I've been thinking about what Apple's future product lineup may look like ever since they announced the Apple Watch and new iPhones. In the past week we've had an iPad and Mac event, plus an earnings release that has shed a little more light on how the lineup may evolve over the next few years. Here are a few predictions based on past observations, some hunches, and a dash of logic. I can't wait to see how wrong I am.
iPhone and Watch will finally kill the iPod line
Apple quietly discontinued the iPod Classic in September, but the Shuffle, Nano, and Touch still remain available although sales continue to decline. In today's earnings release quarterly unit sales were down another 24% year-over-year to 2.6 million units. Apple also announced they would start including iPod sales in the 'other' category instead of reporting their results directly. iPhone (and the smartphone category in general) continues to grow, which has clearly hurt iPod sales and may also now be hurting iPad sales. The Watch, which will have the ability to play music over bluetooth, has the potential to hurt iPod sales further.
If Apple were to upgrade just one of the iPod models it would probably be the Touch, which reportedly makes up about 50% of iPod sales, carries a higher price, and brings people into the iOS ecosystem. The Touch runs the 3.5 year old A5 CPU, the same chip that powered the iPhone 4s, iPad 2, and original iPad Mini. These devices are a little long in the tooth, and don't run iOS 8 or the newest apps as smoothly as they should. However, I don't think it is worth their effort when so many people clearly prefer to listen to their music on an iPhone, and some may prefer a Watch in the near future.
Perhaps Apple will keep the Shuffle and/or Nano around for several more years without updating them, as they don't really need the latest processors or more RAM to provide a good user experience. Even if this is the case, I think we will effectively witness the slow death of the iPod over the next few years.
Redefining the iPad
Personally, I think the iPad is a great product. I also don't need to own one. As phones get bigger and laptops get more iOS-like (better battery life, quicker wakeup, etc), iPads are getting squeezed in the middle. Apple sells twice as many iPads as they do Macs, but the iPad growth curve is going in the wrong direction. Apple and its developers need to invent new use-cases for the iPad. They need more people to think 'I need an iPad because it is the best possible device for task X.' Today, it's easy for many people to complete that sentence for a smartphone or a laptop, not so much for iPads and other tablets.
Perhaps a larger iPad Pro that really takes on laptops for light productivity will spur sales. I don't know what the answer is, but I'm pretty sure it's not to make thinner/lighter/faster rectangles of glass year after year.
Another new iPhone size
I think we'll see another new iPhone size by 2017 - except instead of being called iPhone nano, it will be called Apple Watch. I am confident the technology will be ready for a wrist-worn device capable of making phone calls over cellular, getting directions through GPS, and lasting a full day on a charge. I think this was Apple's plan all along, but it will take them a few years to get there. If Apple is successful, I think the Watch could have the same impact on iPhone sales that the iPhone is currently having on iPad sales. That is, iPhone sales growth will stall and Apple Watch will take off. That's a big 'if' though.
What they won't do
An Apple television set. I've outlined the reasons before, and they still hold true. This product simply doesn't make much sense. Apple has enough work to do on the Watch and their existing product categories. Perhaps (hopefully) we'll get a more capable set top box, but that's all I'd expect.
There's a lot more speculation to be had on the iPhone and Mac product lines. One thing that wouldn't shock me is if they started making products out of different materials for the purpose of price discrimination. Gold iPhones, stainless steel MacBooks anyone?