2020 Vision - a look into the future
Hello Mr Mac subscribers! Thanks for your custom over the last 20 years... here's looking at the next 20! Here we are at the end of 2019. Considering what's been happening over the last few years socially, politically and technologically, we have some great improvements to look forward to over the next decade. (I for one would like to see a bit more mindfulness from our leaders, hopefully that's not too much to ask?...) As we look to the new decade, in this last newsletter I offer a glimpse of what Apple products may be coming your way in the near future...
While not fully confirmed, Apple’s iPhone range is widely expected to include big changes in 2020, including major feature improvements that typically kick off upgrade “supercycles.” Today’s flagship iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are expected to be redesigned into iPhone 12 models with larger screens, 5G cellular capabilities, and better cameras. There’s even a rumor that Apple might get rid of the front screen “notch” on these devices. Separately, the iPhone 8 has been tipped to evolve into an entry-level “iPhone SE2” or “iPhone 9” with internal chip improvements.
Should you hold out for one of these devices? That’s up to you. But if your old phone is on the way out, you can always buy the iPhone 11 and then sell it later down the track if you want to jump in to a newer model...
Very little is known for sure about Apple’s next-generation iPads, but they’re usually on a 1.5-year upgrade cycle. Since the current iPad Pro was released in 2018 with no updates or price changes during 2019, that would imply new and improved models are coming in 2020, possibly in the first half of the year. Historically, the company has been comfortable reusing prior industrial designs for years if they’re working well for users, and the current iPad Pros have been widely praised for their relatively compact sizes, light weights, and notchless Face ID implementations. In the coming year, they’ve been tipped to follow iPhones in getting multiple rear cameras and are likely to see fairly major performance bumps, moving from last year’s A12X Bionic to a next-generation A14-series chip based on a 5-nanometer process. There's even speculation that a 'foldable' version (the 'FoldPad'?) is being developed.
There’s also the potential of a move to 5G cellular capabilities in 2020, as well as a possible shift to a superior screen technology — either mini LED or OLED.
There have been rumours during 2019 that Apple was producing little tracking doodads similar to Tile. Apparently called either “Apple Tags” or “AirTags,” they were supposed to be released earlier this year. Then later this year. Now...not this year.
If Apple gets Tags right, they could be a game-changer. There are plenty of other trackers out there, but they all rely on networks of other users with the same app. Apple could leverage it's vast user base in a highly secure way that protects your privacy, making them far more trustworthy and useful. Hopefully, Tags will use both Bluetooth LE (for broad compatibility with the most iPhones) and Ultra-Wideband (for precise location on the newest iPhones), should be water-resistant, and have either replaceable batteries or wireless charging. And let’s just hope they’re priced reasonably! Budget Tile deals give you four trackers for less than $50, and the high-end Tile Pro is just over $100 for a set of four. That’s a good price range to fill.
It’s odd that the Tags aren’t out yet. Let’s hope Apple Tags aren’t the next AirPower and Apple is instead just waiting for the perfect moment to announce them.
A possible clue to Apple's future plans for AR development is the rumour of an updated iPad Pro with a time-of-flight sensor on the rear cameras, to enable quick and accurate production of a 3D model of the environment for use in augmented reality (AR). The iPhones introduced in September are said to incorporate the same sensor—at least in the high-end models.
That could be a big leap for AR on the iPhone and iPad, but AR isn’t really going to catch on until we’re no longer looking at a video of the real world on our flat screens. AR becomes magical when you look out at reality with your own eyes, and it has computer-generated graphics integrated into it. The technology probably doesn’t yet exist for a pair of elegant and stylish glasses that can produce a decent AR experience. But building an AR ecosystem for mass-market consumption is going to be a multi-year process, and I would love to see Apple really get it going with a real AR headset this year.
It doesn’t have to be a pair of Ray-Bans with screens built in, but I think Apple could probably produce something smaller, lighter, and more elegant than Hololens or Magic Leap, while addressing some shortcomings like the limited field of view.
The company hasn’t confirmed this, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Apple is working on augmented reality glasses that will depend on iPhones, mirroring Qualcomm’s support for AR glasses that rely on Android phones. Though a late 2017 report suggested the hardware would likely debut in 2020, more recent claims have pointed to 2022 or later — something that’s hard to square with the AR headset support found in iOS 13. We shall have to wait and see.
Also, from a marketing perspective, there will never be a better year in which to launch an eyewear product than 2020.
Apple TV - 8K or 4K+ (with a new remote PLEASE)
There’s nothing really wrong with the existing Apple TV 4K. At least, not with the box itself. It’s one of the most powerful and capable streaming boxes around, with support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, a slick multi-user interface, and app for all the major streaming services.
But with the launch of Apple Arcade and the new support for PS4 and Xbox One game controllers in tvOS 13, it has become clear that the 'gamer' community is underwhelmed. It seems like Apple wanted something with gaming capability, but didn't quite know how to go about it.
If you don’t care about that, if all you want is access to video and music streaming services, it’s overkill, and way more expensive than the competition - and the current remote is an accessibility nightmare, which seems like the kind of thing Apple would really want to address.
Assuming Apple remains in the streaming TV hardware business, a possible next move would be to support 8K video output as televisions begin transitioning to the higher-resolution standard. Doing so would require a faster CPU/GPU than the current A10X Fusion chip — perhaps the A12X or A13 Bionic — as well as a refresh of the current tvOS interface and apps to support these screens.
After its big services push in 2019, Apple’s got a whole bunch of consumer-facing subscriptions and other monthly-instalment services on offer.
This ties in with the increasing tendency for big corporations to snare consumers into a subscription-based ecosystem. I'm personally not a big fan of that stuff, but I can see there are some benefits to it. Media-on-demand is a game changer and with Netflix, Spotify and similar services so well entrenched it appears it 's here to stay. This is yet another massively disrupting influence that will change our media consumption over the next decade. It will be interesting to see where we end up in terms of Media consumption by 2030. Hopefully it won't be too scary...
A MacBook with an Apple processor
The long-term expectation is that Apple will not continue to use Intel processors in its laptops forever. The company seems to want to be in control of its own destiny, and while adding the T2 chip to Macs is a step in that direction, the company will ultimately need to produce its own CPU and GPU, just as it does on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.
Making macOS run on the ARM architecture used in Apple’s chips, as opposed to the x86 architecture of Intel and AMD processors, is a challenge. The bigger challenge is moving the ecosystem along with it—the apps and plugins and everything else that makes a Mac more than just an iPad with a keyboard.
This is going to be a multi-year process which may start this year. Apple could conceivably introduce a whole new macOS (macOS 11?) - that runs only on Macs with Apple chips. They'd then potentially introduce a 12- or 13-inch MacBook similar to the MacBook Air, only with the new Magic Keyboard and Face ID. MacOS 11 would run new apps compiled specifically for Apple’s ARM-based processors and a selection of other apps through emulation, and is otherwise similar to macOS 10.16, which is introduced for the whole rest of the Mac market. Over the coming years, Apple would make more of the Mac lineup with its own processors inside, and stop producing new versions of macOS 10.x, only supplying it with bug fixes and security patches, as the Mac line fully transitions to macOS 11 and Apple’s own processors.
Maybe that’s not Apple’s plan. But however it wants to move the Mac to its own processors, it’s a transition that will take plenty of time (and working through lots of rough terrain) to complete. We shall see as time unfolds...