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Apple Watch: 2014 Predictions
Wednesday, 2014 January 1 - 3:57 pm
The annual ritual continues... here are my Apple predictions for the year.

In 2012 I only got 3.5 points out of 10. How'd I do last year?

1. Apple builds television sets: YES. Bzzzzt. No Apple TV sets, despite all the hubbub. Hmm.

2. iPhone digital wallet with NFC: YES. Can't give myself any points here. The digital wallet concept is definitely a serious point of emphasis, what with Passbook and iBeacons. But it really hasn't gone anywhere. Meanwhile, NFC is clearly dead to Apple; now, it's Bluetooth Low Energy all the way.

3. iPad mini with Retina display: YES. Full point, and yes, Apple was concerned enough about entry-level pricing that they retained the non-Retina model too.

4. Convertible iPad/MacBook: NO. Full point, though Windows laptop manufacturers are desperately jumping on the convertible bandwagon.

5. Redesigned iPad: NO. The iPad Air is smaller and lighter, yes, but it's not a radical redesign; it's still the same concept in smaller packaging. Full point.

6. iCar: YES. Yes, though right now it's still largely vaporware. Auto manufacturers are promising iOS integration and it's shown up in a couple places, but it has yet to really take off. But Apple made a big deal out of it over the year and it's clearly something that they're focusing on. Full point.

7. Apple iWatch: YES. Not yet, I guess. Samsung's disastrous attempt at a watch accessory showed exactly why this is a tough market... first you have to define a consumer problem before you can put out a product.

8. Mac Pro and Server redesign: YES. I was spot on here; the Mac Pro has definitely undergone a radical redesign, and it eschews PCI expansion in favor of Thunderbolt as I'd predicted.

9. Death of the iPod Classic: NO. Ha. Full point. The iPod Classic remains on sale.

10. AAPL stock price target: $800. Oops. Apple fell into the low $400s before clawing its way back up to the current $561. That represents a pretty meager 5.8% gain over the price at the start of the year, and I blame that mostly on the lack of major new product categories that would wow investors.

So, 6 out of 10... not too bad, but I was pretty conservative with a lot of those predictions.

Here's the 2014 list:

1. Apple TV: YES. It has to happen. The TV market has already been upended by the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Aereo; it's now time for Apple to take advantage of the chaos and make the definitive new product that pulls it all together. 4K? Maybe. A la carte programming? Probably. iPhone/iPad-based remote control? Seems possible. I'm backing off the idea that they'll manufacture TVs, though, because they don't have the facilities for the crucial competition-beating ingredient: flat panel displays. Instead my new thought is that they'll partner with existing TV makers, and the first partner just might be Sony. If that happens, a lot of heads will explode. But look: Apple doesn't want to build TVs any more than it wants to build cars. But it wants its own technology built in somehow. Google is pursuing a similar strategy in getting Android into TVs, but they haven't figured out the business side of the equation yet. Apple can still beat them to it.

2. Apple iWatch: YES. There are too many signs pointing to this to ignore, particularly the hiring of Paul Deneve (former CEO of Yves Saint Laurence) and Ben Shaffer (who worked at Nike on fitness products). It might be less revolutionary than everyone thinks; I expect the focus will be on health and fitness monitoring as well as fashion, and it seems quite possible that it won't be used for phone calls at all.

3. iPad Pro: NO. There's some talk of a 12" or 13" iPad Pro, but I'm having a hard time seeing the need for it. Bigger for the sake of bigger? That doesn't sound like Apple. Who really needs more screen real estate on their iPads? And more importantly, who wants to lug around an extra pound of weight?

4. iPad Nano/iPhone Pro: NO. I'm talking about the awfully-named "phablet" category, the roughly 6" phone/tablet hybrid. This doesn't seem like something Apple would do either. Yes, there's a specific market that Apple is ignoring, for people who want big-screen phones. But I think Apple is committed to keeping the exterior dimensions of the phone largely intact, because there are tradeoffs in terms of pocketability and weight that they don't want to make. The screen on the iPhone 6 might reach 4.5" if Apple further reduces the amount of space taken by the bezel. But I think that will be the extent of it. Meanwhile I don't think Apple has any interest in making a smaller tablet than the 8" iPad mini; because the touch targets would become too small.

5. Apple 4K Monitor: YES. I suspect that the only reason Apple doesn't have its own monitor yet is that it can't put one out at anything resembling a competitive price. But it seems too important to leave out of the lineup: video professionals and movie makers will need 4K monitors, and it's not in Apple's nature to leave such a critical piece of equipment in the hands of third-party manufacturers.

6. Major Laptop/Desktop Redesign: NO. There'll be the usual speed bumps and capacity improvements with the MacBook and iMac lines, but I'm not seeing anything radically new come from here. It's not that innovation in traditional computing is dead altogether, but the pace of it has certainly slowed. I think Apple is happy with the hardware lineup, and their focus will be more on software (with an emphasis on tighter iOS integration with Mac OS X).

7. Major Retail Announcement for iBeacons: NO. There is enormous potential with iBeacons, but I think stodgy national retailers don't understand it yet. I imagine a world where you walk into a store and request to get coupons, and your phone would alert you when you walked by a discounted product. Meanwhile the retailers would get a treasure trove of marketing information, as well as the ability to sell promotional services to product sellers. Printed coupons will become a thing of the past. It's a win-win-win. But it'll take time to implement, and I don't think we'll get there in 2014.

8. Major Social Networking Announcement for iBeacons: YES. Where big retailers are stodgy, companies like Facebook, FourSquare, and Yelp are not. A simple and natural use for iBeacons could be: tell me when my friends are nearby. Actually I'm surprised this hasn't already happened.

9. Apple/Samsung Truce: YES. There have been rumblings of a patent settlement between Apple and Samsung. This would benefit both companies greatly: Apple could receive substantial royalties, Samsung would be free from the weight of litigation, and both companies could squash most of the remaining Android competition. That would give Samsung negotiating leverage against Google as well, or it might open the door for Samsung to start playing with another mobile OS such as Tizen. I think once the current litigation wraps up, we might see signs that the war is winding down. Apple still needs Samsung, for both chip fabrication and flat panel supply. If this prediction comes true, then the Apple TV partner I talked about above might even turn out to be Samsung, and wouldn't that be a kick the pants.

10. Year-end Apple Stock Price: $675. Apple stock is irrational, but I think I'm starting to get it. There's the January "we're worried about holiday results" dip, followed by the March "expectations of a thousand new products" climb, followed by the June "what happened to all the new products" decline, and then the steady climb through autumn as holiday predictions turn more encouraging. So I think we might see a low in the $530s again before a run-up to $600, and then sudden spikes and some wild volatility as new product announcements come in. Some of the increase will be due to more stock buybacks by Apple, though not to the degree advocated by the likes of Carl Icahn.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

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