Feature: Apple in 2017
Martyn Casserly rounds up what we can expect this year
2016 was an interesting year for Apple. It saw the introduction of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, albeit controversially without headphone jacks, and a return to the 4in form factor in the popular iPhone SE. Plus there was the release of the Apple Watch Series 2, a new 9.7in iPad Pro, and an apparently Brexit-related unwelcome hike in prices across the board.
So, what does 2017 have up its sleeves for Apple fans? We’ve donned our prognostication hats, investigated every rumour and trend we could find,
all to bring you our predictions for 2017. It looks like it could be a big year.
Apple Watch 3
Apple released the second generation of its Watch in September of 2016 which added GPS, internal upgrades, and water proofing to the design. This was accompanied by the watchOS 3 update that increased performance and functionality for not only the new models but also the original range.
We expect to see Apple announce the third iteration of its Watch in September 2017, hopefully for around the same price as the current models which start at £369, although that is far from certain after the increases we saw at the end of 2016.
There’s little in the way of firm evidence suggesting what the Apple Watch 3 will look like, but it’s fair to say that you should expect a model that’s very similar to the current version. Some experts have postulated that there could be a Watch S release in March of 2017 that would include additional storage space, but this remains a rumour at best. Several news sites have also speculated on the possibility of a round display, much like the one found on the Moto 360 Android Wear device.
It’s widely expected that the Watch 3 will include a front facing camera that could be used for selfies or FaceTime calls, as Apple holds a patent for such a device and Watch OS 2 introduced support for FaceTime audio calls.
The new model is also likely to feature a Micro-LED display, which would be lighter, thinner, and brighter than the LCD panels currently used.
Another common thought is that Apple will finally introduce 3G or 4G capabilities to the Watch, in order to make it more independent from the iPhone. We’re not convinced by this. Apple likes its devices to be closely tied together, and the battery life problems that come with cellular capabilities might make it an unattractive option at this time.
It’s still early days for the Apple Watch, so we fully expect this to be a quiet evolution rather than revolution. Thinner, lighter, faster and longer battery life is the mantra, and we’d be very happy with that.
2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, so many are expecting Apple to pull out all the stops and release something special.
iPhone SE 2
The first model to appear will be the iPhone SE 2 or SEs, replacing the existing (and rather popular) SE that was introduced in March 2016. Expect the new model to be released in the same timeline and feature the existing, classic design, but with
upgraded internals such as the A10 chip found in the current iPhone 7 and a more powerful camera.
In all honesty we’d love to see the original SE remain an option, and a price cut could make it a very attractive proposition, but this would make Apple’s iPhone range quite complicated so it’s more likely that the little powerhouse will be retired.
iPhone 7s or 8
There has been much discussion over what the new iPhone will be called. Normally Apple would continue its tick-tock rhythm of a new design one year followed by the S version which upgrades only the internals. But the iPhone 7 featured a minimal change to the design of the 6 and 6s, which leads many to think that Apple is saving the big changes for its 10th Anniversary model: the iPhone 8.
Perhaps the biggest expected change to the design of the iPhone 8 is the removal of the Home button to allow an edge-to-edge glass display. But what of Apple ID and the fingerprint sensor? Well, there have been several reports that Apple intends to include technology that allows the screen itself to act as a fingerprint sensor, thus removing the need for a physical button.
This would be a truly remarkable innovation and give iPhone users display sizes on par with many premium Android devices but in a compact format.
MacRumours also asserts that Apple is intending to use a flexible OLED display rather than the LCD panels that have appeared on previous iPhones. This could make the devices lighter while also offering more vivid colours and contrasts.
Another feature often found on Android phones is that of wireless charging, and it looks very likely that this will be included on the iPhone 8. Some rumours even suggest the Apple will include long-range wireless charging, with Bloomberg Business reporting that the company wants to implement the game changing technology that could charge an iphone from several feet away, and could have it ready for 2017.
The Jet black colour introduced with the iPhone 7 has been very popular, but its tendency to scratch easily is thought to have prompted Apple to return to a glass back and front design for the iPhone 8. There might also be new Deep Blue and Space Black colour options if the reports on various Japanese sites are to be believed.
