Rethinking Apple - A wild guess into the future 2 years from now

Two years from now, Apple will be a very different company from what it is today. With its flagship mobile devices like the iPhone and the iPad (and, for history's sake, the iPod), Apple has, in the last few years, put aside its traditional creative/media customer base and moved towards the much broader mass market. As of today, Apple makes billions every quarter out of selling many millions of i-devices to consumers.

However, looking at Apple's overall product lineup, it becomes obvious that it leaves much to be desired in terms of trough-the-range consistency. The iPad and iPhone product lines are interating on a yearly basis and have always been advertised as a single product, with older models being relegated to the discount domain, whereas the Mac Pro has seen virtually no change for more than 2 years.

The scope of this post is to fool around and guess what Apple we be like in the year 2014. We'll be taking a look at an imaginary future iteration of an Apple product, and a new, unified OS that could be the key to unite the Macintosh with the i-devices.

Rethinking Apple

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So here's the deal: in Apple's world, there are two primary business goals. While Apple often reminds us of the first, ideally suited for marketing purposes, it also has a second, equally important, but much less exciting.

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In order to accomodate both of these goals, Apple has chosen to focus on

  • exclusive product design
  • functional convenience (often at the expense of complexity)
  • a closed, but orverall consistent, services ecosystem
  • high prices
  • chinese manufacturing
  • the sum of (nearly) all these aspects: elite appeal

While the i-devices seem perfectly on track and sales figures are rising year over year, the desktop segment has seen a near 20% decline in income in the past 12 months. Interesting to note: in absolute numbers, desktop sales have declined by just 13%, which can only mean that the margins must have dropped dramatically in that timeframe. Think about it again: in the desktop market, Apple hast lost 20% income by selling 13% less units!

Apple Inc. has two solutions when it's being confonted with decreasing sales and/or melting margins:

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The Mac Pro is definitely a candidate for the first option. Its formfactor is totally out of Apple's current computing philosophy. By deliberately neglecting most of its own pro applications (or by "consumerizing" others, like FCP), Apple sent the clear message that it is not going to provide the pro users with a consistent range of high-performance machines capable of running their most demanding applications. Also, the ridiculous price of the current, horribly obsolete, Mac Pro generation speaks for itself.

Remember the XServe? Like it or not, the Mac Pro will be discontinued.

Another business decision based on this behaviour could be witnessed with the killing of the MacBook. Because the Air was cheaper to produce than the MacBook (less materials, lower-spec CPU, cheap NAND for Apple, no optical, less I/O), Apple simply wiped away the very successful product last year in July and promoted the Air as its replacement. This had worked very well. Today, nobody talks of the MacBook anymore.

Going back to the desktop lineup, that leaves us with the iMac and Mac mini. I would like to concentrate on the iMac a little and try to figure out how Apple is going to keep this one in the desktop market and at the same time increase its margin.

The iMac has seen many, many iterations in its long lifespan and can be considered as the only desktop device that's not going away anytime soon, but is the most likely one to be dramatically altered.

So here it is, the future new iMac (and, by the way, please excuse the horrible drawings)

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Yes, it's gonna be an ARM iMac. It's a natural choice! In a few years time, ARM cores, if they prove themselves in scaling, are going to meet all the requirements for decent desktop computing. Apple has already designed its own ARM CPU, the A6, and that's just the first of many more coming in the future. Without having to hand out huge amounts of cash to intel, Apple can harvest a greater margin on the product, leaving some breathing air for what should be the new iMac's key assets:

  • Touch interface, classic keyboard/mouse input, and possibly added later: gesture (Kinect-style) and voice control (Siri)
  • Top-end model: 4K display ("Retina on the desktop")
  • Slim, unique, Gruber-approved design
  • 24-inch iPad-like unit with a thin bezel that's only about 25mm deep. The computing hardware easily fits into this form factor and leaves much empty space for additional storage (think about 7mm HDD and SSD).
  • Silent, fanless design through low TDP and perhaps a DC power supply

Of course, there are some important issues that need to be addressed. So let's switch over to a future, fictional Q&A session with Tim Cook and Phil Schiller and find out how they managed it...in the future:

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Q: The new iMac, first shown at WWDC '14, is a complete departure from Apple's current desktop philosphy. You've integrated your own, custom A8+ ARM CPU instead of opting for a traditional x86 CPU from Intel. How did Intel react?

Cook: Well, first of all, I would like to say that we have a really strong commitment to our partnership with Intel. We recently shipped our new MacBook Airs with the latest Rockwell CPUs and they are doing tremendously well.

