Half way through 2013, it looked like a lost year for Apple (AAPL).
Apple had no product announcements. Its stock was cratering. As the stock fell, the media started writing stories about Apple losing its innovative spirit.
But now that 2013 is over, it’s clear this was not a lost year for Apple. In fact, it was really big year, one that set the table for the next 2-3 years of innovation from Apple.
It’s very likely we’re going to look back at this year as the first one in which Apple fully entered the post-Steve Jobs era.
There’s one event that really stands out: The introduction of iOS 7. Apple expert John Gruber writing about iOS 7, said, “it shows that the company is not afraid to boldly move forward from the Steve Jobs era.”
Jobs loved the bubbly, glitzy, faux-realistic icons and design in iOS 6. His partner Jony Ive killed all of that in iOS 7, which had simpler icons and design with a brighter color palate.
Breaking from Jobs’ flavor for iOS 7 was a statement. “I’m not going to pretend to know Jobs’s taste — no one could, that’s what made Steve Jobs Steve Jobs — but I can certainly make a guess, and my guess is that he would not have supported this direction,” said Gruber in October, adding, “I do think it’s a tangible sign that Tim Cook means it when he says that Jobs’s advice to him was never to ask ‘What would Steve have done?’ but instead to simply ask ‘What is best for Apple?’ and judge for himself.”
Beyond iOS 7, which was the boldest, most in-your-face move by Apple in 2013, there were a number of other, somewhat smaller moves that point to what it’s planning for 2014:
- Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, formerly CEO of Burberry (BBRYF) to run its retail operations. (Some people are so high on Ahrendts they think she’ll be CEO one day. I’d like to see her work a day at Apple before making proclamations.)
- It bought 15 (!) companies this year. Apple has been criticized for not being aggressive on M&A. Seems like it got aggressive this year.
- It poached Adobe (ADBE) CTO Kevin Lynch to run a special project. At Adobe, Lynch talked trash about Apple, so this hire was surprising. He’s supposedly leading a team of ex-iPod engineers on something.
- Yves St. Laurent CEO Paul Deneve joined Apple as a VP working on special projects reporting to Tim Cook. Think Apple is going to go down market? It hired people from Burberry and YSL.
- Apple scooped up a lot of the people that developed Nike’s (NKE) FuelBand. Cough *iWatch* Cough.
- It released iOS 7, a total remake of Apple’s mobile software. (We just talked about this.)
- The iPad Air is an incredible product, and the iPad Mini with Retina ain’t too bad. Two new iPads that keep it ahead of the competition.
- It added a fingerprint scanner to the iPhone in a simple elegant way that no other company has done for smartphones.
- It added 64-bit, or desktop computing-level, architecture to the iPhone and iPad. This seems like one of those things that will be massive in the next year or two. Tablets as powerful as laptops are coming.
That’s a lot of stuff, but because Apple didn’t produce a brand new category of products, some people think Apple blew it this year.
Apple used 2013 as an opportunity to reset itself. It reorganized the company with Ive taking the lead on design. It staffed up for big opportunities, and now it’s ready to attack.
CEO Tim Cook has been promising that 2014 will be a big year. On the company’s most recent earnings call, he said, “We continue to be very confident in Apple’s future and we see significant opportunities ahead of us in both current product categories and new ones.”
In a memo to employees, Cook said, “We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as bluster from the CEO. What else would he say to employees: Hey guys, great year, let’s take 2014 off to recharge?
In this case, though, the key phrase from the earnings call is “new ones,” as in new product categories, which hints at something other than an iPhone or an iPad in 2014.
Cook has been fairly forthright about Apple’s product timeline. In April, he said, “We will have some really great stuff in the fall and all across 2014.” A day before fall officially began, Apple started selling the iPhone 5S and 5C.
He also warned (in so many words) that Apple wouldn’t release a cheap iPhone. And sure enough, Apple didn’t release a cheap iPhone.
So, we’re expecting new products in 2014, and a new product category.
Here, specifically, is what we’re expecting:
- A bigger iPhone. The rumor mill is cranking hard on this one. We’ll be stunned if the iPhone only comes in 4-inch and 3.5-inch sizes next year. We expect Apple to make a 5-inch iPhone. There’s talk Apple will do a big, 6-inch phablet-style phone as well. We’re not expecting a phablet, but we we would love it.
- The iPad Pro. Rumor mill cranking hard on this one, too. There’s talk of Apple doing a 12-inch iPad. There’s also talk that it’s going to redefine the laptop. There’s a good chance these two rumors overlap, and Apple creates some sort of hybrid product.
- A better Apple maps. Apple didn’t hire a bunch of people with mapping expertise to sit on their hands. They better release a radically improved Apple Maps next year.
- A new look for Apple’s Mac operating system. It’s weird that Apple’s design language is inconsistent. We expect uniformity with the Mac OS matching iOS in 2014.
Here’s other stuff we’re expecting, but we’re not certain will happen:
- The iWatch. We’re not 100% certain we’ll see an iWatch next year. It seems like Apple started staffing up for the iWatch team this year. To get a product out the door in 12 months would be amazing. But, you may say to yourself, didn’t Tim Cook say “new” product categories in 2014? The iPad Pro would technically fill the “new” product category slot for Apple. So, maybe the iWatch is a 2015 thing.
- Changes to the Apple retail stores. Apple’s retail stores need some polish. With a new retail chief we expect subtle changes next year. A bigger revamp is probably coming in 2015.
- Something with TV. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks a physical television is coming. We’re skeptical, about that, but we think something happens. Maybe it’s opening up the Apple TV (the little box) to developers. Maybe it’s updating the Apple TV to be motion controlled. Maybe it is a 60-inch Apple television. Who knows! We just think it will be something.
- Refinements to iOS 7. It’s amazing Apple put out iOS 7 in 2013. It seems like it overhauled its whole OS in ~8 months. When you rush, you make some mistakes, and we expect Apple to clean up the mistakes next year.
- A Retina iMac. Everything else is Retina with Apple, so why not the iMac?
- A Retina MacBook Air. See above.
- A 4K monitor. Zzzzzzz, we know. But, Apple should have a sharp monitor to match its new Mac Pro.
And that’s about it! It should be another big year for Apple.
While we’re here, it’s worth noting that what we’re expecting in 2014 from Apple will be thanks to the combination of Tim Cook and Jony Ive as the company’s leaders.
It’s possible that in 2014, Apple will make gadgets with screen sizes of 2-inches, 3.5-inches, 4-inches, 5-inches, 6-inches, 7.8-inches, 9.7-inches, 11-inches, 12-inches, 13.3-inches, 21.5-inches, 27-inches, and 60-inches.
That’s an almost-Samsungian level of product variety. And it’s only possible because Cook has the logistical and organizational discipline to make it happen.
Ive’s job is to dream up the gadgets. Cook’s job is to make them an affordable reality.
In 2014, we should see this in full effect.
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