We've noted a number of times recently that Apple has, in our opinion, veered somewhat off course with its patent wars, looking to somehow preserve its IP in products that are now essentially yesterday's news. While we understand the need to defend these in order to then protect its future products, we've stated many times that Apple needs to get back to innovation and stop worrying about patents.
Apple's future success - or at least the next three to five years of it - will not hinge on an Apple TV. In fact we're convinced that Apple will not be able to add anything innovative enough on the TV front to make a real difference in this market. Nor will that future hinge on Apple delivering an iPhone on the lower end of the smartphone continuum - though such a device will emerge, as we noted elsewhere. And most assuredly it won't hinge on Apple finding a way to deliver a five or 5.5 inch smartphone (such as the HTC DNA or Galaxy Note II), though we fully anticipate Apple delivering the premium version of such a product in 2013.
Apple's future, rather, hinges entirely on what it does with its next true state of the art iPhone and iPad - the flagship products, the "one ring to control them all" mobile devices that will represent a true next generation "innovation leap" into the unknown. A true leap and new directions into the unknown is critical for Apple to remain true to its innovation DNA and if it is to retain its unique Apple cachet - without which it won't be able to sell anything. And it has to be innovation that will take the competition at least a few years to catch up on. In short, 2007 has to happen all over again.
These true next generation products in turn will rely entirely on the next generation of iOS, which of course is what Jony Ive, Apple's SVP of industrial and human interface design, is now secretly working on in his secret Apple labs. We believe - we can call it an informed prediction - that Ive will actually take iOS and the hardware in an entirely new direction, one that will formally break with iOS 6, and one that will not concern itself with maintaining full backwards compatibility with iOS 6 or previous generation devices.
What we mean here is that iOS 7 (and perhaps it won't be called iOS at all, but something new) won't be an OS that runs on previous generation iPhones or iPads. iOS 7 itself will fully support iOS 6 apps - but it will be forward looking and not concern itself with looking backwards. What will likely change on the iOS 6 end of things will be the new visual cues it will adopt from iOS 7, which is how iOS 6 will retain a relationship with iOS 7. In any case, Apple will have the goal of 100 percent conversion of all users to iOS 7, and will likely come very close to pulling this off.
Ultimately the next generation will also require bringing Mac OS into the fold, but that is a few years away. It will require advanced processor capabilities and a clear blueprint for how Apple will take mobility forward, both on the consumer and enterprise side. It is the enterprise that will most benefit from the merger of Mac OS and iOS.
All of this will take enormous courage on Apple's part to pull off. Why? Because such an approach directly suggests that Apple's much-vaunted holistic iOS ecosystem, along with its hundreds of millions of iTunes/App Store users will begin to develop multiple levels, where older generations of products can no longer keep up or be fully compatible with new generations. It's a move that comes with enormous consequences, and if pulled off badly those consequences will not be of the positive kind.
To date most still extant Apple devices are able to run iOS 6. As the next true generation of hardware and iOS emerge, even the iPhone 5 (and iPhone 5S) and the next several generations of iPads we are likely to see before iOS 7 emerges will not be compatible with the next generation iOS or the wealth of future applications that will emerge.
There is a reason Jony Ive is in charge - he has the courage to break with the past and the vision and the inherent willingness to take the necessary leap. And he will.
It's Apple's Innovation Ecosystem that Concerns Us
But will the rest of Apple go along for the ride? Steve Jobs certainly would have made sure that it did - it's why he noted at one time that no one other than Jobs himself had more operational authority than Ive does throughout all of Apple. Apple CEO Tim Cook is no fool, and he placed Ive in his current position for this very reason.
Taking the leap however will require much more than Apple itself being in harmony with the need to take the leap. We believe Cook has his senior management team fully on the same futuristic page, and this is the single most vital step toward ensuring success. But there are many moving parts that need to fall into place for Apple to pull it off.
We need to point out here that simply pulling it off isn't the half of it. If Apple had all the time in the world to do so - say another two or three years, then things would prove a lot easier to pull off. But Apple no longer has the luxury of time on its side. We believe that Apple must deliver on the next generation leap into the future in 2013 - and our own target for this is its World Wide Developer Conference that is rapidly approaching in July 2013. That is a damnably tall and outrageous order to fill! But Apple needs to make it happen. At the very least we need to hear a well-defined and well-articulated vision in July.
Next, will the complex supply chain be able to deliver on a timely basis, especially on the display end of things? Will Apple's new semiconductor team be able to pull off the necessary next generation chips to deliver on the needed software and graphics capabilities Ive will demand? Will Apple find the right resources to deliver the chipsets? We think Apple will partner closely with Intel on these true future products while outsourcing current generation chip manufacturing to China.
There is no Point in Speculating…Yet
OK, so we've reached the point where it's time for us to begin hazarding some guesses on what the leap into tomorrow might prove to be. Well, we can toss out stuff like curved glass displays, square corners, bendable displays that unfold, active icons such as Window Phone 8 Live Tiles, tightly integrated interactive and voice/gesture enabled UI capabilities, software that eerily understands what you want and goes out to tomorrow's App Store or iTunes to get it for you and make it instantly available across all of your devices...
One thing we probably won't see is anything thinner than the current iPhone 5. We're far from convinced that anything thinner will actually prove comfortable to hold and we may prefer to have bigger batteries that can charge through the air and provide for charges lasting two or three days.
And perhaps we'll see an iWatch that will actually become our real and wearable interface to the smartphone or tablet. How about iEyewear (yeah, that isn't going to work is it)?
Etc. etc. etc.
But there is no real point to the exercise is there? What we really want to be able to do is sneak into Ive's labs!
Our goal here is to point out that Apple's future is not going to depend on what the rest of the world wants Apple to do - which is to somehow become a direct competitor to Android that competes on price instead of innovation. That would be the kiss of death for Apple. It is Windows Phone 8 that will end up competing head to head with Android on this front, not Apple.
That's not to say we won't see Apple deliver products into the market at different price points or design footprints in 2013. We don't believe we'll see an Apple television, but we will see premium products show up on both the low end of the scale and in the large screen segment on the mobile device front. But all of this is nothing more than ensuring Apple gets its share of revenue from these markets - how boring! Apple needs to work directly on the futuristic innovation leap and in leaving both Android and Windows entrenched in yesterday's dust.
In July of this year we'll know if Apple is headed to $1,000 a share or back down to $100.
Edited by Brooke Neuman