What we can ex­pect from Ap­ple in the up­com­ing year

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Wow. What a year it’s been for Ap­ple. The iPad Pro, Ap­ple Pay, Ap­ple Mu­sic, Beats 1 and, of course, the Ap­ple Watch, have given us plenty to talk about over the past 12 months – and th­ese re­leases do more than just hint at what might be com­ing up in 2016.

Ap­ple Watch

Ap­ple hasn’t ex­actly bet the farm on its Watch. It was launched with ap­pro­pri­ate fan­fare, but the com­pany’s played it slow and sure since then. In store dis­play ar­eas are discreet, and over­shad­owed by its longer-es­tab­lished lines. Per­haps it re­alises that a fair few of us are wait­ing for the first re­vi­sion.

Ex­pect that to come in 2016 – around April, when the orig­i­nal model will be 12 months old. If any­thing

ap­pears be­tween now and then it’s likely to be an­other big-brand col­lab­o­ra­tion, like the one it rolled out with Her­mes back in Septem­ber. Jump­ing in bed with a sports brand like Nike – with whom Ap­ple has worked be­fore – would be a log­i­cal fit, and give Watch Sport more weight in the fit­ness arena.

The first re­vi­sion will al­most cer­tainly be an ex­ten­sive up­grade to bring it in line with its most am­bi­tious com­peti­tors, so we’re ex­pect­ing an Ap­ple Watch 2, rather than an iPhone-style ‘S’ vari­ant. We’re also ex­pect­ing it to be an en­tirely stand­alone de­vice, along the lines of Sam­sung’s Gear S2, which con­nects di­rectly to the cel­lu­lar net­work, by­pass­ing the Galaxy Phone en­tirely.

This might seem il­log­i­cal if you con­sid­ered the Ap­ple Watch to be a stealth mar­ket­ing tool

for in­creased iPhone sales, but it wouldn’t be the first time Ap­ple has bro­ken an ex­plicit link be­tween two core prod­ucts to boost the sales of the new­comer. Think back to its orig­i­nal strat­egy with the iPod, which was to use it as a Tro­jan for the Mac (it re­quired a FireWire-en­abled com­puter run­ning iTunes which, at that time, wasn’t avail­able on Win­dows). Only when it pro­duced a PC version did the iPod really fly, and change the com­pany’s for­tunes for­ever.

Why do we be­lieve it’s go­ing to do that here? Aside from the need to com­pete with Sam­sung it’s be­cause watchOS 2, which rolled out on 21 Septem­ber, made it pos­si­ble for the first time to run third-party ap­pli­ca­tions di­rectly, with­out us­ing the phone as a data con­duit. Build­ing in full-blown phone-free comms is the next log­i­cal step.

This will re­quire some ad­di­tional com­po­nents – in par­tic­u­lar a SIM card and as­so­ci­ated cir­cuitry – but ad­vances made in the last 12 months sug­gest that shouldn’t be a prob­lem. The S1 pro­ces­sor in the cur­rent Ap­ple Watch is built us­ing the same 28 nanome­ter process as the chip in the iPhone 5S, which was cur­rent while Ap­ple was clos­ing Watch’s de­vel­op­ment cy­cle. Since then, we’ve seen both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s hit the shelves, and they use a con­sid­er­ably finer process, with their A9 pro­ces­sors built us­ing a 14 nanome­ter process. As­sum­ing Ap­ple de­vel­ops a new chip – likely called the S2 – for its sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Watch, it’s rea­son­able to as­sume that it will em­ploy the same 14-nanome­ter process and, rather than slim­ming the wear­able, use the re­claimed space to bol­ster its built-in fea­tures.

Other no­table omis­sions from Ap­ple Watch that could be ad­dressed in the first re­vi­sion are na­tive GPS, ad­di­tional health sen­sors and a higher ca­pac­ity bat­tery, not nec­es­sar­ily to de­liver a longer work time, but to deal with the ad­di­tional load of the bol­stered range of sen­sors and comms.

iPhone 7

We’ve al­ready had an ‘S’ model since the last full up­date, so ex­pect 2016’s iPhone 7 to be a more ex­ten­sive re­vamp. Pun­dits are fore­cast­ing the death of the home but­ton, which we don’t think many would mourn. Adopt­ing soft but­tons, as are com­mon on An­droid de­vices, makes sense, and it would al­low Ap­ple to in­crease the screen size with­out bulk­ing up the phys­i­cal body. Con­versely, it may re­claim the lost space to pro­duce a smaller de­vice with the same 16:9 as­pect screen as it em­ployed in the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c to tempt an up­grade out of any­one who was put off by the iPhone 6 and 6s’s wider, taller bod­ies.

It would still need to ac­com­mo­date a finger­print reader, which is key to Ap­ple Pay, but there’s no rea­son why this couldn’t be moved to the side of the case or sited by the earpiece, on the op­po­site side to the front-mounted cam­era.

Build­ing the iPhone 7 around an AMOLED screen – as used in the Ap­ple Watch – would make sense on sev­eral fronts, as it’s less power hun­gry than the LCD tech­nol­ogy Ap­ple cur­rently uses, can dis­play more colours and is more re­spon­sive, but it seems un­likely that Ap­ple will roll it into the iPhone any time soon. An­a­lyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Se­cu­ri­ties, be­lieves the com­pany will per­se­vere with LCD for

sev­eral years, and with Ap­ple sup­pli­ers build­ing new LCD fac­to­ries in China to sat­isfy fu­ture de­mand, it looks like he could well be right.

Ap­ple Pay, Ap­ple Mu­sic

Along­side th­ese head­line devel­op­ments, there will be a whole se­ries of speed bumps along the way as Ap­ple ex­tends and re­fines its offering. Ap­ple Pay will be ac­cepted in a wider range of head­line stores, and the Ap­ple Mu­sic – which is now avail­able on An­droid – will in­evitably ex­pand.

More im­por­tantly, Ap­ple Mu­sic may prove to be the one thing that keeps the iPod on the shelves

next year. If you’d asked us what we thought of its chances at the close of 2014, we’d have said ‘slim’, but 2015 saw Ap­ple de­liver the first proper up­date to the iPod touch in three years, and it’s now pro­vid­ing an­other en­try ramp for the firm’s £9.99 a month mu­sic sub­scrip­tion ser­vice. That alone means it makes sense to give it at least 12 months to prove it­self. The same can’t nec­es­sar­ily be said of the nano and shuf­fle, which are each avail­able in just one con­fig­u­ra­tion and, with­out stream­ing abil­i­ties, of­fer no on­go­ing rev­enue source.

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