Apple's 2016 Road Map: iPhone 7, Apple Watch 2, iOS 10 & New MacBooks

Rumours Michael Grothaus 11:10, 22 Jun 2016

It’s going to be one of Apple’s busiest years ever.

During April, Apple, like many tech firms, published its first quarter earning report for 2016 - the long and the short of it is that this has been Apple's worst performing Q1 in terms of sales and market share since anyone can remember; at least a decade or more. So of course subsequently there's been a flurry of analysis suggesting that it could finally be time for Apple's fortunes to take a downward trajectory, things have also been exacerbated by continued reports from prominent and reliable analysts who claim the iPhone 7 will not be a big deal and will not help Apple's predicted continued poor performance inside 2016.

This of course needs to be taken with a pinch of salt; market-watchers are always keen to jump on a successful company when it has a rough time. This is just the way it is — failing makes for good headlines. Though the extent of Apple’s “failure” in 2016 needs to be put into context: it is still selling A LOT of iPhones, just not quite as much as it did the previous year. But given the changes it made to the iPhone 6s, this is hardly surprising.

Another trend worth noting is that people tend to hold onto their smartphones for longer these days. This is because they’re way more powerful than they used to be and do not require yearly updates. This is likely why Apple is apparently switching to a three year design update cycle — people just aren’t interested in updating their phones every single year. And an iPhone bought in 2014 will still function very well in 2016, so why would you spend $600 updating something when you don’t have to?

Even on a bad day (or quarter) Apple is still kicking so much ass compared to its next best rivals such as Samsung, who are actually having a pretty good time of it according to their Q1 data. So in other words, don't jump the gun, Apple isn't doomed and it has a LOT more leeway for making a comeback with all that cash in the bank than other ailing companies such as BlackBerry, Sony, and HTC. Anyway, CEO Tim Cook has decided to wade in on the debate and has talked a little bit about that report, and about the firm's future plans.

Speaking to CNBC, Cook said "We just had actually an incredible quarter by absolute standards, 50 billion plus in revenues and 10 billion in profits. To put that in perspective the 10 billion is more than any other company makes so it was a pretty good quarter but not up to the [Wall] Street's expectations clearly."

Cook then turned the focus towards looking into the future, at what consumers can expect next and why people shouldn't be thinking Apple will be stuck in a funk. As ever, Apple isn't prepared to give much real detail away, but Cook did hint that we can look forward to innovative new features we didn't even know we wanted.

“We're incredibly excited about things we're working on. Incredibly excited," said Cook, "We've got great innovation in the pipeline, new iPhones that will incent you and other people that have iPhones today to upgrade to new iPhones.”

“We're going to give you things that you can't live without that you just don't know you need today," he added. Apple also doesn't seem put off by the lukewarm reception of smartwatches, including its own Apple Watch. 

“You'll see the Apple Watch getting better and better. We're still in learning mode. We're learning fairly quickly, though. We know a lot more than we did a year ago.”

“I think that in a few years we will look back and people will say, 'How could I have ever thought about not wearing this watch?”

Apple had its annual town hall meeting on March 21. The event was a big one with lots of announcements and lots of products, including the iPhone SE and iPad Pro 9.7, as well as updates and changes to Apple Watch, which Apple happily confirmed as the fastest selling wearable of ALL TIME. 

The iPad Pro 9.7 is even more interesting, as it takes everything that made the iPad Pro great — which was quite a lot, as it goes — and squeezed it down into a smaller, more compact 9.7in iPad. It does all the same stuff the iPad Pro does, packs in tons of decent spec, including Apple’s A9X CPU, and it also supports Apple Pencil and Apple’s detachable keyboard. 

2016 is the busiest year in Apple’s most recent history. I’ve never known the company to release quite as much new hardware as it plans to in the coming months. Back in the day, when Apple used to make all sorts of guff, lots of products was the norm. But since Steve Jobs regained control, the company’s output has been streamlined and focussed — and this has been part of Apple’s brand appeal.

This year’s roadmap is interesting because it sees a company on the cusp of a breaking wave. Apple cannot maintain the growth it has exhibited these back five years — it is impossible. What goes up, must come down. This means more dividend pay-outs to shareholders, a good thing for investors, and less “record breaking quarters” as iPhone sales begins to plateaux.

Indeed, what Apple does next will hold the keys to its future. This is why the company is likely looking at cars. Cars are big. And Apple is in a position where it’s either go BIG or go home.

And it’s not just new iPhones, either. Nope! Apple is expected to release a bunch of new software, hardware and services throughout the year. Here’s everything that’s a safe bet, as well as some things Apple could come out and surprise us with.

An iPhone 7 Plus PLUS model Now Rumoured

If you thought Apple’s 2016 was looking pretty epic already, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet because it looks as if there will potentially be three iPhone 7 models released in 2016 -- and, no, that doesn’t include the iPhone 5se.

