The Official 2014 KFury Apple Predictions Post
September is my favorite time of year. It’s my wedding anniversary, Summer gives way to Fall, and Apple releases its magic.
As much hype as usually precedes an Apple Event, this year is special. This may quite simply be the most-hyped Apple Event since the announcement of the iPhone in January 2007, and just as notable is the fact that the excitement isn’t exclusively around a single product.
iPhone 6, iWatch, iOS 8, HealthKit, HomeKit, the promise of an iPhone payment platform, and perennial hopes about the evolution of the AppleTV. Rumors have been bouncing around the echo chamber ranging from well-sourced leaks to wistful speculation, and the only certainty is that much will be revealed Tuesday in what will likely be the most-watched company presentation of the decade so far.
After writing Apple prediction posts for the past 15 years (no, seriously, I predicted the iPad in 2001) I’ve learned that the most accurate predictions are rarely the ones that get the most link-love, but I’m drawn to the task like a moth to the flame, so here goes:
The hardware design of the 4.7" iPhone has been well documented and I have no reason to believe it’s anything other than spot on. The 5.5" model has been less well-documented, but there are enough telltales in enough places (hardware leaks, hints in XCode config files) that it’s pretty certain as well. There’s been some speculation that the 4.7" is ready to roll, but the 5.5" won’t come out for another month or two, and as much as I’d like to believe that they’ll be ready for simultaneous launch, it’s highly likely that if schedules got close they’d focus on getting the factory lines perfect on one and push back the other rather than risk quality or pushing back both phones a month or more. So, iPhone 6 goes on sale on Friday, September 19th, and iPhone 6 air goes on sale in ‘mid-November’. Both will use Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3, but don’t expect the term to be uttered during the keynote, as this will be the last premium phone to ship without a sapphire screen. Both screens will have another row of icons on the home screen (rather than simply stretching the current screen).
Style-wise, Apple is trying to make its phones more hand-friendly, and I suspect they’re tired of having their iconic industrial design covered up in cheap plastic cases. The metal halo of the iPhones 4 and 5 made them slipperier, and the beautiful chamfered edges did nothing to help. The new rounded edge, most reminiscent of the original iPhone and iPhone 3g but much thinner) and a more tactile backplate will encourage more people to ‘go nude’ with their phones.
Last year’s introduction of the iPhone 5c felt like a move beyond Apple’s traditional playbook. The standard iPhone update cycle has been to significantly revise the phone enclosure every second year, and continue offering the previous year’s model as the ‘low cost’ model. In the off years, minor changes would be made to the phone’s exterior in favor of internal changes like a faster processor, a better camera and, using last year as an example, Touch ID. The addition of the iPhone 5c in a ‘down year’ may have been seen as a necessary aberration to cater to a larger audience who wants a more fashionable phone without the stigma of outdated technology.
So how does this change the iPhone product development cycle? My guess is that we’ll see an update to the iPhone 5c (called the iPhone 5cs?) incorporating the processor, camera, and Touch ID present in the iPhone 5s. (It will also support NFC, but more on that later.) Going forward, we can expect to see a ‘color’ redesign every other year staggered from the ‘standard’ redesign, meaning an iPhone 6c with a new body rolling out in Fall 2015 alongside the inevitable iPhone 6s.
Will there be an iWatch unveiling this week? Definitely. It’s possible to ignore the circumstantial evidence surrounding the magnitude of the event, the choice to hold the Event at the Flint Center, a larger venue which Apple has historically only used for launches that are major even by Apple’s standards. The original Macintosh was unveiled there, as was the iMac, and the joint unveiling of the move from the 860x0 processors to the PowerPC-based PowerMacs and the Apple Online Store. It can hold three times as many people as the Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center (5 times more than the Town Hall theater on Apple’s campus), and is the largest stage other than the old Macworld Expo keynotes at Moscone Center. The huge white ‘expo pavilion’ erected in secret just outside the auditorium is another indication of the magnitude of the event. (I would guess it’s essentially an Apple Store decked out to promote these products in the same fashion that they’ll be shown to the public in other Apple Stores soon enough.)
In the last week, Sony, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and ASUS have all either unveiled or begun shipping new models of smartwatch. The timing of these announcements is clearly with the desire to get out there prior to Apple’s entry in the same way that dozens of tablets were hurriedly introduced at CES in the weeks before Apple’s iPad unveiling. It’s also worth noting that Samsung rushed their first Gear smartwatch to market last September in fears that Apple was about to unveil their entry in the market. When it was clear they had more time they quickly pulled the watch and reinvented it (three times in the last 12 months).
Still, none of this specifically points to an iWatch announcement. There are several new initiatives (HomeKit, HealthKit, and the possible Payments platform) that would make great use of a large demo area after the presentation.
