What to expect from Apple 2015. Apple found its smile again. After a year without breaching a single new product category, a year when product rollout events began to feel like dour requirements instead of tech entertainment, Apple turned it around in 2014. Like the Apple of old, its product and service introductions surprised us and put the competition on notice.
Its iPhone 6 rollout event was vintage Apple, full of excitement, entertainment and even controversy. I will never forget the beaming faces of every Apple employee I ran into. Their smiles said, “We’re back, baby.”
Months and tens of millions of iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses sold later, the giddiness has worn off. Apple confronts 2015 with lots of positive momentum, but also a bushel of big questions.
In 2015, business will move to the center of Apple’s market focus.
Five months ago, Apple stunned the tech community by announcing a long-term enterprise partnership with IBM. The idea is to bring mobile to business in a way that big businesses, even entire industries, could manage and leverage to their advantage.
Up to now, Apple’s had no trouble getting iPads and iPhone into businesses, but many have arrived through the backdoor as part of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) revolution. An IBM/Apple partnership might help Apple products reach the front door, an integrated solution.
“It’s unlike Apple to announce vague things. That’s more like Microsoft.”
“It’s unlike Apple to announce vague things. That’s more like Microsoft.”
The fact is, Apple’s plans for business are anything but vague — the company is simply taking its time.
I’ve heard Apple outline a strategy that takes what’s best about Apple products and, essentially, combines it with skills from IBM that the Cupertino company lacks. Think: direct sales, integration and, as Creative Strategies President Tim Bajarin noted, custom apps.
“It’s very clear that Apple has now got their sights on enterprise,” he said. “More importantly [they] realized that they could not do this by themselves.”
The vertical industries Apple will likely enter in 2015 can’t necessarily use off-the-shelf Apple mobile hardware or apps from the App Store. They need someone to build apps and integration that can work for industries like transportation, financial services, retail, insurance, government and healthcare. IBM has expertise and connections in all of them.
In order to make this happen, Apple will probably have to deliver on the long-rumored iPad Max (a name I made up for the rumored iPad 12.9 or 12.1).
A 12.9-inch iPad is almost a sure bet for 2015, but it was probably never intended as a consumer product. In business, a 12.9-inch iPad will allow Apple to “go not just after the tablet market, but the PC market, as well,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business at Kantar WorldPanel ComTech.
It’s not always easy to convince businesses to replace Windows PCs with Macs, but adding a large-screen iPad that can work in the office and on the road (and one that can now run Office Apps), may not be as hard.
A lot of the work Apple did on its own in 2014 was, essentially, planting the seeds for this rapid business expansion in 2015. Both Bajarin and Milanesi pointed to iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite’s Continuity as a potential business game-changer.
“With continuity, you have the ability to take one job on an iPad, pick it up on a Mac. It adds to the viability of a larger screen tablet of the enterprise,” said Bajarin.
McQuivey, for one, is happy to see Apple finally stop ignoring different form factors. He thinks the introduction of a large iPad in 2015 is actually “telegraphed by the IBM relationship.” The flat performance of Windows 8 in the enterprise has opened a real opportunity for Apple and its new partner. Microsoft will race forward with Windows 10, which addresses many businesses’ issues with Windows 8, but in that time, “
Apple needs to grab as much of that [business] real estate as they can
Apple needs to grab as much of that [business] real estate as they can,” said McQuivey.
A 12.9-inch iPad in 2015 is especially interesting to Bajarin because it can be part of a convertible system. “It’s fundamentally the same screen I have on my MacBook Air,” he said, but added that it won’t be Apple building the keyboard covers for the iPad Max. They’ll leave that to accomplished third-party partners like Logitech.
There is one other big benefit to Apple’s 2015 business push. It will widen sales, said Carol Milanesi, and “move Apple away the seasonal cadence the market has when it’s consumer.” In other words, it’s a steadier revenue stream.
Apple’s 2015 hardware plan, beyond a new tablet, may actually lack a little excitement.
I would be surprised and so would all the analysts I spoke to if Apple did any more than unveil the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus in 2015. These phones should look almost exactly like the two new models introduced this year. Under the hood, though, we’ll find faster CPUs and motion processors as well as, I think, a 13MP rear camera with some new software tricks.
There may be one newish bit of phone hardware, though. Milanesi told me she thinks it might be time for Apple to do something more with the iPhone 5C, which was basically an iPhone 5 with a plastic case. “Can they be more price-aggressive on the 5C and open up a bit more on the opportunity in emerging market?” she asked, thinking, specifically about India, which will be “a big focus” for Apple next year.
It’s been almost six months since Apple bought the headphone giant and streaming music upstart Beats, but despite all the new hardware and initiatives like Apple Pay, no one seems to know what Apple’s doing with the company, which was founded by rapper and music mogul Dr. Dre and music impresario Jimmy Iovine.
All will be revealed in 2015.
It now seems likely that Apple and its CEO Tim Cook will do the once unthinkable (by Apple standards) and embrace streaming music. One scenario has them jamming it inside iOS 9. Forrester’s McQuivey thinks that makes sense: “We’ve been tracking music sales, and sales for individual tracks are plummeting. The rise of Spotify has made it clear people want subscription music. Apple may not have bought Beats for that, but it might as well integrate it.”
