What's In Apple's 'Best Product Pipeline In 25 Years'?

May 29 2014, 10:02am CDT | by

At Recode’s CodeCon yesterday, Apple’s senior vice president Eddy Cue dropped the bomb that’s been repeated and retweeted around the internet: “Later this year, we’ve got the best product pipeline that I’ve seen in my 25 years at Apple.” For a company that has released the iPhone, iPad and Macbook Air — three category-killing products — in just the last decade, those are certainly some bold words.  Of course, Cue could be seeing this from the perspective of breadth as opposed to breakthrough. With that in mind, here’s a look at what’s on tap (and what might be) for the remainder of 2014 at Apple.

Keeping in mind that products will be announced before Thanksgiving, everything due this year will need to be released within 6 months. That’s not impossible, though it’s worth noting outside of minor upgrades to the Macbook Air, Apple has announced nothing new in the prior 6 months. With that, here’s a look at the what and possibly when.

iPhones (ETA: September, tiny chance of August)

Rumors of early iPhone arrival have abounded, but nothing logical has backed them up suggesting a typical September launch. The coming launch of the iPhone 6 will be far and away Apple’s biggest ever. Not only with the iPhone launch in more countries than ever before, it will almost certainly be available on the world’s largest carrier, China Mobile, from day one. Apple and China Mobile didn’t reach an agreement around the iPhone until January of this year, 4 months after the iPhone 5s and 5c launched.

In addition to country and carrier support, the iPhone 6 is almost certainly going to come with a 4.7-inch screen, allowing Apple to satisfy the demand for more real estate on the device. Whatever lost sales it was experiencing due to only having a 4-inch model will be a thing of the past as the larger iPhone arrives at last. Pent-up demand for such a device will drive sales to record levels but there will be an additional catalyst, even if Apple chooses not to go too far downmarket with price in emerging markets.

The current flagship iPhone 5s will either become the mid-level phone, as many of its predecessors did (although not the iPhone 5) or the iPhone 5c will get upgraded in some way to fill the middle tier. In either scenario, demand for that model will rise over the current 5c, which Apple has described as disappointing at times. If the current 5c becomes the entry model, perhaps Apple will offer a model without LTE for emerging markets.

The coup de grace is expected to follow shortly thereafter, when Apple completes the iPhone lineup with a 5.5-inch phablet, giving it a “4th model” at a higher price point. While there has been speculation this will be a low volume product, smartphones with 5-inch-or-greater screens are expected to sell 240 million units this year, according to TECHnalysis. While Apple’s global market share hovers in the low double digits, its presence in the high end is much stronger. By 2015, an Apple phablet would likely be selling in excess of 50 million while iPhones move past the 200 million mark overall.

Other than the big screen, sapphire crystal to replace the glass front, rounded edges, a new processor and perhaps even simultaneous voice and data on Verizon (please!) could be on tap.

iPads (ETA: November)

The redesign of the big iPad last year suggests no substantial change there. The smaller Mini is nearly identical in style and will also carry over. But big changes could be coming under the hood as both models get the TouchID fingerprint sensor, an updated A8 processor chip and possibly improved multitasking. Apple has long taken a walk-before-you-run approach with iOS, only bringing full background processing in iOS7. Speculation has centered on iOS 8 offering some kind of split-screen mode, allowing two apps to appear at once, making dragging and dropping easier or allowing for a video chat alongside a document editing session, for example. We’ll know much more about this next week, when Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off on Monday.

Wildcard: Talk of an even larger iPad Pro has echoed back and forth a number of times. The scuttlebutt was that the product had been pushed to 2015, but Cue’s comments suggest perhaps it hasn’t. Having used a 12-inch Samsung tablet, I can tell you that for most people, the handheld utility of such a beast is limited. If Apple is going bigger than the iPad Air, it will bring a new way of holding and using the tablet to bear.

iMacs (ETA: ASAP)

The most significant thing about the new Macbook Airs wasn’t the tiny speed boost, but rather the new low entry price of $899. Look for an iMac at a new entry price coming soon, too. The other gap in the product line is that while the displays on the iMac are nice, they aren’t Retina resolution. Apple released the current iMacs in 2012 after a disastrous period where the company had essentially none available for months. It was a rare supply chain misstep in the Tim Cook era. Don’t look for a repeat.

Macbook Pro (ETA: November)

Little will change here as the machine’s design isn’t very old and Intel’s chip roadmap dictates these not arrive until year end at the earliest. The new Broadwell processor promises better battery life, but little else that’s exciting.

Wildcard: An all-new Macbook Air with a Retina display of 12 inches has been rumored for a long while. It would likely sit above the existing 11-inch model, which might survive in the same way the current Macbook 13-inch Macbook Pro without a Retina display can still be purchased even though the model isn’t heavily promoted by Apple./>/>

iWatch (ETA: October)

While Samsung was talking up its health-oriented Simband yesterday, Apple is believed to be in the deep homestretch of its long-awaited smartwatch product. Given that it will be the first all-new product the company has produced since the 2010 iPad, the iWatch will get its own launch event, separate from iPhone but far enough ahead of the holidays to become the must-have gadget of Christmas 2014. That’s, of course, if all goes according to plan. Look for two sizes to accommodate smaller and larger wrists and pricing starting below $300.

AppleTV (ETA: August)

This, perhaps, is the most out there of the predictions. AppleTV could use an upgrade, though without an announcement for an App Store and a gaming platform, it doesn’t need one. Are those things coming in 2014? We’ll again likely know next week. Cue was trashing existing TV at CodeCon: “All we have today is glorified VCRs,” Cue said on stage. Yet when he claimed the only improvement over VCRs is you don’t need to reset the clock when the power goes out, it made me wonder if the guy ever watches TV with a modern DVR, which is more like the difference between a luxury SUV and a horse as compared to that VCR.

Conclusion

To make Cue’s statement real, Apple will need more than just a bigger, better iPhone and some slightly upgraded computers. This suggests that either he was being hyperbolic — which he isn’t especially prone to — or that the watch and TV products are going to be something special. Further, we’d be remiss in discounting the power of software. In that respect, watch this space next week for a deep dive into all things iOS 8.

Follow me on Twitter. Read the rest of my Forbes posts here.

 
 

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