One interesting idea that’s gathering pace is that the new model will include Augmented Reality
software, which overlays relevant information on any place or thing that you point the camera at. While we’ve yet to see proof of this, it would be a very cool addition.
So with a new edge-to-edge design, software enabled fingerprint detection, long-range wireless charging, better display, plus the usual internal upgrades, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus really could be a worthy way to mark a decade at the top. Roll on September 2017.
iPads iPad Air 3
There was no new iPad Air in 2015 or 2016 so some Apple fans are hoping for an update to that model soon; but we suspect that the 9.7in iPad Pro has now displaced the iPad Air line. In fact we’re not convinced that Apple will release another Air-branded product at all, as signalled by the 13in MacBook Air’s tiny update this spring and the retirement of the 11in version. If Apple does surprise us and announces an iPad Air 3 then we’d hope for a faster processor, better camera, and 3D Touch (although KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn’t think 3D Touch will make an appearance, apparently due to production issues). But our bet would be on the Air 2 being the last of its family line.
iPad mini 5 Given that the Mini 4 was last updated in September 2015, it’s clear Apple isn’t too focused on its smaller tablets. This could change in 2017 though as rumours suggest that March could see the introduction of a Mini Pro with upgraded components, a new thinner, tougher aluminium chassis and the inclusion of a Smart Connector to match that of the other iPad Pro devices.
iPad Pro 2
With the 12.9in iPad Pro arriving in November 2015, and the 9.7in Pro in March 2016, it’s hard to guess the plans for this line. Our suspicion is that Apple will update both in spring 2017, but much will depend on how effectively they have dealt with the stagnating iPad sales problem we’ve observed in the past few earnings calls.
One way to stimulate interest could be the introduction of a new size. Ming-Chi Kuo has stated that Apple will offer three Pros in 2017, but not a Mini as you might think, instead a 9.7-, 12.9- and new 10.5in variant. He makes sense of this by explaining that the 9.7in Pro will be a lower powered version than it’s bigger brothers.
Other rumours doing the rounds argue that there will be a 10.9in version instead of the 10.5in one Kuo is backing. This could also feature a design change that eliminates the bezels and makes use of the software fingerprint detection technology that is expected to appear in the iPhone 8.
There’s no doubt that iPads are in a transitional period at the moment, but Apple seems to be pushing the Pros as the way ahead.
It might have escaped the attention of many people that 2017 actually marks the 10th anniversary of Apple TV. With this in mind some think that Apple could celebrate the occasion with an update to its little black box. Whether this is true or not remains a mystery, as there have been very few credible rumours about any new developments inside the Apple campus. Then there’s also the fact that the usual gap between iterations of Apple TV tends to be two or three years.
The Mac Pro The Mac Pro is long overdue a refresh as it hasn’t been updated since its launch in 2013. The once futuristic device now looks a little long in the tooth, having been bypassed by generations of Intel chips that never made it into the chassis. Will Apple update the Mac Pro in 2017 or has it given up entirely on this professional Mac workstation?
At this point we really don’t know. Rumours of release dates and potential upgrades have come and gone, but nothing has appeared. Some are buoyant that March 2017 will be the event where new Pros are announced, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
With the introduction of the 12in MacBook and the new, lightweight 13in MacBook Pro the writing seems pretty much on the wall for the old MacBook Air. Apple has already retired the 11in model in 2016, and once the 12in MacBook gets an update in
2017 to hopefully add an additional USB-C port and upgrade the awful keyboard, there won’t be much room left for the Air brand.
All many of us wanted for the 13in model was to get a retina screen and a spec bump, but we suspect that will never happen and the MacBook Air, like the iPad Air, is on the way out.
MacBook Pro With the MacBook Pro having only just been released as 2016 draws to a close, we won’t expect much to change until very late in 2017. The massive redesign has already caused quite a reaction, so we’d rule out anything significant happening in the next iteration. Instead we think there will most likely be a shift to Kaby Lake chips, which in turn could open up higher RAM options. Other than that all we really want are the prices to come down.
12in Retina MacBook update
Apple launched its incredibly thin and light 12in MacBook back in March 2015, and the MacBook’s first birthday saw a solid if unspectacular update – various sensible specs boosts, and a rose gold colour option.
