2017. It’s a relatively innocuous number. Aside from the inauguration of a new US president, the only significant milestone is the completion of the world’s first fully synthetic yeast by a group of international scientists (thanks Wikipedia.) But, if you look inside Apple, 2017 is a huge year. It signifies the tenth year of the iPhone product line, which will no doubt lead to a hugely impressive update.
Elsewhere, we can make some key predictions, particularly surrounding Apple’s increasing focus on service products, which includes the App Store, iCloud, but most importantly Apple Music.
Considering we’re still languishing in the non-eventful first month of 2017 (just about), we wanted to take a look at the year ahead to compile what we know, what we think we know, and most excitedly, what we don’t know but think we’d like to know at some point this year. Enjoy our Nostradamus-esque musings.
Let’s start by taking a look at Apple’s major product refresh cycles. Though Apple is rapidly expanding its service provisions, its hardware is still the big consumer drawer thanks to its history of creating groundbreaking products.
2017 iPhone – ‘iPhone 8’
The first iPhone was introduced in June of 2007, which makes this the device’s tenth birthday. September’s launch is gearing up to be the biggest leap since Apple introduced two different sized devices with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014. This year, we might see the product line expand even more. Current rumors suggest Apple might release three devices: two entry level 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models, but also another, potentially different sized iPhone.
It’s this third device which has us most excited. It’s currently being referred to as the iPhone 8 (as opposed to 7s, which would follow traditional naming convention.) There are numerous rumors as to what this might look like or contain – here’s a brief overview:
The iPhone 8 might lose the iPhone’s traditional bezel. That’s the black areas along the top and bottom of the device which house things like the Home button. It’s possible Apple will remove or rebuild the TouchID Home button directly into the screen. This will be groundbreaking and it will be the first device not to feature the Home button in ten years. The result would be an edge-to-edge display, potentially even including a curved screen design.
It’s also likely we’ll see our first iPhone with an OLED screen. OLED is an organic compound that saves energy over LCD screens, and allows for brighter colors. It’s more expensive to produce and there are likely to be inventory constraints due to the huge number of iPhones produced. With this in mind, it’s expected OLED screens will only feature on one premium model than across all three. It could also mean a few precious millimeters will be shaved off from the device’s depth; OLED screens don’t need backlights.
Design-wise, it’s believed Apple will switch back to a glass chassis with a steel rim. Similar to the iPhone 4s. This is largely influenced by the inclusion of wireless charging technology. What form will this take? It’s likely Apple will implement some kind of inductive charging tech, rather than anything based on radio frequencies, which Apple described in a 2011 patent as “very inefficient.” This techbology doesn’t work with Apple’s current metal shells, so a move back towards glass is inevitable.
Other rumored additions include a camera capable of capturing 3D imagery and improved water resistance. Either way, expect a major update which many are predicting will return Apple to record-breaking sales.
As always, the iPhone is likely to be announced in September and released a week or two afterwards.
New iPads for 2017
The arrival of new iPads is a little up in the air in terms of scheduling but we’re almost certainly going to see some – maybe, as with the iPhone, three new models.
The current consensus is we’ll see a second generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a more powerful chip. It’s also believed we’ll see a new design of iPad featuring a screen that’s somewhere in the region of 10-10.9-inches. It’s believed this device will be, overall, similarly sized to the regular 9.7-inch model, but will remove the bezels to enlarge the screen’s real estate. This might also remove a Home button prior to, or in conjunction with the new iPhone. The devices were initially believed to arrive in March, but others are now considering the second half of 2017 as more likely.
Finally, it’s believed the 9.7-inch model will become an entry level iPad focused mainly on institutional use. The iPad Mini might also get an upgrade; generations one through four were released in consecutive years between 2012-15, but saw no upgrade last year.
Most recent rumors suggest an Apple Watch Series 3 will arrive this year. It’s believed the Watch will improve on battery life, connectivity so your phone doesn’t have to constantly be in situ, and improved health capabilities. But, it will retain the same design. However, Apple has filed a patent for a Watch with a circular display, but so far this is the only hint we have that Apple is considering a redesign at some point.
Macs and MacBooks
In a rare move, Apple only updated its MacBook Pro line in 2016, meaning that 2017 is, arguably, a make or break year for the rest of Apple’s line of computers – particularly its desktops. The iMac and MacBook notebook lines will probably see upgrades, but most importantly, users will want to see an upgrade to the Mac Pro, which hasn’t been updated in three years. As TechRadar points out in this article, that’s an eternity. We won’t go into too much detail here, but one thing’s for sure, we’ll find out exactly how Apple feels about the desktop Mac one way or another this year.