Since we now live in the post-PC era, we decided to reinvent the iMac. And we worked really hard on it. And in the end, we came up with the most powerful tool for your creative work at home. For the first time, you can really work both on-screen and with your keyboard and mouse. It's amazing. I use it all the time.

Q: One thing that is missing from the new iMac is Thunderbolt connectivity. Is Apple dropping support for Thunderbolt in future products as well?

Schiller: As you know, we had partnered with Intel to create the world's best peripherial connector. We would have loved to integrate it in the new iMac, but because it's tied to several Intel key technologies, we just couldn't. But we have full USB 3.0 support built-in.

Q: Along with the iMac, you presented a sneak preview of Apple's upcoming OS, the AppleOS. You also mentioned that it will be featured on future iPads and iPhones. Does that imply ALL iPad sizes, like 10" and 7"?

Cook: We came to realise that the 10" iPad was, as a device, closer to the new iMac than to the 7" model, which we consider being in the same device family like the iPhone. Therefore, there will be a distinct UI for the iPhone and the iPad 7" and antoher for the bigger model and the iMac.

Q: Wouldn't that create some confusion among customers?

Cook: We believe in giving the customer the best user experience for every device. We did a lot of research on this, and we came to the conclusion that displays under 8,3" need to have a custom-fit interface. As a matter of fact, the traditional iOS user experience was perfect for the iPhone, but left much of the iPad's pontential unused. Now we are changing this. From now on, your iPad will become a fully featured computing powerhouse. I think our customers will adapt to it very quickly. And they will be amazed.

Schiller: We listen carefully to our customers, and many of them expressed the wish of having a different, better suited user experience on their iPads. We made an enormous effort to make this happen, and soon our customers will be able to run all of their applications on both their new iMac and their iPad. We believe that this is the kind of convenience people expect from Apple.

Q: Speaking of applications: how will you convince developers to join you?

Schiller: Actually, that turned out to be no problem at all. People are developing for iOS apps for many years now. They are familiar with it. Our SDK is the best in the world. Xcode 6 beta, which unifies development for AppleOS on all devices, has already been downloaded 6 million times!

Q: When will AppleOS be ready?

Schiller: We are currently planning for a spring '15 release.

Q: Will Apple's laptop range be migrating anytime soon to ARM?

Cook: Of course, we can't tell you about future products, but we believe 2015 will be a huge year for Apple and our customers.

THE END

WAIT A MINUTE...WTF IS AppleOS???

It's Apple's new OS I entierly made up. I was thinking a lot recently about how incredibly clumsy iOS looks on the iPad and why it has to waste so much useful screen real estate. The spacing between the app icons, especially in landscape mode, literally makes me angry. It's such a waste! It might be ok for the spatial constraints of the iPhone, but on the iPad, it just looks silly. The OS X interface, on the other hand, isn't quite suitable for the iPad either. the Finder would be minuscule and hard to use. So I made up my own UI:

APPLE OS

I'not a fan of cluttered home screens, and I believe it's not convenient either. I think the home screen must be the point where you can get everywhere as fast as possible, not swipe through endless screens until you find the app or file you need.

So this is what the first screen should look like. Totally blank with only the background picture and the standard menu bar on top, featuring date/time/battery status/network status/quick wifi access/turn-off/logout

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With a simple from the left (or right, whatever you customise) you get your dock with your personal selection of apps, like in good old OS X. Of course you can also put app folders in the dock. Stuff all your apps in folders on just one screen! Boom!

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What I've shown above in the last two pictures is definitely inspired from ubuntu's Unity Desktop. I realise that. But now comes the smart screen, which could well be the only screen you will ever need.

After a swipe from the bottom, several columns appear that show you the lastest files you recently used, categorised into different file types. There should be a Spotlight search area and an instant preview that leads you directly into the document/track/picture/whatever. With retina resolution, you can have very long lists of recent documents, lots of images, in short a whole bunch of information at a glance.

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So, except for some custom screens like System Prefs, you basically work from within this one and only home screen, which, of course, is full-res.

The goal of this redesign is to make a compromise between those people who want to quickly access their apps and those who have to dig into large amounts of documents. I believe this UI design achieves both goals. And, being hidden from the start screen, they don't get in the way in case you don't want to use them.

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So that was basically my silly trip into the future. I hope you enjoyed it, I might also add that I have absolutely no knowledge of any secret Apple information. All content here was purely fictional and/or highly speculative.

I also have no clue how to design a better iPhone UI, I just know that the current one is terrible. Maybe you could come up with something nice.