Where Next for Apple?

I’m often asked where Apple is going with respect to its devices and services.  A key to understanding Apple is in general they do not lead on new concepts; rather they copy, but copy much, much better.For example, they were not first to market with MP3 players, but when they did enter that market they gave a complete integrated experience for the customer from content (iTunes) through to a limited range of easy to use devices.  Similarly with the iPhone, they were not first, smartphones had been around for years, yet they delivered an easy to use device that re-used the iTunes ecosystem and built up an additional application ecosystem to deliver long-tail value (App Store). 

The iPhone experience is so easy my one year old son can ‘use’ some of the apps on his iPod Touch.  Actually it’s my wife’s iPod that she doesn’t use anymore since he slobbered all over it and the volume button started playing up.  Watching him use the apps has also shown me where all the ad-impressions come from, when that happens (usually every 2 minutes) he brings the phone to me so I can take it back to the app he was using.  Tablets appeared many years before the iPad and did not reached mainstream, rather remained focused on enterprise niches.  Apple took advantage of the momentum in its iPhone ecosystem (content (iTunes) and applications (App Store)), and delivered the iPad that makes using the internet so simple that again a one year old can use it.

So with this understanding that it’s not about being ‘first to market,’ rather being ‘right to market,’most of what Apple is going to do in the future has already been done, just Apple is going to do it in a way that makes it mainstream within its fanatical user base.  As has been reported widely, churn amongst iPhone users is low, many iPhone users are buying iPads, and I’m seeing an increasing number of friends converting from the PC World to the Cult of Apple for their laptops.  The brand has an extremely loyal following; I use the term Cult because of its strength.

So a few thoughts based on only my own conjectures, as I wouldn’t want any of the people at the ‘Apple Temple’ in the Bay Area to be sent to the dungeons for cruel and unusual punishment:

  • The Contacts app on the iPhone is quite old-school, no presence nor status information.  A social address book where you can see if a friend is available for a FaceTime call, or see their Skype presence, or see their Facebook status is not new; but it would be a natural extension to Contacts or the Recent Call List.  Contacts could also link to Ping, their struggling music-focused social network.  Ping makes more sense as part of a broader Apple network (that is all those devices connected over the internet) rather than constrained to iTunes.
  • Facetime could interop with Skype, add in conferencing, and be higher quality thanks to the HD cameras and the fat pipe provided by WiFi to WiFi over broadband.
  • GameCenter and iBook are both embryonic apps which gain significantly from the inclusion of social communications; that is using Ping as a back-end social communications component.
  • MobileMe lacks a freemium approach, an on-ramp to broader adoption across the iPhone / iPad centric user base.  With customers’ data in the cloud it makes sharing much easier, as well as many cute services such as auto-organizing and tagging of photos and videos.
  • Better integration between AppleTV and the iPhone / iPad; using the iPhone or iPad with the TV creates yet another ‘magical, transformative experience’ to paraphrase the cult-leader.  See my previous weblog article on “Myths, Misunderstandings and BS” for a few hints on what the user interface could include.  Also for AppleTV we will likely see them add in the capabilities of Boxee, enabling more internet content to be available on the TV.
  • Social Safari, that is see what friends and other Apple Cultists are rating, just like FaceBook is doing.
  • iPhone / iPad wiki, there’s just so much stuff you can do with these devices, there is online help, and some apps that supposedly provide insider information, but an on-device wiki would be really helpful.
  • Enterprise momentum is building, and Apple is much more focused on enterprise developer support than in the past.  Through enterprise employee groundswell we’re seeing IT department move from their Microsoft-only positions, and Apple is finally putting in place the infrastructure to support them.
  • iPad will get a number of needed improvements in 2011, including front and back cameras for FaceTime, better audio and peripheral interfaces, greater memory flexibility.  iPad fits a usage  category of ‘commenter not content creator,’ which when you think about it is most laptop users.
  • And finally for this list, greater overall integration, rewarding the Cultists that buy all Apple.  In the limit Apple makes the bulk of their money on devices not services, and the focus will remain on devices, just wait for the iPad sales numbers through the holiday period, and then the next bump with the new magical and transformative 2011 iPad.  The services create value for customers, but for Apple the money is in the devices.