The third iPhone 7 model will be an EVEN more premium version of the iPhone 7 Plus that will, apparently, feature an improved, dual-sensor camera on the rear which means the other, less expensive iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7 will not feature a dual-sensor camera. To be honest, the entire thing is very confusing, but the rumour is VERY new and could likely turn out to be complete BS.

"KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has issued a research note that predicts two 5.5-inch versions of the "iPhone 7 Plus" are in development, one with a single iSight rear-facing camera and another boasting a dual-camera design," said MacRumors. "The rumored iPhone 7 Plus model with a dual-lens camera system would take advantage of imaging algorithms that Apple acquired through its purchase of Israeli camera technology company LinX Imaging last year."

The interesting thing about this year’s iPhone 7 is that it very well might not be the release many are expecting. Word on the street suggests Apple is saving ALL the big industrial design changes for 2017, when we’ll see new display technology, a complete ground-up redesign, the omission of the Home key and much more besides.

The iPhone 7, meanwhile, is expected to be very similar, design-wise, to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. Apple will update all of the internals and likely fit it with a brand new, marketing-leading camera but those hope for big design changes will be disappointed.

2017 is the iPhone’s 10th birthday, so it stands to reason that Apple will want to do something special. It is also likely that development on that handset is now well underway — tech companies spend years developing new products before they’re pushed into the public domain. Apple is no different.

However, there is cause for concern here: iPhone sales declined for the first time in 2016 and the reason for this, besides strong Android competition, is that punters are simply holding onto their phones for longer. The iPhone 6s was VERY similar to the iPhone 6, so for a lot of people there wasn’t really any real reason to update. Those with iPhone 6 handsets might as well wait for the iPhone 7, and those with the 6s, the iPhone 7s or iPhone 8, depending on what it’s called.

But if Apple switches to a three-year hardware cycle, as it is widely reported to be doing, then this kind of displaces everybody inside its ecosystem. Is Apple hoping for a mass adoption of its iPhone 8 in 2017? Potentially. A radically different iPhone would certainly drive massive sales but then there is the fact that those who bought the iPhone 7 — and a lot of people will — might feel slightly shortchanged if ALL the major updates they were hoping for drop a year later on a handset that is meant to an incremental “S-style” update.

The Apple Car: Project TITAN

Apple wants to make an electric car. Reports suggest work is now underway on the project, which goes by the name of Project Titan. Just don’t go expecting to see it anytime soon. According to a new report from a German newspaper, Apple is hard at work on the Apple Car at a secret location in Berlin for a launch/release in 2018/19.

The report claims Apple has a lot of young blood working on the project and the reason for this is simple: it wants a new perspective on what a car should be like and is likely paying a small team of experts a hell of a lot of dosh to figure it all out.

The iCar — or, whatever it is eventually called — will almost certainly be an electric car similar to the BMW i3 or Tesla Model S. Demand for such motors has been growing gradually, both in Europe and in the US, and Apple wants to be there with a product before the wave breaks. What this car will be like at the end of the day remains to be seen. I’m betting on something like the Tesla Model S — sporty, but very smart.

Apple Watch 2

The Apple Watch is the biggest selling smartwatch in history. Yes, this is now official. But when you consider the popularity of smart watches in general — somewhere between tinned tuna and holidays in Blackpool — this isn’t exactly a HUGE deal for Apple or consumer electronics in general.

Nevertheless, plans are afoot for a second-generation model which is predicted to launch at Apple’s WWDC 2016 event in June. Not much is known about the Apple Watch just yet, but early intelligence from China suggests the device is now in production and will be anywhere from 20-40% thinner than current models.

Key areas for improvement are A) features, B) battery performance and C) overall design, with the advent of circular faces almost a certainty.

Apple Siri Speaker 

Apple, like Google and Amazon, is apparently very keen on getting its personal assistant, in this case, Siri, inside your home. Not content with being limited to iPhone and iPad, Apple is apparently working on a Siri Smart Speaker for the home that will, according to reports, serve as a voice-activated personal assistant as well as a central hub for playing and directing media around your home 

Not much is known just yet about the Siri Speaker, but it is likely it will function very much like Amazon’s Echo, albeit in a far more limited capacity at first — Amazon’s service has grown dramatically over the past 12 months. This is why Apple is opening up Siri to third party developers. It is also likely the first phase of a new range of products that will sit in the home and perform basic tasks like reading emails and texts as well as interacting with other peripherals like a smart-thermostat, for instance. 

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE is a big deal. Not to Android fans, or those looking forward to the iPhone 7, though. No — this phone is about old iPhone users, the guys that like smaller, 4in devices. Apparently, there is a lot of them out there, people still using iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s units. Hell, you occasionally see an iPhone 4s floating around every now and then.

