Predicting the new gadgets that Apple (AAPL) might concoct next is a favorite parlor game of the technology industry, Wall Street and the blogosphere. The latest chatter is that company CEO
Forget next month. It’s more fun thinking about what digital toys Apple might be making in five years. Of course, Mr. Jobs’s penchant for secrecy means such predictions are often little more than daydreaming. Just do an Internet search for “Apple” and “mockup” to see photos of products invented by Apple fans.
Forrester Research (FORR) is the latest to look into the crystal ball in a new report that imagines the Apple products of 2013. But rather than predict Apple jet packs or other outlandish new directions, the research firm uses the company’s recent history as a guide to forecasting.
Forrester’s conclusion: While much of Apple’s great successes have been mobile products such as the iPod and the iPhone, the company will seek to colonize rooms throughout the home.
Among the new products Forrester predicts Apple will create are wall-mountable digital picture frames with small high-definition screens and speakers that wirelessly play media, including photos, videos and music, stored on a computer elsewhere in the home. Such products already exist, but Apple could put its own twist on them — for example, by adding its design panache and a touch-sensitive screen that lets viewers flip from image to image with a finger swipe, a la the iPhone.
For the bedroom, Forrester envisions an Apple “clock radio” that pipes in music and other media across a home network. Possible, too, is an “AppleSound” universal remote control, also with a touch-sensitive screen, that lets users browse their music collections and change the songs playing through their stereo as they stroll around the house. This latter technology is already available in primitive form through an application called Signal (www.alloysoft.com) that turns the iPod touch and the iPhone into remote controls for Apple’s iTunes program.
Forrester also thinks Apple could extend into the home the technical assistance currently offered by “Genius Bar” personnel in Apple retail stores. Apple in-home installation services will become especially important as its array of products for the home grows. “The complexity level here can be quite daunting if you have five or six of these different devices,” says
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s product plans.
Apple prognosticating is such a popular pastime, in part, because Mr. Jobs has proved so adept at becoming a power broker in markets a Silicon Valley computer company — once known as Apple Computer — has no right to dominate. The iPod remains the top MP3 player, with more than 70% of the market, and Apple is now the top retailer of music in the nation, ahead of Wal-Mart (WMT) Stores. Less than a year after entering the cellphone business with the iPhone, Apple became the second-largest provider of smart phones in the U.S.
That said, the company had an underwhelming foray into the living room with a television set-top device called Apple TV that plays music, photos and movies downloaded from the Internet and PCs on a home network. In an interview earlier this year after dropping the price on the product by $70 to $229, Mr. Jobs said he was disappointed in its sales.
Despite the hiccups, veteran observers of Apple say Mr. Jobs’s intent is clear. “I see everything Steve is doing as positioning himself to take over completely the living room,” says
One long-running prediction, proved wrong again and again: that Apple might make a television set. Forrester throws cold water on the idea. Yet some still believe that Apple will one day get into the business as conventional TV makers start to integrate into their sets the ability to surf the Web. Apple already designs computer displays that are as large as some HDTVs.
Mr. Brown thinks Apple could simplify the traditional functions on TV sets, like the bewildering electronic programming guides that list the hundreds of channels available to viewers. “Most people find operating high-quality TV systems incredibly awkward,” he says. “They’re as bad as our computer systems.”
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