Apple released the fourth-generation of its set top TV box in September 2015 and it was a milestone update. It introduced users to a new App Store and remote allowing users to play and use apps they’ve enjoyed on their iPhone through their TV. But with such a significant update, does that mean we’ll have to wait longer for new features? Perhaps, perhaps not. It’s certainly worth noting the growth of 4K television, and considering many lamented the lack of 4K support when the last Apple TV came out, it’s an update that seems already overdue.
Why else might we see a new Apple TV in 2017? Because the iPhone isn’t the only thing turning 10 this year. The Apple TV first-generation was released back in January 2007.
Software & Services
iOS 10 was probably the biggest update we’ve seen to Apple software in years, overhauling Messages and implementing an iMessages App Store. So whats in store for this year? Well, so far, so quiet. But here’s what we have heard whispered…
Expect iOS 11 to be announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June. The event is for developers to learn what their apps can take advantage of in the next iteration of the software.
So far, the only real rumor we’ve heard suggests Apple is planning on some significant enhancements to keep Siri in competition with others looking to lead the AI world. What these enhancements are is anyone’s guess, but we’re expecting a big leap in functionality, and AI is likely to be the centerpiece to iOS 11.
Apple’s music streaming service has continued to grow – latest figures suggest it has 21 million subscribers – which puts it firmly in second place. However, it remains 2-3 times smaller than Spotify. It’s likely developments this year will focus on how Apple can gain ground by differentiating itself from its competitors.
From what we know, and based on Apple’s tentative steps towards exclusive albums from Drake, and tour videos from Taylor Swift, it might continue to use artists it’s known to be friendly with to help provide content that can’t be found elsewhere. But how far will they go? Word is, Apple will begin producing original TV content. We know already that Apple has vast ambitions in this area, but it looks like for the time being, rather than heading up against Netflix, it’s going to provide this content exclusively to Apple Music subscribers.
At Apple’s last earnings call to investors, Cook teased that Apple has something big coming up for its music service. Could this be it?
New Apple product lines in 2017
Now the really exciting stuff. New products. Has Apple got anything up its sleeve for the year ahead? It may well do…
At one point in 2014 up to a thousand Apple employees were thought to be working on an electric vehicle. The secret work was known as ‘Project Titan,’ but since then the project’s focus has shifted towards self-driving vehicles, and more specifically, to the software that can make this a reality.
Now, Apple seems more concerned with deep iOS integration, and maybe even Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities but that in itself is exciting. But the reason we’re talking about it within the remit of Apple’s 2017 plans is that the car team at Apple has reportedly been given until this year to prove the feasibility of an autonomous driving system. If Apple is getting into the self-driving game, it’s likely we’ll hear about it this year.
For further reading on the Apple Car, we’d recommend this MacRumors article which includes concepts, and historical information for Apple’s Project Titan work.
Following the success of Amazon’s Echo speaker, which houses its virtual assistant Alexa, Apple was widely reported to be working on its own ‘Siri Speaker.’ It was reported the speaker had been in development long before Amazon released the Echo, and when Apple launched the Siri software development kit for iOS 10, it was thought a speaker might be only around the corner.
However, reports eventually fell away and Apple appeared to distance itself from the rumors, claiming that Siri was at its most useful housed within an iOS device. On the other hand, with the launch of Google Home and other companies closing the lead Apple had in virtual assistants, it’s probably still very much on the cards. If it does launch, it’s more than likely to in 2017, otherwise Apple will fall too far behind.
Many will be aware that smart glasses have arisen before. Google Glass was made available in 2013, but never made it out of beta, and was eventually discontinued in 2015. It used AR and natural voice commands to allow users to explore the internet and perform other tasks. Google was bogged down in security and privacy concerns.
Elsewhere, Microsoft is working on HoloLens and Facebook-acquired Oculus VR has launched the Rift headset. Is Apple going to get in on the action? It’s more than likely Apple will focus on AR rather than VR – i.e. Apple will enhance reality rather than submerge you within a hyper-reality.
If this Bloomberg article is anything to go by, Apple is certainly exploring the prospect in a secret project. It quotes those “familiar with the matter,” and reveals more about what it might feature: “While still in an exploration phase, the device would connect wirelessly to iPhones, show images and other information in the wearer’s field of vision, and may use augmented reality, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a secret project.”
Apple is also said to have spoken to potential suppliers and ordered “small quantities of near-eye displays… for testing.”
So while the Speaker and the Car may be pipe dreams (a physical car at least,) the glasses look to be further along than we think. Expect to learn far more in 2017, and get ready for an equally, if not even more exciting 2018.