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Apple Watch: 2017 Predictions
Tuesday, 2017 January 3 - 2:14 pm
A few days late. Happy New Year, everyone. Here's my annual Apple predictions post.

First, a look back at my 2016 predictions.

1. Apple TV Content Deal: YES. AppleTV made strides with the new TV app and single sign on, which is kind of like the cable subscription integration I predicted... but it doesn't work with Comcast or Time Warner, and there's still no exclusive pay TV package. I'll give myself 0.3 points here.

2. Apple 5K Monitor: YES. Apple let LG put out a 5K monitor instead. That's interesting. Perhaps Apple sees monitors as commodity (low-margin) products that are simply not worthwhile to produce. There's really nothing Apple-exclusive about monitor technology these days, so I guess this makes sense. And as I said in the prediction, Apple is lacking in enthusiasm for pro products. Zero points.

3. MacBook Air line retired: NO. Admittedly an easy prediction, but I pretty much got it. The 11-inch model is gone, though, so the entry price is $999 instead of $899. Full point.

4. Industry coalesces around USB-C: YES. Pretty much true. Lower-end laptops haven't all come around yet, but most ultrabooks and convertibles have, e.g.: Dell XPS-13, HP Spectre, Lenovo Yoga, Asus Transformer. Full point.

5. Apple Pay becomes wildly successful: NO. Yeah, unfortunately right here. I personally love using Apple Pay when I can, but penetration remains frustratingly low. I'm also unhappy with the Apple Pay experience at Lowe's Foods, where they still make me enter my zip code and sign the pad. The security of Apple Pay is supposed to make all of that go away. Anyway, full point.

6. Apple Watch 2: YES. Full point. Water-resistant, better battery, hooray. Full point.

7. iPhone 7 main selling point: The camera. Yes, particularly on the iPhone 7 Plus, with its dual camera thing. We'll probably see software updates that give us 3-D effects; right now it's the well-implemented portrait mode and zoom lens that are probably the best feature of the 7 Plus. Unfortunately we'll probably have to wait to see those features trickle down to the non-Plus line. Full point.

8. iPad Air 3 main selling point: Force Touch. Hmm, no. Not only is there not an iPad Air 3, but the new smaller iPad Pro doesn't have force touch either. Apple seems to be positioning the iPad Pro line as Microsoft Surface competitors, with emphasis on keyboards and the Apple Pencil. Zero points.

9. Big new product category: VR headset. Rats, not yet. But it's coming. Zero points.

10. 2016 closing stock price: $135. I was quite a bit off here. Apple never broke $120, and closed at $115.82 on December 30th. Traders saw flattening growth curves and were rightfully spooked, and my prediction of a new product category didn't come to fruition. Zero points.

Total score for 2016: 5.3 out of 10. Better than last year, but not great.

So here we go for 2016. I had eleven predictions when I started thinking about this list, but we probably don't even need to discuss an Apple Car. So:

1. iPhone 8 design. It's almost a given that there'll be a new iPhone this year, so let me speculate about a few rumored features. Some predict the home button going away, which seems like a clever idea, but it's a UI disaster after having ingrained home button behavior for so many years. So I think the home button stays, with improvements to the Force Touch behavior to make it feel more natural than the button on the 7. I think wireless charging will be the big new feature, and we might even see the ability to charge the phone at a distance, rather than using a charging pad like on competing phones. I wouldn't bet on OLED displays as the rumor sites are claiming; color reproduction fidelity is the issue. As usual, there should be camera improvements.

2. Apple Watch 3 design. I think the face remains a rectangle. There's no doubt that Apple has experimented with a round face for its watch, and has patents regarding how the UI would work. I personally prefer a round watch face and would welcome this development, and it fits with Apple's fashion-first approach to the watch. But I think it's a distraction from a software development perspective. It's more likely that cellular connectivity and/or battery life will be the main selling points... a smart band that serves as an extended battery would be an interesting innovation, if Apple can pull it off.

3. MacBook replaces MacBook Air: YES. I think the 12" MacBook is the future of the low-end and thin-and-light segment of Apple's laptop line. A new model will focus on reducing thickness and weight, as Apple tries to make this the premiere ultrabook of the industry. The MacBook Air, meanwhile, should get dropped as the MacBook and iPad Pro grow to consume its part of the market.

4. Convertible MacBook: NO. A lot of pundits claim that the Microsoft Surface is going to eat the MacBook's lunch because the MacBook can't be turned into a tablet. I don't believe this. While I do see the market for the convertible, I think the tradeoffs of weight and portability are currently not enough to make a one-device solution the right thing for everyone. Most people want a laptop for content creation and a tablet for content consumption. At some point, a half-pound convertible laptop might become a real thing and Apple might try it. But more likely, Apple will continue to press the iPad Pro concept, where the device is a tablet first and foremost, and you use a detachable keyboard and/or Apple Pencil for any sort of creation you might need to do.

5. Mac Pro and Mac Mini: YES. Tim Cook hinted that Mac desktops are coming, and I'm inclined to believe him. It's at a point where Apple either needs to bring out new models or drop the desktop lines altogether; I can't believe sales of two- and three-year-old machines are significant at this point. I'd like to see something cool and interesting, like a modular Mac (you start with base machine that replaces the Mini, and you add on graphics and processing modules to upgrade it to a Pro), but I'm more inclined to believe we'll see pretty much the same form factors as the current line, with Intel Kaby Lake processors.

6. Apple Smart Home device: YES. Apple is late to this market, with Amazon Echo taking most of the early lead here, but an always-on Siri speaker that integrates with HomeKit is almost a no-brainer. The technology is pretty much all already available. What I'd like also to see in this device is a home server that allows mobile-only users to backup their devices and store media files without spending money on cloud space (like the now-discontinued Time Capsule, except better), but that's just wishful thinking on my part.

7. Apple VR and AR: NO. I've changed my mind several times about this one. Apple is invested in this game, according to their patent submissions, but I don't see what Apple would come up with as a real consumer product. Google Glass was a very public failure, and Apple will be sure not to repeat that. Based on what I've seen from the VR market, I think there's time for Apple to wait a bit and get this right.

8. iPad Line: New Pro and Mini. I think the iPad Air line is kind of the weird middle child of the lineup right now. I think it will go away, displaced by the iPad Pro 2. The lower end of the market will be served by the iPad Mini 5. I don't expect to see much in the way of new features; the emphasis for the Pro will be on speed and battery life, making it more and more suitable as a low-end laptop replacement.

9. New TV hardware: NO. The current AppleTV model is a fine device, and there's no reason Apple needs to push the edge on hardware capabilities. The current bottleneck for TV is in the content, so expect Apple to keep moving forward on content deals and cable integration. But don't expect a new box or an Apple-branded standalone television. If Apple doesn't even want to make monitors, it almost surely doesn't want to make TVs.

10. 2017 closing stock price: $120. I've turned slightly bearish on the stock compared to analysts. iPhone 8 sales will be decent and updated iPads may prove to be popular, but looming Trumpian trade restrictions would be a huge blow to global markets as a whole. Apple would have to surprise us with an explosive brand new product category to move the needle on the stock at this point. Foreign tax repatratiation might give us a one-time bump, but I don't think that'll have a lasting impact.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

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