As already discussed, 2019 looks like an interesting, but not necessarily groundbreaking year for Apple in hardware. Fear not, as software and services are poised for a big, possibly even breakout, year.
Big changes coming to iOS?
2018 was supposed to be a big year for iOS, but there was a major detour well before the big WWDC Keynote. Craig Federighi and company decided to scale iOS 12 back and make it more about polish and stability than new features. In hindsight, this turned out to be a good decision for Apple, as iOS 12 sped up older devices and did smooth out a lot of rough edges.
Unfortunately, there were two huge changes that are rumored to have ended up on the cutting room floor. First of all, there were more productivity enhancements specifically for the iPad. Apple started down this road the previous year with iOS 11, but still stopped a bit short of truly setting the iPad free. Remember all of the comments about the new iPad Pros and how the software hasn’t caught up to the hardware. It would be interesting to know what the plan was for the iPad in iOS 12 before things got changed around. The good news is, this should be one of the tentpole features of the coming iOS 13.
Second, we have something that could potentially be the biggest change to iOS since the App Store- a new Springboard. When you think about it, that is one of the last vestiges of the original iPhone. The device screens are bigger across the board. The Home Button is gone. Swipe to Unlock faded and morphed into TouchID and now Face ID. But through it all, despite a few tweaks and added features, Springboard has endured with the same basic look and feel. Because of this, it is part off the identity and brand recognition of iOS. That is why a long-overdue major overhaul is such a big deal.
The Giannandrea Effect
iOS isn’t the only Apple software that should get some attention in 2019. While Siri and Apple’s various AI and machine learning initiatives may run in the cloud, they are still software and they are vitally important to Apple’s continued success.
I was sure that 2018 was going to be the year that Siri took a noticeable step forward. I thought there was no way that Apple would release the HomePod unless that were the case. Well…it didn’t, but they still did. Now, we did get Siri Shortcuts later in the year at WWDC, and this was definitely a step in the right direction for Apple. However, the Siri voice assistant that we all know and maybe sometimes love is still as flaky as ever. It will never become a core feature until this improves.
So what’s different now? Apple hired John Giannandrea away from Google last April, which was a huge coup for them at the time. This was the man who’s team reshaped the way Google search worked and how they used AI and machine learning to supercharge their services. One thing to note about that- those changes started happening soon after Google Brain took shape. Consider that Mr Giannandrea has already been elevated to the executive team at Apple, and you can see that him and his work are obviously high priorities within the company.
The bottom line- this guy is a rock star and that’s why Apple went all out to get him on board. Look for him and his team to start shaking things with Siri, AI and machine learning up this year. I am betting we will hear a lot about it at WWDC.
May I be of Service?
Apple has made it clear that they are all about services now, and we just saw some proof of this new focus with some surprising moves and partnerships at CES. But this is just the tip of the iceburg for 2019, and Tim Cook wasn’t afraid to tease that during his recent interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer. He flat-out said that more services were coming this year, and we likely already know what they are.
Apple’s coming video streaming service is the worst-kept secret in the world. Everyone knows it’s coming, as some of the content deals have made a splash in both the tech and mainstream media. In the wake of Apple’s initial efforts with Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke, expectations for this venture were very low. However, the talent and show lineup that Apple has signed up alone has changed that perception. Apple has also done a nice job steadily improving the once laughed at TV app, likely in preparation for this launch. So, we all know this is coming. It’s just a matter of when, and I can’t imagine that when isn’t sometime in 2019.
That likely isn’t all for new Apple services in 2019. It is also no secret that Apple will be doing something with their Texture magazine subscription service, which they purchased in 2018. More than likely, this will be some kind of integration with Apple News, which could make for a really powerful combo. While the video streaming service may get its own event, I expect to see this new service on stage at WWDC.
My hope for 2019- a broad Apple subscription service encompassing all of their various services offerings. This has been proposed in various forms by many tech writers, including myself and would likely include iCloud, Apple Music, Apple’s new video service and Apple’s new Texture/News product. If the price is right, this could become very popular with Apple fans and help them take their services to the next level.
I’ve also been begging for an Apple hardware subscription service, similar to the iPhone Upgrade Program, but that includes the option for multiple other devices, such as the iPad, iPad Pro and Apple Watch. However, I’m not holding my breath for this happening in 2019.
Hail Mary Time
I think all of the above proposals are either definitely happening in 2019, or at least stand a good chance. These are the longshots. Maybe we hear about them, maybe Apple comes out of left field and surprises us with one of them, or maybe nothing comes of any of them.
There have been multiple reports of Apple working on MicroLED screen technology over the last 2-3 years. As with OLED, it is likely that Apple will use the new screen tech on the Apple Watch first. Now it’s just a matter of when. It is highly unlikely that MicroLED comes out on the Apple Watch this year (this article gives some reasons for the delays in getting it to the small screen). However, I have a feeling that we will start to hear about this technology and how Apple is moving forward with it later in 2019.
It’s all part of the process
Apple has quickly become one of the most accomplished silicon development companies on the planet. While the silicon itself is hardware, it’s the software and the design behind it that really sets what Apple’s doing apart.
The reputation of the A-Series SOC is impeccable, and for good reason. Every new model in the series has been exponentially more powerful, and their other chips, like the W1 wireless chip developed for the AirPods have also provided great features and user experience. So what’s next?
The big one that everyone is looking for from Apple down the road is a cellular modem. Them developing their own 5G modem would be the perfect way to stick it to Qualcomm. However, it is unlikely that Apple will use 5G so soon, and I can’t imagine they will waste time developing an LTE modem with 5G rolling out as we speak. We are probably looking at 2020 before an Apple 5G cellular modem appears.
That said, there are other chips for Apple to improve and develop. I expect them to be more iterative this year, with updates to the W wireless chip and their on-board machine learning chip.
The real pie-in-the-sky future products for Apple are their rumored AR Glasses and Car. Let’s just get this out of the way- neither of these is coming this year. However, news of them should. There were more stories about Apple testing vehicles and working on software for self-driving cars.
The AR glasses stories were sporadic last year beyond acquisitions and patents. I definitely expect this to change this year. Once prototyping leaves the confines of Apple Park, stories and rumors will start to circulate. Hopefully we get some real, substantive info over the course of this year.
2019 will be an interesting year for Apple, and likely more interesting for software, design and services than hardware. The chance of a new Springboard and new iPad features in iOS 13 that take advantage of the iPad Pro’s awesome hardware is enough to get me excited. The Services look very promising, as well. The rest is gravy, but would definitely be a tasty gravy.