By Jim Karpen on Tue, 11/13/2012
Sometimes it seems like there's nothing new for Apple to invent. There are rumors of an Apple TV set, but it's hard to imagine that would have the potential for revolutionizing an industry, and goosing Apple's bottom line, in the same way as have the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. While it's difficult to guess what Apple will come up with next, I think there are some sure bets for the near term. So I'm going out on a limb and am making some predictions regarding Apple's mobile devices.
Apple's highest goal has always been to provide a great user experience. And in my mind, there are three main considerations for mobile devices: 1) mobility, 2) the human-machine interface, and 3) battery life. Your user experience gets better as each of these three is improved. So let's look at them in turn.
In terms of mobility, thin and light are key. The more portable your mobile device is, the more it enhances your user experience. And Apple has room for improvement here, especially with the iPad. If Apple were move to IGZO displays on its iPad models, they could be thinner and lighter, and still have even longer battery life. IGZO (indium, gallium, zinc, oxide) is a new technology for driving the display that uses just 10 to 20 percent of the power that conventional display panels use, while also being thinner. The leading maker of IGZO displays is Sharp, and Apple has reportedly invested over $2 billion in the company.
Why hasn't Apple used IGZO already? My impression was that they were hoping to do so for the iPad with retina display, but the technology wasn't quite ready. The yield rate was too low, and Sharp wouldn't have been able to make them in large enough quantities. But that's changing. Sharp apparently feels like it's now ready to produce IGZO panels in quantity, and is seeking contracts with a number of ultrabook manufacturers. And last month Sharp announced their first 7-inch tablet with an IGZO display.
Imagine what a difference an IGZO display would make, given that it needs so much less power. A recent post on iMore by Rene Ritchie, who always has a lot of insight, suggests that it will be impossible for Apple to make an iPad mini with higher resolution because the larger bettery needed to drive the addition pixels would make the iPad mini too thick and heavy. But not with IGZO. It would give greater resolution while probably also allowing the device to be even thinner and lighter.
So in one stroke, we both improve mobility and also the human-machine interface, while also allowing for a longer battery life. That's why it seems a no brainer to me that Apple will eventually go with IGZO. Of course, an iPhone with an IGZO display would have extremely long battery life.
What else might we expect in the near future in regard to greater mobility? I don't think Apple will be limited to a handheld device. After all, what we really want is an all-purpose gadget that we can communicate with and that we can use to communicate with others. Why does it necessarily have to be handheld? I suspect that we'll be seeing a wearable device. Apple needs a new form factor, and this is the obvious next step. Whether it's in the form of glasses or a cap or a lanyard or a wristwatch, vague rumors say that Apple is working on something. (Though that hardly tells you anything, because they're always working on and testing lots of different prototypes.)
The trick with wearable devices is the human-machine interface. Right now mobile devices entail a lot of looking and tapping. Siri was an attempt to change that. Apple is hard at work focusing on making Siri more functional, and they have the server farms (and the cash needed to build more as needed) that can power ever more sophisticated and intelligent versions of Siri. Siri will eventually be able to replace most looking and tapping. Heck, the display on an iPhone wristwatch could simply be a clock face, and everything else would be done via Siri.
Natural language is perhaps the most natural way to communicate. But so are gestures. It would be cool if Apple would also build in the ability to read your gestures in the air in the same way the Micrsoft's Kinect does. I think that's coming, too.
So there seems to be a lot of headroom for Apple to keep improving user experience. And there seem to be many already-available technologies that Apple will increasingly incorporate into their mobile devices in the next couple years.