What’s remarkable about Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad is not that it has compelled roughly 25 million consumers and businesses to spend $500 or more. It’s greatest feat is that, in just more than a year, the iPad became something everyone wanted.
Before its release, laptop PCs were a booming business, and the future of that business was in making cheaper and cheaper notebooks to serve consumer demand. The basic idea of a tablet computer was something consumers were familiar with — the iPhone already was a hit and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android phones were rising fast — but it wasn’t something that was needed or heavily desired. Now the tablet is a permanent fixture in the technology landscape, and the iPad is a household name.
That’s a high bar to reach for obviously, but there are companies out there right now preparing the next wave of technology that consumers don’t know they want. At least not yet. Here are three devices that are either releasing in the near future or have yet to be discovered by the public.
Disney‘s ‘NextGen’ Technology
Although Disney (NYSE:DIS) still hasn’t officially announced the introduction of this technology, it stands to revolutionize the tourism trade — provided the company doesn’t sue the pants off of anyone copying it.
A report originating at DizFanatic (via TouringPlans.com) leaked the details on an internal presentation about the company’s “NextGen” technology. That vague moniker refers to wristbands that will be used in theme parks like Walt Disney World, Dineyland and Epcot Center. The wristband functions as an all-encompassing access badge, working as room key, ride ticket, meal voucher, even a datalogue for families playing the alternate reality games at Epcot Center. Photos of travelers on rides will be logged to online accounts connected to the wristband, and custom souvenirs can be constructed out of recorded information.
The wristband is an elegant solution for resorts and other destinations. It fulfills many of the same mobile payment and information utilities as a smartphone but is less fragile and, presumably, reusable by the businesses that utilize it.
Time Warner and EchoStar Slingbox
Few cable companies are as aggressive in their acclimation to the streaming television market as Time Warner (NYSE:TWX). The company already got itself in hot water in April when it released an iPad app for cable subscribers. Content partners, particularly Viacom (NYSE:VIA), didn’t appreciate Time Warner offering its channels like MTV and Comedy Central on another platform without renegotiating its licenses. Time Warner turned around and sued Viacom for complaining, saying its existing contracts covered usage on all platforms.
Now Time Warner aims to test that theory further with the Slingbox, the device that might keep consumers paying a cable subscription for some time yet. Created by EchoStar-owned (NASDAQ:SATS) Sling Media, a Slingbox is a set-top cable box that links all of a user’s video-capable electronics — smartphone, tablet, laptop — and gives them streaming access to their cable service over a wireless Internet connection from anywhere.
Time Warner is so confident in the Slingbox’s ability to capture the widening Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) audience that it is subsidizing sales, giving subscribers to the $99-per-month Wideband Internet subscription a hefty rebate on the device. Sling Media released the first Slingbox in 2005, but it’s now — as connected devices like smartphones proliferate — that the machine should find its audience.
Apple’s New Mac
The iPad is just one example of Apple’s keen ability to satisfy unknown consumer desires. The iPhone was a hit before it, and the iPod before that. The next trick up Steve Jobs’ sleeve is likely the rumored new Mac line, products that are so “absolutely different” that they might carry a whole new brand, revolutionizing the company’s personal computer business.
What could be so revolutionary? A device that is both desktop computer and tablet. Rumors of a new Mac desktop with an adjustable touchscreen interface — and whose operating system was a perfect bridge between the company’s older computers and newer portable devices — have been common over the past two years, spurred by the patent for a “Multiple Position Stand.”
A home system with a great deal of storage and greater media capabilities whose screen could be removed from a dock and used as a tablet, giving access to media stored at home through the new iCloud service, could be a game-changer indeed.