...developing new fruit.
Sometimes when you examine data it is really easy to overlook something that is blindingly
obvious. As you probably know Apple is about to launch a new smartphone in September and I’ve
previously mentioned that Apple will also probably launch a “smart” TV early in 2013. The chart
above came about as I was thinking about Apple because they have been receiving extensive
international media coverage lately. Apple is now officially the most valuable U.S. Company, and
sales originating from their own shops have achieved the highest U.S. sales per square foot
compared with any other company. It is a testament to the attractiveness of Apple’s products and
service that these records have been achieved. Especially now when, although some economies
have been expanding, most of the economies of the western countries which make up the bulk of
Apple sales have been shrinking. Another, more negative, reason that Apple has been hitting the
headlines recently is because of a patent dispute with Samsung. This series of global legal actions
is likely to have a great impact on the future development of touch-enabled electronic devices.
Apple has just won substantial damages against Samsung which was accused of infringing certain
patents which, in my opinion, should never have been granted in the first place, but I digress: In
the course of the trial, Apple and Samsung have had to reveal to the public rather more about their
design and production methods as well as their sales figures, than their normal reticence allows. It
was this information that triggered the thoughts that produced this PowerPoint chart.
Based on the deposition testimony we now know that Apple’s iPhone development began in late
2004 to early 2005, just two years before the product launch. But we also know from the court
filings that the iPhone was the outcome of a series of tablet prototypes developed much earlier -
during 2002 to 2004. So that means that the iPad was the result of at least eight years of product
development prior to its debut in 2010 and, although it was launched three years after the iPhone,
the iPad design actually pre-dated the iPhone design. It’s clear that much of the design of the
iPhone was derived from the early prototype tablets. You can see for yourself what these
prototypes looked like here. In fact those early prototypes were trying to solve design problems
that emanated from much further back in Apple’s history. Apple had spent a long period of
investment trying to create a small portable computer with a stylus and handwriting recognition
software. The first product in this series was launched by Apple in 1993; eight years after Steve
Jobs had left the company (in 1985). It was called the Newton MessagePad. For any Apple fans
worried about the company’s future product development, following the death of Steve Jobs, it
should be reassuring to know that the Newton MessagePad, the prototype of the iPad, was
developed without him. In fact, if Jobs had been with Apple at the time, it’s unlikely that the
Newton MessagePad would have seen the light of day as it used a stylus. Jobs, for all his visionary
genius, had a blind spot where styluses are concerned. In 2010 he famously said of any touch
screen gadget: “If you see a stylus, they blew it.” So it’s ironic that many iPad owners, who love the
excellent drawing programme, find that a stylus is infinitely easier to use than their fingers, and
much of the growing success of Samsung’s Galaxy Note (apparently 7-10 million have sold so far) is
due to its highly sensitive S Pen stylus. Tiny icons, large or inept fingers and smeary screens make a
stylus a natural tool to use with any Android smartphone or tablet. I use one on my Nexus 7.
Anyway, it was while reflecting on the often extended product development periods in which
companies like Apple have to invest that I began to wonder about the kind of new products the
company might be working on now. I don’t mean in the next year or two but in a few years’ time
when novel technology will create fresh product possibilities. The chart above provides a likely
answer; it shows the proportion of the UK population who own particular Internet-enabled devices.
The iconic apples indicate the areas where Apple already has products, and the two with question
marks indicate products which Apple intends to launch in the immediate future. A smaller 7, or 8.5
inch tablet that will function as a neater e-Reader, the iPad Mini, is due in mid-October, as is an
“ultra-smart” TV, due early in 2013. You can see that that leaves only two areas of popular Internet
enabled electronic devices where Apple does not have a product: a games console and a portable
games console. I find it inconceivable that a successful company like Apple would not be busy
developing and designing prototype games devices while searching for breakthrough technologies
that will radically shake-up the whole games market.
Sure enough, checking through Apple’s vast patent hoard there is, and has been for a while, a
stream of patents all related to games technology. All things considered, I’m sure that the
precursor of an Apple games device exists in prototype form in Cupertino today. If you doubt me,
you can explore the thread of Apple’s games development by studying some of their patent
applications by clicking on this link. Electronic games devices and their software have always been
driven by technological developments which increase the products usability, and usability is the
area in which Apple really excels. Good examples of this type of product are the Nintendo Wii or
Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect. And, of course, with Apple’s extremely positive cash reserves, likely to be
swollen even more after their legal tussle with Samsung, it can buy any technology it needs, so
watch this video for a possible purchase target. According to the research company NPD, the U.S.
market for games hardware and software is $10.1 billion. After the U.S. and Japan, the UK is the
third biggest market at over $4.6 billion. With this much money at stake in the games sector where
human interaction plays such a crucial part, it would be very surprising if Apple was not intending
to be a major player.
...with analysis & insight...