30 years ago Apple [#protected_0#]. Back in 1977 they’d helped spearhead the personal computer revolution with the Apple II, putting a command-line interface into homes and onto desks in a way that had never been possible before. In 1984 Mac did the same for graphical interfaces, harnessing the power of the mouse, pointer, and windows metaphor to make computers even easier to use. In 2001 Apple expanded into music, unleashing the iPod + iTunes and kicking off the mobile entertainment revolution. 2007 marked perhaps the most important announcement in Apple’s history, taking elements of their existing businesses, personal and mobile, and revolutionizing the phone with the iPhone. 2010 saw Apple bridge the gap between iPhone and Mac and once again made the computer even more personal with the iPad. Any of those would have been the achievement of a lifetime. All of them, the achievement of Apple so far. But after over 30 years of making the computer even more personal and portable, what on earth could follow? What else in our digital world, what of the magnitude of the computer or the phone, what could Apple revolutionize next?
The computer was new. Apple had to tell people they needed it, and that they needed the Mac. The phone wasn’t new. People knew they needed it. Apple had to tell people they deserved better, that they deserved an iPhone. The iPad was somewhere in between. Apple has to make the case that for most people, for most things, the iPad is better than a traditional computer. Today, many would say they couldn’t live, at least not happily and productively, without a computer or tablet. Almost everyone would say they couldn’t live, in any modern way, without a phone. What else in our lives is that important? What else is ripe for the kind of improvements Apple could bring?
Wearables in general, and watches in specific, have been in the rumors a lot for the last year or so. It’s a direction the market is going, but thus far no one has made a compelling case for it. Is it simply too early? Apple entered the phone market when Treo, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Nokia communicator had matured enough to make us both excited about their potential and miserable about their state of implementation. The smartwatch space is still in its very early stages. The medical angle is interesting, but would anyone ever need an Apple watch as much or more than they’d need a computer, tablet or phone? Could it ever be as big a business for Apple?
Likewise televisions. Long rumored, we’ll expect it only when and if we see it. But is there any revolution Apple could bring to television that requires Apple make the hardware as well? The Apple TV model has thus far let Apple assault input 2 — after the TV interface and likely the cable/satellite box as well. An actual display would give them input 1, but the core go-to-market conditions Steve Jobs complained about years ago haven’t changed, and any interception Apple might want to address could be served by a beefier Apple TV rather than a panel. Sure a 4K Thunderbolt Display could kill two very high end birds with one product stone, but that’s not a mainstream solution. Also, like the watch, it’s likely also not a big business.
Could Apple revolutionize the car? They’ll likely not start construction of an Apple Mobile any time soon, but they are doing iOS in the Car. A bi-directional AirPlay-like system, it will let Apple project their interface onto other manufacturers’ screens. Personally, I love this idea. I’d also love to see iOS on the Camera, iOS in the Home, and iOS on all my appliances. Apple as it exists today would never scatter focus by become a general purpose consumer electronics company like Samsung, Hitachi, LG, General Electric, etc. and they’d never license out their software. Projecting their experience and services, however, could be a great way to keep control without over extending. But still, how big a business?
Could Siri and what’s happening with sensors be part of it? An internet of Apple things that see to our needs, perhaps even predicting them in advance? That’s not a single product, mind you, but a web of them, and would its value be direct or supplemental?
That’s the challenge facing not only Apple, but every major technology company. The personalization of computing has no obvious, immediate, giant next leaps to make. Unless and until a watch or wearable can replace my computer, tablet, and phone for most things, most of the time, unless and until an implant can hook me directly into the iCloud — and, frankly, since the surveillance revelations who still wants that? — it’s really tough to see one product that will make as big a splash as the Mac or iPhone.
What’s easier to see is an array of smaller products and services. Just like evolution, taken year after year, can equal or surpass any singular revolution, an array of smaller products and services that improve the overall value of ecosystem and experience can be just as important. Wearables factor in there. iOS projection factors in there. iBeacon factors in there.
If Apple could make a leap in services as big as they did in software with the NeXT acquisition and iOS launch, I’d consider it every bit as revolutionary — though I’m not sure mainstream culture would agree. Absent that, I don’t know when we’ll see 1984 or 2007 again, but I do know we’ll see 1985-2006, and 2008-2014 consistently, relentlessly, until we do. And typing this on my Retina MacBook Pro, watching notifications fly by on my iPhone 5s, I’m fine with that. Hell, I’m ecstatic. But I do admit, I desperately want to to see another moment like that again. I want to be in the keynote. I want to see Tim Cook or Phil Schiller or Jony Ive pause. I want to feel my pulse race, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end, the anticipation hang there for an infinite moment…
“Today Apple revolutionizes—”
What exactly? If you were controlling the product roadmap, if you were writing the Keynote script, how would you fill in the blank? What’s big enough to you, important enough to you, broken enough to you that you just can’t wait to see Apple make it their next big thing?