Milanesi worries, though, about how Apple will introduce Beats to existing customers. “I hope they learn from the Maps [fiasco] that they cannot shove something down the throat of their users.”
Why, though, has Apple waited until 2015 to do something with Beats? McQuivey wonders if the integration is more difficult than expected. I wonder if Apple is waiting for new hardware.
Beats is much more than just a music service; it made its name in the headset business. Why wouldn’t Apple want to introduce a set of Apple Beats headphones to go along with the newly integrated service? In fact, the rise of Apple Beats music hardware could spell the beginning of the end for the iPod, a set of products that sell fewer units every quarter.
Bajarin thinks the easiest and most obvious play for Beats is iTunes integration, but did agree that Apple has a perception problem when it comes to audio hardware. Take their ear buds for example. Beats has a recognized brand with a wide range of headset styles. Imagine, he said, “every iPhone coming out next year could have the Beats logo headset.”
Apple might even go a step further and integrate Siri into a standalone set of Apple Beats hardware. Your headset could be “speaking to you, answering your questions in a way that almost makes Google Glass seem so last decade,” said McQuivey.
Amazon probably surprised even Apple when it introduced its Echo personal assistant hardware in November. Sure, the company loves to deliver products that watch your habits and help you decide what else to buy, but an amorphous piece of hardware seemed like new territory for Amazon.
Wasn’t it supposed to be Apple tying together all our disparate smart home technology? Certainly that’s what the HomeKit platform is all about. But like Beats and IBM, 2014 was more about messaging and planting the seeds.
In 2015 Apple’s plans for your home will bear fruit.
The analysts I spoke to were split on whether or not Apple would introduce HomeKit hardware. Milanesi suggested Apple TV could become the hub, but Bajarin reminded me of a rather significant roadblock.
“At moment, Apple has not opened up the connectivity beyond Bluetooth LE. For this to work, they have to support NFC and other wireless protocols to work with home locks, home thermostats, etc.,” said Bajarin.
It seems as if Apple will, as it did with Health, introduce a “Home” app that comes pre-loaded with iOS 9. It will, perhaps, connect up disparate smart home products through Wi-Fi and via other communication platforms, if, of course, Apple opens them up in its own hardware. I’m not sure how far it will get.
Google, which has a significant head start with both Nest and Dropcam, may never open up to HomeKit, which means Apple Home’s view of these smart devices could be an IP addresses on the network and not much more.
Milanesi told me she thinks Apple will also further integrate iOS in the car with HomeKit, so home automation can continue while driving. Imagine, in 2015 you could be connected to Apple at work, on the road and at home.
Apple should take the next big step in health and HealthKit next year, delivering on some of the promise it offered at WWDC in 2014.
Phase two will come when Apple Watch arrives in the spring. Apple’s first wearable is a powerful fitness tracker that will be tired directly to the Health app in iOS 8.
Bajarin, though, thinks this is just the beginning.
Right now, we have the Health App, which is tracking steps and flights climbed, but we know Apple’s vision for digital health management is far grander. The company has already launched partnerships with major healthcare providers, such as the Mayo Clinic, though we have yet to see the necessary monitoring hardware and actual HealthKit integration. A lot of that should arrive and go online in 2015.
“Apple, I believe, will eventually become one of the most important companies in healthcare,”
“Apple, I believe, will eventually become one of the most important companies in healthcare,” said Bajarin, who thinks the company’s desire to help people track and manage their health digitally goes all the way back to the late Steve Jobs. “Apple’s role in health is Steve’s last great gift to mankind. I believe, it all came out of his illness. There has to be a better way to monitor one’s health and automate the interaction with the healthcare system.”
For McQuivey, Apple’s health and wearable push is potentially part of a larger strategy: “I think Apple needs to make a play for the body, for your personal space, your personal relationship with Siri, your personal sense of who you are. Because from that base, they could then figure out how to get to your digital home and workspace. Once Apple instruments your whole body, it’s easier to access the other parts of your life.”
- Don’t expect Apple to dive into the content game any time soon. It’ll be happy to let Amazon pour money into a business with, according to McQuivey, “terrible margins.”
- Apple TV will not be a thing. The company will significantly upgrade its Apple TV set-top box, but will not introduce and entire TV set.
- OSX will get an update that will push it even closer to iOS, but it won’t be as significant as Mountain Lion or even Yosemite.
- Apple Watch will arrive and prove to be Apple’s biggest test. Wearables is a tough, tough category, and this device will likely be either one of Apple’s biggest hits or a G4 Cube-caliber flop.
- Apple Pay will win the day, and more and more retailers will give in and enable NFC.
- Apple will also open NFC to third-party companies for integration and communication with smart home devices and wireless chargers.
- Apple’s new campus construction, which is taking shape in Cupertino, should cruise past the halfway point, but don’t expect the spaceship campus to open its doors until 2016.
- Apple might shift its retail approach in 2015, especially if Angela Ahrendts finally starts to put her imprint on Apple retail, online and off.