This Week in Tablets: What will it take for Apple to recapture its magic?

April 20, 2013

It’s that time of year again. What is Apple going to announce at its rumored June 18 event?

Even without the rumors, a thinner, lighter iPad 5 feels like a foregone conclusion. The iPad Mini’s thin bezels are so attractive, they’re a no-brainer for subsequent 10-inch versions of the iPad. But will that be the only upgrade?

And will we see a new iPhone? A new iPad Mini? And what about the iWatch? Or Apple TV?

In short order, the answers are yes, no, yes, no, kind of.

Apple probably won’t change much on the hardware front above and beyond the sleek and light improvements to the iPad. In theory, I could see a new CPU in the works—possibly even with a new fabrication partner in Intel—but not so soon given the rumors swirling around.

I’d be absolutely shocked if Apple announced a new iPhone of any kind this summer. With iPhone 5 sales just beginning to pick up, we can expect the company to maintain its cadence and wait until the fall to make a new iPhone announcement.

A Retina Display iPad Mini does feel like a natural progression. Given the popularity of the iPad Mini, I can see Apple keeping the older Mini around at even lower price, and releasing an ultra HD iPad Mini at the high end. At the smaller tablet form-factor, It makes sense to offer both levels of product.

(By the way, the news that Microsoft has pretty much acknowledged that it will be releasing smaller-sized tablets later this year is potentially awful. If Apple releases a Retina Display 7-inch device and cuts prices on the original iPad Mini, Windows-based tablets will once again be in a unfavorably competitive spot.)

As for the iWatch: I love the idea (and apparently a lot of other people do), but it feels premature. And, because this hypothetical product is more of a tie-in to a phone than a tablet, I bet we won’t see it until we hear about the iPhone 6, or whatever it’s called.

Apple TV = major changes in store

Apple TV is the most intriguing of all of Apple’s possible announcements. My bet is that we do see a new Apple TV in June, but I’m talking about the set-top box, not a flat-panel screen.

This said, I bet on significant hardware revisions to the $99 Apple TV, as well as significant content and programming partnerships when Apple announces its Apple TV update. By significant, I mean the inclusion of Valve’s Steam gaming service, and the hardware to enable at least the most basic games this service offers.

(I’m also going to go out on a limb and bet that Apple uses its ample cash reserves for the exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket at the end of the 2014-2015 NFL season. The timing will be perfect for the company, and nothing—literally nothing—will drive Apple TV purchases like the ability to watch every NFL game every Sunday of the season.)

With the exception of the iPhone and iPad, all of the above products and product improvements are wildcards. Each is quite capable of changing Apple’s fortune, both favorably and not-so-favorably.

Unfortunately for Apple, the company’s stock price, reputation, and future market capitalization will depend increasingly on wildcard products and not the steady reliability that the iPad and iPhone are now responsible for.

If you find yourself skeptical at the possibility for Apple to consistently deliver more-than-incremental device and OS releases every single year, you’re squarely in the middle of the pack. The notion that Apple will always out-innovate the competition has faded.

You need look no further than Apple’s free-fallng stock, which dropped to below 400 for the first time since December 2011.

iOS to save the day?

It’s easy to forget that Apple does still have the ability to aggressively innovate in its mainstay devices in a non-hardware manner.

It’s highly likely that the core of any new summer iPad announcement will include a look at iOS 7, or a highly evolved and enhanced version of iOS 6.x. By June 18, it will have been a year since Apple previewed iOS 6.

Even if Apple designer Jonathan Ive is managing the iOS 7 build, the question remains: What kind of energy can Apple possibly bring to one of the most refined operating systems on the planet?

Improved Siri, improved maps, and multi-computer syncing for iPhone/iPad would sit at the top of my list, that’s for sure. Email remains fairly functional, but hasn’t changed a whole lot, so we might expect to see something new here.

A new aesthetic design might be the kind of flash users (and investors) like. And the influence of Android and, to a smaller degree, Windows 8, has been pervasive enough that I’m beginning to wonder if Apple won’t begin to experiment with some kind of “live” tile on its home screens that provide users with some kind of dynamic data, be it weather forecasts, social networking, or calendaring.

And don't forget–Apple TV also runs a variant of iOS.

This week’s winner: Healthcare

I know! Calling healthcare a winner in any capacity in the United States is like calling Donald Trump a moral compass. But the news that a growing number of (as in 72% of all) physicians are using tablets, and that these physicians are even “prescribing” apps to their patients, is a winner, pure and simple.

And on top of this, physicians and nurses are finding Swiftkey’s Healthcare product quite useful, to the point where a recent trial by Bayada Home Health Care found the product was saving healthcare professionals up to 30 minutes per day.

Swiftkey Healthcare is an interpretive Android keyboard layer that understands specific technical words and phrases used by medical professional.

Going back to the top, the notion of keyboard auto-correct packages that are context- or job-specific is probably something Apple should be thinking about for new versions of iOS.

This week’s loser: Google’s Nexus 10

Simply put, no one is buying it. If mobile analyst Benedict Evans’ number-crunching is accurate, it appears that even Microsoft’s Surface RT beat out the $399 Android 4.2 Nexus 10 this past Q4. 


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