Five products Apple should build

Posted by Christian Ziberg, Wolfgang Gruener

Feature – Watching Apple announce and market products - or not announce and market products some people expect from the company - can be a highly interesting process. All new Apple products rolled out in recent years seem to share a handful of common ideas: They never try to create an entirely new product segment, but are placed into an already developing market, they improve on obvious mistakes others made, they always complement other Apple products and they take advantage of the company’s software platform. So, with that in mid, which products could we expect from Apple next? Here are five ideas.  

Ok, we admit, our perception may be oversimplifying Apple’s product strategy a tiny bit, but look at some of the firm’s products and the strategy seems to be apparent. For example, the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it was the first stylish one you could actually show to your friends and it was the first that came with a sound interface that connected to a desktop application. The Macbook certainly was not the first notebook, but it was one of the first to respond to the demand for more elaborate design elements and still uses unique features such as the magnetic power plug. The iPhone wasn’t the first cellphone either but it jumped into the quickly developing smartphone segment, with what seems to be an obvious design template for smartphones today. We will stop here, you get the point.

So, if that idea is really an indicator for future Apple products and Apple wants to expand its product portfolio, which products would make sense? We invite to join the discussion and add to our ideas.
   

1. iMac/Mac Pro Extreme

Let’s be honest. As much as Steve Jobs likes to highlight the processing and graphics capabilities of Macs, if you are really looking for consumer-focused computing performance, such as gaming, you won’t buy a Mac. Yes, you may point to the Mac Pro, but this pricey system really appeals to creative professionals, not hard-core gamers. Apple’s recent Nvidia indicates that more graphics performance is of interest to Apple, so why wouldn’t it make sense to go all the way and actually create a higher-end iMac that could be taken seriously by gamers? Apple also has enough cash on hand to jumpstart game development for Macs.

Chances to be built? Virtually none, in our opinion, but Apple will have to find a way to make video games available on its platform as video gaming becomes more and more a part of our everyday life. Right now, an Apple environment is virtually game-free and you gotta start somewhere, right?  


2. iGame

So, if not a game PC, what then? What about a game console? This is the one market Apple has been avoiding since the Pippin fiasco in mid 1990s. A lot of cash is needed to play in an already relatively mature console market to cover losses on hardware sales and excess R&D costs. But there seems to be an apparent opportunity that is not taken advantage yet: Nintendo’s Wii virtually came out of nowhere and showed a good idea can transform the console gaming market an embarrass those stuck in the old days.

Chances to be built? Even less, at least if you think in terms of a traditional game console. Apple may have enough cash to play along, but Apple has a certain lack of credibility in video gaming. Plus, there is no gaming history or a platform to build on. However, a sleek, powerful set top box with expanded capability to access iTunes sounds like an enticing idea to us. Did we just say upgrade that silly Apple TV and finally get it right? Yes, we did.

Read on the next page: iTV, iBook, iTablet


3. iTV

So, Apple has a TV product, the Apple TV. It never made real sense and it remains a hobby product. It is too pricey and lacks advanced features found in other set-top boxes. No matter how Apple tries, people just get the company’s thought box in their living rooms. We think that the whole problem is that the Apple TV isn’t a TV. So why not put the Apple TV functionality in a TV and call it iTV? Imagine a 42”-56” HDTV with a glossy screen, covered with scratch-resistant glass and black borders around the screen edges. Imagine the Apple logo below the screen and today’s Apple TV (DVR, Wi-Fi/Ethernet/Bluetooth/USB2, video conferencing) built-in, with the option to add a more powerful entertainment console (iGame, see above). The HDTV market is growing (well, not so much this year) and the transition to digital TVs may be the perfect timing to launch such a gadget. Also, remember that Apple has a lot of credibility in the consumer electronics space.

Chances to be built? Honestly, this one is so obvious to us that we have to wonder why Apple has not done that already. There are powerful DTV processors out there, which could easily run a stripped down version of OS X that can interface with other Apple products. It could run Safari web browser, email client, on-screen widgets, and on-demand streaming TV courtesy of iTunes, in addition to music, movies, TV shows, rentals and purchases.

4. iBook

Steve Jobs said that Apple will not make a $500 "piece of junk". But we bet the company would love to reanimate the iBook and sell an improved “piece of junk” for $700 and jump into this quickly developing market and here is why: The sub-notebook market is lucrative and significant and it seems that no-one besides Asus has really a good idea what a netbook should be capable of doing. Heck, some makers of these devices don’t even know how to call these products. We could easily imagine a $699 Mac netbook (Internet access device), which will not cut into $1000+ Macbook sales but could carve out a new market for the company. Carefully positioned as a content creation device, rather than as a content viewing device, such as the iPhone, this could be a very interesting Mac category.

Chances to be built? There is room between the Macbook and the iPhone, no doubt about it. We are pretty certain that Apple is watching the netbook space carefully and may be thinking of a device that would resemble the looks of the Macbook Air in a 7-9” form factor  

5. iTablet

This is a really old one and it may always remain a niche opportunity. What we are thinking of is a UMPC-like tablet for vertical markets that helps other manufacturers such as Samsung or Asus to get this category right. While the UMPC was originally envisioned by Microsoft and Intel as a consumer device, it is now the MID that becomes the Internet companion the UMPC was believed to be. We know that Apple already has an MID, since the iPhone is really a template for any MID manufacturer out there, but what about the UMPC form factor, which is likely to replace the tablet PC and appeals to vertical (business) markets? Looks like a perfect fit to us, especially for the business and enterprise market Apple wants to play in. We are thinking of a
7" touchscreen with a resolution between 800x480 and 800x600, featuring multi-touch, an accelerometer, iSight camera and decent battery life, in addition to Wi-Fi/WiMax (or 3G) and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity.

Chances to be built? UMPCs are a small, but potentially very lucrative market. If Apple is serious about the business market, a device that complements the iPhone with much better data input support surely makes sense.

What are your thoughts? Chime in and let us know what you would like to see.