Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is off to a roaring start in 2011. The long awaited iPhone 4 for the Verizon (NYSE: VZ) network in the U.S. is making waves, with Securities’ Brian White estimating as many as 1 million preorders were sold. Also, the iPad 2 is all but confirmed for a late spring release and the updated tablet will undoubtedly continue the iPad line’s success.
But in the fast-moving world of consumer tech, the iPad 2 and Verizon iPhone are already old news. The question everyone is asking is “What’s next from Apple?” After three successive homeruns with the iPod, iPhone and iPad, investors and consumers alike are curious what the next major product for the Cupertino, California, company will be.
Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. are well-known for their secrecy. But recently revealed Apple patents, compelling hints buried in the code of beta software releases and industry rumors paint a portrait of Apple’s new efforts due in 2012. Here are 5 potential next big things from Apple that could be the next consumer technology craze we’ve been waiting for:
Touch Screen, Docking iMac Desktop
The Mac App Store’s release last year and the upcoming OS X update, version 10.7 Lion, are bringing Apple’s traditional computers even closer in line with its portable products that run the iOS operating software. The Mac line hasn’t had a major new product in its ranks (aside from streamlined updates like the MacBook Air) in ages so it’s a logical target for retooling. And a patent made public just last week titled “Multiple Position Stand” shows the next evolution of Apple’s Mac business is a new multi-touch screen iMac. The patent describes a Mac desktop with an adjustable monitor that can be adjusted to lay flat for full touch control or upright for more traditional use. The “Transitioning Between Modes of Input” patent released last summer described how OS X would seamlessly change which inputs are used based on the screen’s alignment. Maybe the iMac could even be untethered to operate as a portable gadget like an iPad or iPhone and operate as a full computer when “docked.” We’ll have to wait and see.
Ever since Apple acquired streaming music business Lala last year, consumers and Wall Street followers alike have been waiting for iTunes to make the transition from downloadable media sales to cloud-based streaming service. In short, consumers would no longer have to lug around portable hard drives full of their songs or worry about a computer crash erasing their library. A patent titled “Audio Clips for Announcing Remotely Accessed Media Items” recently discovered by website AppleInsider hints that Apple may be finalizing its plans for Cloud iTunes. The technology described in the patent suggests a version of iTunes where some data is stored on a user’s PC or handset with other data stored on Apple’s servers and remotely accessed. That cloud-stored data and downloaded data would be presented in one seamless list and these would be accessed simultaneously. This patent describes specifically how information about a song (artist name, song title, etc.) would be pulled from cloud storage and announced prior to playback. The shared information would strengthen Apple’s infamous anti-piracy measures as well as lower the data demands on not just iTunes music but video business as well.
Apple Electronic Wallet
Hints that future iterations of the iPhone and iPad would include a near-field communications (NFC) chip have been heavy for over a year. NFC technology allows for a very short-range wireless signal akin to the Mobil speedpass for gas pumps or those magnetic security cards many folks use to enter office buildings these days. Near-field technology could further strengthn iOS devices’ social networking features, making it easier for Apple handhelds to instantly communicate with each other through proximity rather than WFi, Bluetooth, or the Web. A recent report however highlighted an NFC chip-enabled Apple handhelds potential as brand new credit card. According to Envisioneering Group’s Richard Doherty, future iPhones and iPads will work as electronic wallets, with users filling a balance using a bank account or credit card and then swiping their handheld at retailers to pay for items.
Apple TV Video Game Console
The Apple TV represents more than Apple’s early efforts to take over living room television viewing — it may also be a great push forward for Apple’s home video game business. Technology blog Engadget published a report recently saying that a recent release of the mobile iOS software hides evidence of multiple gaming features for the Apple TV including support of a gaming controller, an extension of the Apple Game Center, and even a streaming games service. For you geeks who are curious, the evidence lies in references to “ATVGames” and “ATVThunder” in the beta’s code with code strings “com.apple.appletv.play.live.thunder” and “.play.archive.thunder” indicating that Apple TV Thunder would be the name of Apple’s streaming service. Apple has already fundamentally changed the portable gaming business with its handhelds, and it could do the same for home gaming.
iPhone and iPad Universally Available on All Data Networks
The most intriguing possible change coming to Apple in 2012 is the potential for the iPhone and iPad to have support from multiple carriers simultaneously. A new patent titled “Dynamic Carrier Selection” describes a “mobile virtual network operator” system that would have multiple service providers bidding to provide specific services to an iPhone or iPad on the fly. For example: A consumer could buy an iPad and then review data and texting rates offered by not just Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T (NYSE: T) but also Sprint (NYSE: S) — which is mentioned specifically in the patent — and any other carrier who wants to serve Apple consumers. Depending on the rates, the user could pick and choose their plans from multiple telecoms, as in Verizon for voice and Sprint for Data. If instituted, Apple could alter the way mobile service is provided around the world. The question is whether carriers would play ball — but given Apple’s clout and the advantage to consumers, it could be a real possibility as soon as 2012.
As of this writing, Anthony John Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.