The logic behind the iPhone SE goes a little something like this: a lot of Apple users are angry because the new iPhones are too big. Luckily for Apple, it’s pretty difficult to get a decent 4in Android phone these days. They’ve complained and stuck with their old hardware and Apple, no doubt after A LOT of meetings, finally took note and decided to help them out (read: make them upgrade) by giving them what they want: a 4in iPhone that isn’t pants.

This is why we have the iPhone SE.

iPad Pro 9.7

Apple launched a new addition to its iPad Pro at its company Town Hall meeting on March 21, the iPad Pro 9.7. And this tablet looks like it will replace the iPad Air eventually. 

“iPad Pro is a new generation of iPad that is indispensable and immersive, enabling people to be more productive and more creative. It’s incredibly fast, extremely portable, and completely natural to use with your fingers, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. And now it comes in two sizes,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a new Retina display with True Tone technology, four-speaker audio system, blazing fast A9X chip, 12-megapixel iSight camera, 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, faster wireless, and support for Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. It is the ultimate upgrade for existing iPad users and replacement for PC users.”

New MacBooks

After the March event, the next products Apple should release will be upgraded MacBooks. And it’s high past time. The MacBook line is a mess. Currently there is the ultra-thin 12-inch MacBook, the thicker (and now badly named) 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 15-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a jumbled line that features so many laptops it’s lost its identity. Why is the MacBook thinner than a MacBook Air, for example? The nomenclature doesn’t make sense. 

Apple should fix this around WWDC in June when it’s expected to release new laptops. Expect a refinement of the line including a spec-bumped 12-inch MacBook, new 13- and 15-inch MacBook Airs (which may drop the “Air” in the name) and new, completely redesigned MacBook Pros (which haven’t seen a redesign since 2012) with Skylake processors and USB-C ports.

Leaked information from DigiTimes has potentially revealed when and what we can expect from Apple’s 2016 MacBook range. According to the report, Apple will start producing its new 12in MacBooks very soon — Q1 or Q2, at the latest. Apple’s 15in MacBooks are coming inside Q3, apparently, while the company’s 13.3in models will appear during the same period. Oddly, the report does not specify whether these are Pro or Air models. But, again, it is DigiTimes, so take the above with a pinch of salt.

Intel recently updated its processor price list with new CPUs appropriate for the MacBook Pro line. They include a 2.6 GHz QuadCore i7-6770HQ, a 2.7 GHz QuadCore i7-6870HQ, and a 2.8 GHz QuadCore i7-6970HQ

iPhone 7

The iPhone 7 — and iPhone 7 Plus — is easily the BIGGEST thing Apple will announce and release in 2016. No other mobile phone on the planet commands anyway near as much attention as Apple’s iPhone. The company shifted record numbers in 2014 with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and once again a year later with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. 

The iPhone 7 is of course the BIG update many have been waiting for since 2014’s iPhone 6. The solid number updates are where Apple makes its biggest changes to the overall look and feel of its iPhone and this year’s model will be no exception to this rule with an ultra thin chassis, wireless charging and, potentially, water and dust-proofing as well as improved specs and imaging technology.

More recently it was leaked that the iPhone 7 might not look THAT different from the iPhone 6s, however. It is rumored, reports MacRumors, that the antenna bands on the rea of the phone have been removed. The antenna bands at the tops and sides of the device would remain, however. The other design change shows the rear camera bump to be eliminated. Yes, the new camera should once again sit flush against the rear backplate. This is something that hasn't happened since the iPhone 5s. 

Besides that, the iPhone 7 is rumored to have a dual lens camera system that massively improves picture quality and low light photos--though this dual lens system might, annoyingly, be limited to the iPhone 7 Plus.

Apple TV streaming service

The new Apple TV seems to be a critical success and though the rumors seem to flip flop each week, it's possible that 2016 will still see the introduction of the long-rumored Apple TV streaming service. What’s good for older Apple TV owners is the service is rumored to be supported on third-generation Apple TVs as well.

“The company is aiming to announce its new service in June and launch it in September, according to people familiar with the matter. The service would work across all devices powered by Apple’s iOS operating system, including iPhones, iPads and Apple TV set-top boxes,” reports the WSJ. “Apple has had on-and-off talks with media companies for years in the hopes of creating a subscription TV service that would be delivered over the Internet. Many of its proposals were considered radical and failed to bear fruit. The latest round of talks could run into roadblocks that would throw off the company’s timeline.”

While a streaming TV service is great for cord cutters, I’m still hoping Apple releases a Netflix competitor.

Peer-to-peer payment service

The best technology Apple has popularized in the last two years has undoubtedly been easy contactless payments via the iPhone’s Apple Pay system. If rumors are to be believed, Apple is going to capitalize on this by upgrading Apple Pay to support P2P payments between friends, much the same way as PayPal and Square allow you to send money to friends and family now.

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