Over the weekend however, it was noted that several fashion bloggers were invited to the event, and while a new iPhone design often gets attention (both good and bad) from a style perspective, Apple would be unlikely to invite criticism in an area where it didn’t feel that it had a very strong upper hand. A new phone and a revised collection of Beats headphones wouldn’t justify a blogger footing the bill for a round-trip from Manhattan, and a cadre of pissed off fashion bloggers is the last thing Apple wants.
What will the iWatch entail? I’ll refer to my iWatch prediction post from January 2013, as I think most of it is still spot on. (Note also that this was written over a year before Android Wear was announced.)
Addendums would be sapphire glass screen protection as a certainty, a greater emphasis on biometrics for HealthKit, and the incorporation of WiFi to make the watch more functional as a standalone device when the phone isn’t present, or if the owner doesn’t even have an iOS device.
The immediate takeaway is that the device will be one or two generations beyond current Smartwatch offerings in terms of size, visual appeal, and possibly functionality.
I’m also positing that the watch will be assembled in the United States, both based on the fact that Tim Cook has stated the desire to have multiple product lines assembled stateside and, frankly, the fact that there haven’t been any hardware part leaks yet.
Could we be surprised with near-term availability? Possible, but January/February is more likely, with a developer SDK available by the end of October.
Also, it’s going to be freaking thin, and I’ll double-down on my Siri bets made in that post.
They’ll run through the major consumer changes in the OS, and will start pushing it to phones somewhere around September 13th. The biggest story will be HealthKit and real-world examples of HomeKit and iBeacon integration.
If there are any other completely unexpected surprises then they’ll probably come in the form of new apps.
Payments and NFC
The time has come. Several times over the last three years Apple has bragged that it has the largest database of credit-card-backed accounts in the world (larger even than Amazon or PayPal). After years of making it easy for people to buy music and apps, Apple’s ready to make it easy for people to pay for real things in the real world. Other companies have tried to incorporate digital wallets into their phones (Android’s fragmentation has hindered the success of Google Wallet) but none have reached the critical mainstream traction necessary for widespread adoption by stores at the point-of-sale.
With the support of Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, people will be able to authenticate credit cards into their phones and leave them at home. Using Touch ID for authentication and approval at purchase time, Passbook will find a home beyond getting through TSA or paying for your Starbucks.
Incidentally, this will also drive NFC integration throughout the iOS line. Expect the revised 5c to have NFC and Touch ID, as well as the long-neglected iPod touch. Whether iPads are revved this week or not, expect them to add Touch ID and NFC as well when they are.
Stretch prediction: It’s conceivable that the 5s already has NFC capability in it, turned off and unused, lying in wait. The teardown sites aren’t always as thorough as they seem, and boards can be tricky.
Wish we could say more…
Almost a prediction within a prediction, the invitation taglines are like little puzzles, highly thought out and carefully phrased to have a clear and obvious meaning, with a hidden meaning that isn’t intended to be able to be deduced except in hindsight.
This year’s phrase “Wish we could say more” has on the surface been thought to mean that Apple will be holding back, that they will be saving some items for a second announcement later in the Fall. While I think there will be a sister MacOS event in October, I think this interpretation is bunk.
The assumption is that the phrase is intended to be parsed as “We [Apple] wish we could say more” but what if it means “We [all of us] should wish that we could say more”. ‘Wish’ as a future directive, rather than a present regret.
This interpretation makes a strong case for Siri news. Many of us have often wished that we could say more to her, that she would listen more often and more accurately, and that she would be more capable. At WWDC Apple announced that Siri would support an ‘always listening’ mode when plugged in to power (specifically in the car). Siri’s response time, in both directive and dictation modes, has lagged far behind Google Now, and a faster (or better yet, device-interpreted) Siri would go a long way toward closing the gap.
In addition to a larger vocabulary, the ability to use Siri as a way to perform more complicated tasks on the iWatch makes a lot of sense.
All the rest
Macs will only be talked about in the context of Yosemite’s and iOS 8’s Continuity features, and there won’t be any product revisions.
iPads are possible, but if they are it’s a sign that they’ll also be moving to an every-other-year cycle, with their minor revisions folded into the Fall announcements. I doubt it, however, and think they’ll be getting an announcement of their own in the February/March timeframe.
AppleTV is unlikely as well. The next big AppleTV move won’t be an actual Apple-branded television with AppleTV built in, but rather an AppleTV box with the gaming power of an iPhone 5 or later. All the MFi (Made for iPhone) game controller efforts are really pointed at creating controllers for AppleTV entertainment boxes, be they standalone, or augmentations to turn iPhones into controllers with handheld screens. AppleTV’s destiny is as a media and gaming center. It’s just a matter of when Apple will open their gates to developers. The market’s ready for it, but the lack of leaks indicates that the time might not be here just yet.
That’s all folks
Have a great simulcast, and maybe I’ll see you in line at the Apple store next week!