the iPad, for example, consumers had never before, in mass, carried such a device. Sure, there were Windows-based tablets for years before the iPad, but did you ever see them in someone’s living room, or on the train? Or stationed in an airport lounge for complimentary use? No – the Apple’s iPad was the solution that eventually propelled mass adoption and led the way for the success of competing alternatives.
And yet Apple has been relatively quiet on the innovation front. The iPhone 5 and the fourth generation iPad are great products, but they aren’t flipping any industry on its head the way the original iPad or the original iPhone did (although one could argue that Siri, from a service side, certainly did on the iPhone 4S). I think that’s a sign that Apple’s doing something behind the scenes right now, and that’s why we’re still hearing reports of an iTV or the iWatch. Apple’s about to make yet another big move that changes the way we think of existing industries.
Sure, smart TVs and smart watches already exist, but both industries are still severely limited and Apple has the muscle, the cash and the know-how to take a chance and do something drastic. The secret weapons could very much be existing technologies, such as iOS and Siri. Tim Cook has said that Apple isn’t a hardware company, and that it’s instead focused on providing software and services.
We already think it’s possible that Apple’s iTV, should it exist, will support Siri integration that allows us to speak to our TVs and control them without a remote. With iOS, we could have a complete app ecosystem and integration with our phones and computers. The same goes for the smart watch – Apple could deliver a way to respond to alerts using Siri, I’ve already argued, and with an iOS-based system it could easily integrate with our tablets and smartphones. Of course, Apple’s not the only one capable of such a move.
Google, with Android, Google Search and Google Now, also has the tools to create the same sort of industry shift. I think we’ll see Google introduce some of the aforementioned features to Google TV and more in May, when it introduces Android Key Lime Pie. But we already know that Google’s getting its feet wet in several new industries, including wearable computing and augmented reality with its Google Glass project. Apple, meanwhile, has been much more tight lipped about where it’s going next. That, in many ways, is what makes the firm so compelling to follow.
This isn’t to say Apple will stop innovating in the smartphone and tablet space – I absolutely think we’ll see plenty of new features down the road. But I think its move into the living room and into our active lifestyles with a smart watch will actually be the propellant that helps it progress in both tablets and smartphones. New interactions between those devices and our wrists and living rooms will essentially put Apple in every part of our lives, and on every screen in front of us.
The big question we’re all wondering is, of course: when? I think we’ll start to see the pieces fall in line this year and moving into next. Apple’s cautious with its moves because, as Tim Cook says, it will never introduce a crappy product.
Still, there’s always a risk when you’re a company that builds the unknown.