Tech­nolo­gies to keep an eye on in 2017

Ap­ple doesn’t an­nounce prod­ucts too far in ad­vance, but it has teased a few ar­eas of in­ter­est. Dan Moren re­ports

Macworld - - Contents -

As the new year be­gins, it’s only nat­u­ral to look ahead to what might the up­com­ing year have in store for us, and our favourite tech­nolo­gies com­pa­nies?

There’s plenty of spec­u­la­tion about what ar­eas might at­tract Ap­ple’s at­ten­tion in the year ahead, but look­ing at the cur­rent state of af­fairs, it’s not hard to point to a hand­ful of tech­nolo­gies that

al­ready seem to have piqued the in­ter­est of the folks in Cu­per­tino. Some of them are things the com­pany is al­ready work­ing on, and some of them are just now get­ting trac­tion.

Of course, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that none of th­ese things will ever see the light of day, much less ap­pear in 2017. But it’s not as if the com­pany isn’t go­ing to re­lease any prod­ucts in the next 365 days, and it seems un­likely that Ap­ple won’t roll out prod­ucts with at least some new fea­tures in the mix. (Un­less, of course, Ap­ple truly is doomed, but prob­a­bly not.)

Ma­chine learn­ing

Ap­ple’s in­ter­est in ma­chine learn­ing has clearly been de­vel­op­ing for a while now, but it’s only been in the past year or two that the com­pany has pulled back the cur­tain a bit to show ex­actly how much it’s in­vested in the tech­nol­ogy. Be­tween a lengthy in­ter­view with vet­eran tech­nol­ogy jour­nal­ist Steven Levy and an­nounc­ing it would share its re­search with oth­ers in the field, it’s clear that ma­chine learn­ing and AI are al­ready cen­tral to Ap­ple’s prod­ucts, and will only be­come more so in the fu­ture.

Per­haps the big­gest ques­tion is whether those AI skills will in­clude not only the sub­tle, un­der­ly­ing uses that the com­pany has talked about in the past – things like search sug­ges­tions, or try­ing to pre­dict your next des­ti­na­tion in Maps – but also fig­ure in with Siri, which has seen in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from the likes of Google, Ama­zon and Sam­sung. Vir­tual as­sis­tants are un­ques­tion­ably one of tech­nol­ogy’s ma­jor bat­tle­fields in the next decade,

and the com­pany with the smartest op­tion is go­ing to have a huge ad­van­tage.

Aug­mented re­al­ity

Tim Cook has made more men­tions of aug­mented re­al­ity than pos­si­bly any other tech­nol­ogy that the com­pany cur­rently doesn’t use in its prod­ucts. He’s de­scribed it as some­thing peo­ple will use ev­ery day and said that Ap­ple is “high on AR for the long run.” Frankly, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and Tim Cook looks a bit like a car­toon char­ac­ter who just drank a bot­tle of hot sauce.

Ex­actly what Ap­ple’s AR play will look like is the real ques­tion, whether it will sim­ply come in the form of soft­ware for the com­pany’s ex­ist­ing prod­ucts, like the iPhone, or whether it marks an en­tirely new prod­uct line, à la Mi­crosoft’s bulky but promis­ing HoloLens.

Given the com­pany’s fo­cus on de­sign and aes­thet­ics, it’s hard to imag­ine Ap­ple spend­ing too much time de­vel­op­ing any sort of prod­uct that peo­ple wouldn’t want to wear or at least carry with them at all times, so a cum­ber­some head­set or ugly glasses are prob­a­bly not where the com­pany is fo­cus­ing its ef­forts. On the other hand, it seems as though a fea­ture just built in to an iPhone would be viewed as un­der­whelm­ing.

Health care

Dur­ing Steve Jobs’s ten­ure at Ap­ple it seemed clear that his per­sonal love for mu­sic in­flu­enced much of Ap­ple’s direc­tion in prod­uct devel­op­ment; in Tim Cook’s Ap­ple, the same could be said about health and fit­ness. Over the past few years, Ap­ple has

in­vested heav­ily in health with prod­ucts like the iPhone and Ap­ple Watch, as well as soft­ware like HealthKit, CareKit and Re­searchKit.

Some­thing tells me Ap­ple is far from done with its plans for help­ing its users with health-re­lated mat­ters. Ear­lier this year, the com­pany pur­chased a firm named Gli­impse that aims to let users col­lect all their health in­for­ma­tion in a sin­gle place and eas­ily man­age and share it. That, to me, sounds like Ap­ple may be in­vest­ing in a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to us­ing your de­vices to track and man­age your health. And, know­ing Ap­ple, such a prod­uct would prob­a­bly also har­ness hard­ware like the Ap­ple Watch and iPhone to col­lect fur­ther in­for­ma­tion – all for the pur­poses of keep­ing its users healthy.

A lit­tle of this, a lit­tle of that

There are plenty of other ar­eas in which Ap­ple has demon­strated in­ter­est in re­cent years. Cars, for ex­am­ple, and their at­ten­dant map­ping and self-driv­ing fea­tures; OLED edge-to-edge dis­play for up­com­ing iPhones; se­cu­rity, en­cryp­tion, and pri­vacy; and, of course, the com­pany still doesn’t seem to have quite nailed down its TV stream­ing plans, de­spite many half-hearted at­tempts.

There’s a lot for Ap­ple to choose from when it comes to the com­pany di­rect­ing its at­ten­tions and en­ergy. No mat­ter what, 2017 prom­ises to be another year full of sur­prises, some good, some bad, but all of them in­ter­est­ing.

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