2016 was a bit of an off year for Apple.
iPhone sales were down for the first time in the product’s history.
The iPhone 7 turned out to be a great phone, but Apple upset a lot of people by removing the headphone jack.
The AirPods were delayed two months, meaning most people couldn’t get them in time for the holidays. (You’ll have to wait until February 2017 for them to arrive if you order them now.)
And Consumer Reports torched the new MacBook Pro for its inconsistent battery life.
So what does 2017 look like for Apple? Here’s what I predict will dominate the conversation around Apple’s products next year. It’s not an all-inclusive list, but it’s the stuff you’ll likely care the most about.
It feels like an eternity since Apple had anything to say about the iPad. We got the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro this past spring, but every other iPad model is one to three years old at this point.
The lineup is well overdue for a refresh, and it sounds like that may be coming soon.
Rumors are all over the place, but it sounds like Apple is planning to release some new iPad models in the spring of 2017. Some reports say the new iPads will have slightly larger screens (10 inches, up from 9.7 inches), and that the non-Pro models will work with the Apple Pencil.
Unfortunately, the early reports about the new crop of iPads are so consistent that it’s tough to lock down exactly what Apple will end up launching. But it is pretty clear Apple’s 2017 will start with the iPad.
A greater emphasis on Siri
Two of Apple’s biggest rivals doubled down on voice assistants this year, leaving Siri in the dust.
Google launched its excellent new Assistant on the Pixel phone and Google Home speaker. Assistant can tap into Google’s vast library of internet knowledge to bring you the answers you want.
Amazon continued to define the voice assistant category by expanding Alexa to new Echo devices like the Dot and Amazon Tap. Plus, third parties started integrating Alexa into their gadgets. (Expect to see so much more of that in 2017, by the way.)
Despite its five-year head start on the competition, Siri still feels woefully behind. Apple added limited third-party support for Siri, but there are few signs it’s really taking off.
What could we see from Siri in 2017?
The good news for Apple is it’s sitting on a lot of excellent AI and voice control technology, especially thanks to its purchase of a UK-based startup called VocalIQ. I wrote about VocalIQ way back in May. The technology would allow users to control all their Apple gadgets with just their voice, which will be useful in the home, car, and while using the AirPods.
Here’s what I reported at the time:
Because VocalIQ understands context so well, it essentially eliminates the need to look at a screen for confirmation that it’s doing what you want it to do. That’s useful on the phone, but could be even better for other ambitious projects like the car or smart-speaker system Apple is reportedly building. (VocalIQ was being pitched as a voice-controlled AI platform for cars before Apple bought the company.)
In fact, VocalIQ only considers itself a success when the user is able to complete a task without looking at a screen. Siri, Google Now, and Cortana often ask you to confirm tasks by tapping on the screen.
2017 would be a great time for Apple to start incorporating VocalIQ’s technology into Siri, considering how far ahead the competition is today.
Another dull year for the Mac
- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
The only thing of note to happen with the Mac this year was the launch of the new MacBook Pro. And even that was met with a lot of anger. Many were upset that they had to purchase a lot of adapters to get their accessories to work with the new Thunderbolt 3 port. And then everyone learned the MacBook Pro’s battery life was nowhere near as good as Apple claimed.
It doesn’t look like much more is in store for the Mac in 2017. The iMac could get a spec bump and the battery life on the MacBook Pro could (and should!) get fixed, but don’t expect much else.
Modest improvements to the Apple Watch
- Hollis Johnson
Apple learned a major lesson with the Apple Watch, and has since scaled back expectations for the device and focused on health and fitness instead with the new Apple Watch Series 2. It’s unlikely the Apple Watch will get a significant update in 2017, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a new model showed up with 4G connectivity so you could use it without your iPhone.
A major iPhone refresh
- REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
2017 will mark the iPhone’s tenth anniversary, and it sounds like Apple is gearing up for a blowout.
The next iPhone is said to be a major refresh with an all-glass design, no bezels around the screen, and possibly a version with a curved display. Not to mention wireless charging, the death of the home button, and a new screen technology called OLED, which provides deeper, richer colors. By now there are so many reputable reports backing up these claims that it’s silly not to believe them.
The iPhone is Apple’s most important and profitable product. If it feels like the company has shifted focus from other categories to focus on the iPhone, it’s easy to see why. It’s the product you’re going to care the most about and spend the most money on. Expect to start seeing the first design leaks early in 2017.
After a year full of various stumbles, Apple is exiting 2016 on shakier ground than it started. Besides the next iPhone, there doesn’t seem to be too much coming in the pipeline to get super excited about. The big challenge for Apple in 2017 will be to unlock more potential from its products by continuing to improve where it’s always been the weakest: AI, software, and other digital services.