We are halfway through the month of January, so the time for 2018 predictions and resolutions is at an end. This is a grab bag of items I’ve been thinking about that aren’t as critical as what I’ve already covered, but could still be in play over the course of the year.
Blocking out the Noise
One rumor that has made the rounds already is that Apple will be releasing a small update to the AirPods this year. We already know that they will be making a new case for the AirPods available that works with the coming AirPower Charging Pad. That coupled with the fact that the AirPods will turn two this year make 2018 seem like a reasonable time for a small spec bump to go with that new wireless charging case.
While the reviews customer satisfaction ratings of the AirPods have been overwhelmingly positive, one commonly requested additional feature since day one has been active noise cancellation. It certainly won’t be easy to squeeze any more features into such a small form factor, but this one makes perfect sense to take the sound quality to the next level. This is an area where Apple’s expertise in chip design is key, as that would be the most likely way to implement such a feature without extra components. If we do see an update to the AirPods, expect noise cancellation to be a headlining new feature.
Wearing it Out
Apple has been hovering between first, second, and third places in worldwide wearables market share over the last year, along with Fitbit and Xiaomi. What is notable about this is the fact that Apple’s Watches and AirPods are far more expensive than the biggest selling fitness bands and accessories of the competition. This means that Apple isn’t just in the top three in share, but definitely in first place in profits, as well.
While we all knew that the Apple Watch was coming for at least a year before it was announced, the AirPods were a little sneakier. They showed up in iPhone rumors before the release of the 7 and 7 Plus, but they were a footnote related to the removal of the headphone jack. It wasn’t until the AirPods were announced that we discovered that they were an ambitious new product in their own right.
So what’s next? Apple has made a massive splash in the wearables market, but I can’t help but think that they have broader ambitions than just two pieces of hardware. Whether we see one or more Health-related accessories for the Watch that extend its capabilities, or a new stand-alone product, expect Apple to expand its wearable offerings in 2018.
Killing Sacred Cows
Apple is often accused of no longer being able to innovate by fans of other platforms, the tech press, and even some of the company’s own disgruntled users. While I don’t think the truth is that cut and dried, there is definitely some factual basis there. Any company with successful mature platforms is going to face challenges in overcoming inertia to push them forward.
However, while Apple moved very, VERY slowly to improve and expand iOS during its first six years, the last four have seen the pace pick up and Apple add features like true multi-tasking and app extensibility that many of us wondered would ever make their way to the iPhone and iPad.
Since iOS 7, Apple has stripped away bits and pieces of the original iOS, such as the original App Switcher to skeuomorphism, and revamped other features like Spotlight Search and Notification Center. However, in 2017 Apple went further and killed off one of the biggest scared cows of iOS- the Home Button. With the release of the iPhone X, they replaced the central navigation feature of iOS with a new system of gestures to move around the interface.
This wasn’t the only big change Apple brought to iOS 11 in 2017, either. I would say that the changes to the iPad had as much, if not more impact than the removal of the Home Button. Apple adding a macOS-like Dock, a Files app, and the ability to drag and drop content between apps all helped to finally make the iPad Pro feel more Pro. These new features and the removal of the iPhone X’s Home Button show that Apple still has it in them to take a few calculates risks and make important changes that can push their platforms forward.
There is one major iOS sacred cow remaining, and I wonder if 2018 is the year when Apple will finally make some kind of change to it. The iOS Springboard and its static app homescreens are the last untouched frontiers remaining from the original iPhone OS. While Apple has augmented it with features like folders for organization and 3D Touch for extended app functionality on the iPhone, the primary form and function remain unchanged. It may be time for Apple to finally re-imagine the core of the iOS experience.
That said, messing with something that is such a big part of the identity of iOS is a delicate matter. How can Apple surface more app functionality from the home screen while maintaining the simplicity and ease of use that many Apple fans prefer? That familiar screen of icons is a reason why some users chose iOS in the first place. Because of that, I don’t envy anyone working on this project, because it is a very high profile, high stakes challenge. But Apple showed that they are willing to tackle similar challenges with success last year, so it seems to me that 2018 is a good time for them to take a shot a moving iOS forward even more.
That’s it for early 2018 predictions. However, it won’t be too long before we get to Apple’s first hardware releases of the year (hopefully the HomePod) and the predictions that come along with the rumor mill. Before you know it, June will be here and WWDC will be around the corner. But until then, here’s hoping that 2018 is another big year for Apple users and fans, and that Apple delivers on some of these predictions and resolutions.