Two could be the key number tonight. Two iPhones, two iPads, two iWatches, the partnerships could come in two by two and U2 are expected to perform. Although the heavy emphasis in the invite on the dates 09/09/2014 suggests nine could be prominent two.
Two iWatches are needed to account for gender taste differences in watch design, the two iPhones a part of a tardy response to the trend toward larger screens for smartphones, as they become more and more about media consumption and images, as opposed to communication. Also, we are seeing device hardware fragmentation across all categories and some new ones, so one size no longer fits all.
First the iWatch
Clearly it needs a very sleek design or two and have high end materials, including a curved screen and avoiding the clumsy angular/blocky designs we have seen elsewhere, up until recently. Apple’s recent recruitment drive for designers certainly points to a company looking to push their brand into the mainstream fashion industry, as consumer electronics becomes ubiquitous and breaks out of its silo. Apple has always been a crossover star in this regard and we also expect a significant number of partnerships and appearances from the fashion industry therefore.
Apple’s developer conference and IP filings suggest that health will be front and centre and that the UI will involve more than just touch, with buttons on the watch being utilized perhaps even customizable by the user (although UI fragmentation/customization is not the Apple norm). I think it will be important to differentiate health from fitness tracking, as the former expands the use case and audience. An important point as the iPhone installed base is aging and many are more concerned with blood pressure and a good night’s sleep, than the distant memory of their six pack. We expect the iWatch to be connected to the iPhone via Bluetooth by the way. An LTE connection is unlikely and would be wasteful given the small screen (which doesn’t lend itself to consumption of content), need for a low price point, the lack of hardware real estate available and therefore battery life.
That said, I expect Apple’s relationship with Nike to be reincarnated, by linking Nike into Apple’s Healthkit data service. Nike’s decision to discontinue its activity tracker, was predicated on a application deal with Apple to be announced today we believe. In fact Healthkit suggests a broad partnership strategy for Apple’s cloud based quantified-self data, so we could see a number of partnerships tapping into the data collected by the iWatch.
I also think that music may come back into vogue and be a central tenet of the iWatch, with a streaming radio service and perhaps subtle gesture controls on the iWatch. You may also see announcement on unique content deals, including live content.
It is about time Tim Cook started to evolve Apple more radically and make a break from the past. Criticism about the iterative nature of recent product launches is wrong and right. Collectively the software updates have been more significant than they were given credit for, but without a single element to shout about they have gone unnoticed by many. More obviously, the hardware has started to look dated and specifications lagging (with the exception of 64 bit processing). Apple needs to set the agenda again, not follow, as it has done on screen size regarding both tablets and imminently it seems smartphones. So let’s hope for an iCatching (sorry) new industrial design with differentiated use of screen technology and a premium metal unibody. The larger screens expected will also enable Apple to answer one of its most regularly heard complaints, i.e. battery life, because a larger screen means more space for a battery. Large screens will also help target the huge Asian markets and take way one of Samsung main advantages.
NFC will finally make it onto the iPhone (and possibly the iWatch), with contactless payment strong in the US, so expect some mobile payment partnerships too. More importantly we may well see an LTE Advanced Cat 6 baseband and LTE broadcast to enable a live content portfolio.
Lastly, wouldn’t it be great if Apple really did spring a surprise like they once did. Product leaks are symptomatic of Apple’s loss of mystique, something that has damaged the buzz in the industry as whole. Go on Apple, surprise me.