The third iteration of the 12in MacBook is likely to appear in spring 2017. Rumours are thin on the ground right now, but some of the wilder speculation has suggested that it might feature
a ‘Force Touch keyboard’ – a keyboard, in other words, that doesn’t actually move in response to your key presses, instead simulating presses through haptic feedback just like the Force Touch trackpad. Sounds pretty bizarre – not to mention difficult to use for touch-typing – but that’s the sort of thing you tend to hear this far ahead of a launch. We think it’s more likely that Apple will install the second generation of its butterfly keyboard that appeared on the new MacBook Pro instead.
Mac mini Ah Mac Mini, where did it all go wrong? After being hobbled in 2014 by what can barely be considered an upgrade, Apple has left the Mini to fall fallow. Now we don’t know whether 2017 will see a resurrection of its fortunes, but all here at Macworld are rooting for the little guy.
iMacs The iMac range last saw updates in 2015 that moved the high-end models over to Intel’s Skylake processors, and the 21.5in models to Broadwell chips. What 2017 holds in store for the range is still uncertain, as Intel’s chipsets seem to be slightly out of step with Apple’s demands at the moment.
Bloomberg has reported that new iMacs are on their way, so it seems the two companies have worked it out, but details are as yet unknown as to what upgrades the devices will be running.
Mac processor updates
Despite Apple’s adventures into processor design it’s unlikely we’ll see the company rolling out its
own chips in its desktop and laptop machines unless it can make them fully compatible with the current Intel line-up.
Wonderful though it would be to run iOS apps alongside OS X software, Apple would need to give developers several years’ notice to update their applications to run on any new architecture, so expect to still be buying Intel-driven machines for at least the next 12 months.
Force Touch Keyboard
A Force Touch keyboard could be in the works, too – as a supplement to the Magic Trackpad 2 – if a recent patent filing is anything to go by. The
switchless design would allow Apple to produce even thinner MacBooks, and also to take into account the force with which a key is pressed, which will be a boon for anyone making music on their Mac. In the opposite direction it should allow for haptic feedback, which could possibly be used to signify to vision-impaired users that they’re correctly striking a particular key.
Software and services iOS 11
Apple traditionally announces new version of iOS in June, followed by the release in the autumn. So far the only strong rumour about the new operating system is that it will include an improved ‘naturalsounding’ Siri as Apple works to improve the behaviour and response of its voice interface.
Another strong possibility is the inclusion of a Dark Mode with black backgrounds rather than the bright white normally found on iOS, and there’s an outside chance that your Contacts could become active in iOS 11, meaning you can see when people are available to chat.
macOS Like iOS 11, the new version of Apple’s Mac operating system will be unveiled at WWDC 2017 in June, and then roll out in the autumn. So far there are no real rumours about what Apple will include in the new update. Siri integration was at the centre of the 2016 release, so it’s possible that those features will be enhanced and improved upon for the 2017 update.
WatchOS is developing nicely and in 2017 we expect to see the introduction of Sleep Tracking,
which would further bolster the fitness focus of the Apple Watch.
tvOS Last and probably least of Apple’s four software platforms, tvOS nevertheless got a decent update at WWDC 2016 which we think will probably carry it through 2017.
Apple Pay Alongside these headline developments, there will be a whole series of speed bumps along the way as Apple extends and refines its Apple Pay offering. We anticipate that Apple Pay will be accepted in a wider range of headline stores.
With 20 million subscribers Apple Music has made a decent start, but is it good enough to continue
this momentum and can it really compete with the likes of Spotify? As for Beats 1, we’re not convinced this is making the impact Apple hoped for, but the we probably aren’t the target market for it. We’d like to see more radio channels tuned to less trendy music choices.
There are also rumours that streaming on Apple Music could be enhanced, with highresolution better quality audio for that service – up to 96kHz/24-bit, according to a report on Macotakara. Since the 3.5mm headphone jack is limited to CD quality sound this appears to back up the motives for Apple ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7, as the Lighting port can offer HD audio.
Apple Music may also prove to be the one thing that keeps the iPod on the shelves in 2017. 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 per 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.
iPad Pro family