Apple's 2015: Apple Watch
It had been nearly five years since Apple had launched a truly new product. When Steve Jobs held the first iPad up for the world to see in 2010, the technology company was on something of a roll – the iPhone was setting the benchmark for smartphones, laptop design had been shaken out of its plastic complacency by the MacBook Air, and personal music players were already beaten into weak submission by the all conquering iPod range.
Then came the Apple Watch, first unveiled in September 2014 and finally released on 24 April 2015. But Apple's newest creation enters a marketplace that feels far more competitive than back then, and the Watch needs to prove its worth against the growing range of rival alternatives.
So far, if reports are to be believed (Apple didn’t release official figures with its Quarterly Results), the Apple Watch is succeeding, selling more units within its first few days than all of the Android Wear devices sold to date. Apple of course has a history of entering a market late but, through superior design and software, quickly becoming the dominant player. If it can repeat these past successes, then wearables look set to be the breakout technology this year.
However, with this being said, a Daily Mail report claims that the Apple Watch hasn’t received such a warm welcome, and will only ship 21 million units by 2016, compared to the original 24-million-unit estimate. These estimations come from Slice Intelligence, who claim that Apple is only selling 20,000 watches per day in the US, compared to 200,000 a day during its first week of pre-orders back in April. This should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course, until Apple confirms its Apple Watch sales later on in the year.
Apple's 2015: New MacBook
Apple's special event on 9 March 2015 was predominantly dedicated to the Apple Watch, but there was a surprise second unveiling of an all-new MacBook, too. This new MacBook is Apple's thinnest laptop to date, with a fanless design and a Retina display. There's also that single USB-C port that's caused a bit of a stir (find out more in our Why people need to stop panicking about the MacBook's USB-C port article). And of course, it's also available in colours that match Apple's iPhone and iPad range: silver, space grey and gold.
Apple's 2015: Photos for Mac
2015 also saw Apple release a brand new Photos app for iOS and OS X, replacing both iPhoto and Aperture in the desktop environment. This new creation has been designed from the ground up with the cloud at its heart, and dovetails into iCloud Drive. Find out more in our Photos for Mac review.
Apple's 2015: New Macs
Alongside the new MacBook in March, Apple updated some of its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro line-up, and then launched further Mac updates in May.
Apple's 2015: WWDC
The next batch of announcements and unveilings came from Apple on 8 June, which was the day Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. WWDC 2015 gave us our first look at iOS 9, OS X 10.11, watchOS 2 and Apple’s answer to Spotify, Apple Music.
iOS 9 was, of course, going to be previewed at WWDC. The company claims that iOS 9 will enhance existing features, instead of implementing new ones. Siri is a prime example of this – in the past year alone, Siri has become 40 percent faster and handles over one billion requests per week. Apple is looking to up the anti with iOS 9, making Siri more contextually aware and able to learn your habits with the purpose of making your iOS experience a little better.
Apple also wants to improve the battery life of your device with iOS 9, and claims that the iPhone 6 actually lasts an hour longer running the updated software. The new software will also include a battery saving mode that shuts down non-essential features and can make your iPhone last up to three hours on 20 percent charge. To find out more about iOS 9, check out our iOS 9 preview.
OS X 10.11, or OS X El Capitan as its called, is the latest software update headed to Macs at some point in the Autumn. Like iOS 9, El Capitan is focused on performance upgrades, but also includes some new (and much-awaited) features. These features include new swipe gestures, an improved Spotlight search window that can be moved and resized, and the ability to pin popular sites within Safari. In addition, it also offers SpitView (similar to AeroSnap in Windows 8) as well as other window-arranging features that should help you organize OS X.
Now let’s move onto watchOS 2, which looks to improve the Apple Watch experience. It’s claimed to be faster, less buggy, and should be out at some point in the Autumn, along with iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan. Third-party apps will be able to access the hardware of the Apple Watch (speaker, heart rate monitor, etc) and be able to run natively on the watch, which should improve both the speed and usability of many Apple Watch apps. Developers will also be able to create custom widgets, or “complications” as they’re referred to by Apple.
The update also includes TimeTravel, which allows you to see upcoming events and weather on your watch face, simply by turning the Digital Crown. You’ll also be able to customize watch faces with photos, or select one of the variety of time-lapse watch faces that Apple is also adding.
As well as the above, Apple also announced Apple Pay in the UK and Apple Music at the event, which you can read more about below.
Apple’s 2015: Apple Music
At WWDC 2015, Apple finally announced the highly-anticipated music streaming service dubbed “Apple Music”. It’s available for iTunes on OS X and Windows, and of course, available via the Music app on iOS devices. Surprisingly, Apple also announced an Android variation of its Apple Music app, but this won’t be out until the Autumn. The service enables you to stream almost everything available on iTunes (20 million songs out of the 45 million songs available) and also offers human-curated playlists for song discovery as well as playlist recommendations. It’s not just songs either, as you’re also able to access a huge library of music videos on demand.
Alongside Apple Music came Beats 1, a 24-hour radio station that broadcasts world wide and boasts popular radio DJs including Zane Lowe and Julie Adenuga. Beats 1 is based in LA, New York and London, and will automatically switch between them throughout the day for an authentic 24/7 experience.
Price wise, Apple Music costs £9.99 a month for a single user, or £14.99 a month for a family plan. Don’t worry too much about paying at first though, as Apple offers a three-month free trial to test out and decide whether you like the service enough to pay for it. If you want to find out more about Apple Music, we’ve got an FAQ, our review and a comparison between Apple Music and its main competition, Spotify.
Apple’s 2015: Apple Pay in the UK
As well as announcing iOS 9, OS X 10.11, watchOS 2 and Apple Music, Apple also announced that Apple Pay would be available in the UK from July, with many banks supported from day one. The company claimed that its mobile payment service will work with around 70 percent of all UK credit and debit cards, and would also be compatible with TFL.
It officially launched in the UK on 14 July 2015 and is supported by American Express, First Direct, HSBC, NatWest, Nationwide, RBS, Santander and Ulster Bank with Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland support due to be announced in the Autumn.
Read on for the lowdown on all of the possible launches for the rest of 2015.
Apple TV rumours 2015
One device that was conspicuous by its absence at the various 2014 and early 2015 product launch events was the Apple TV. The small black box has seen very little advancement in the past few years, with only a bump up to 1080p as the significant improvement of note. Speculation has been rife that an actual HD, or even 4K, television set would be released by Apple, mainly fuelled by the Steve Jobs biography, in which he stated how the company had finally ‘cracked’ TV. No such unit has arrived, and focus is definitely shifting away from an integrated device and back to the smart TV boxes that are growing in number and popularity.
Rival companies have not wasted this opportunity to capitalise on Apple’s hesitation, and the choice to customers is now copious. (Find out about all of the biggest Apple TV rivals here). All of these innovations have left Apple looking somewhat behind the times, with hardware that hasn’t been updated almost two years, and a paucity of channels available to UK customers. Rumours persist though, that the reason for the minimal advances is that Apple is planning a complete redesign of the Apple TV, one that might put it right to the front of the pack once more.
By far the biggest problem to overcome is that of content. With the appetite for streamed content growing steadily thanks to Netflix, iPlayer and YouTube, media companies are taking note.
However, securing the kind of favourable deals Apple has traditionally enjoyed could be difficult, as you can imagine that some companies will demand exclusivity clauses in their contracts, forbidding rivals to feature on the same platform. Add to that the fact that Netflix and Amazon have started producing their own, exclusive, award winning content, while Apple TV still hasn’t even got the basic content of UK, free-to-air, catchup TV such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, or 4OD, and things look pretty bleak.
If Apple TV is going to become a significant offering in the home entertainment market, then it needs more than just a snazzy new interface. One clue to the direction it might head in is the emergence of Apple’s HomeKit tools, which allow developers to build home automation apps for various Apple products. As the Apple TV is an always on, low power, internet connected device, that never leaves the house, it would be the perfect hub for collating and reporting data to your iPhone or iPad, or controlling temperature and lighting devices such as the Philips Hue Lux bulbs, or Nest thermostat.
There has also been speculation that the next generation Apple TV might feature a PVR-style hard drive, turning the device into a more complete home entertainment system, and harking back to the initial models. Of course, this would require live TV capabilities, something lacking at the moment, and adding these features would raise the price significantly, while increasing the size of the device - something adverse to the usual Apple mantra of smaller and thinner.
While the Apple TV might seem like a forgotten son at times, it’s worth noting that the company has sold more than twenty million units, making Apple over a billion dollars in 2013 alone. This might be small change when compared to iPads and iPhones, but it’s still a highly profitable area. Sadly, this success might mean Apple continues to let the device tick over quietly in the background. At the moment it’s a great way to integrate iOS and OS X devices into your TV - play games, display photos, watch videos - and that might just be enough.
PREDICTION: We hope to see some change in the Apple TV at the Apple event coined for September. For a long time we’ve been longing for more channels, but also gaming, and other apps. There have been rumours that Apple will open up the App Store to the Apple TV, which could answer our prayers and bring new sources of content to the device. We anticipate a spec bump, possibly moving up to an A7 chip and more RAM so it can smoothly incorporate the Home Hub functions and fulfil its rumoured new role as the hub of all your HomeKit enabled devices.
Apple TV streaming Netflix rival rumours 2015
In addition to the Apple Music streaming service, rumour has it Apple is working on a Netflix rival that will enable users to stream video content to the Apple TV and other devices through a subscription-based model.
There are LOTS of rumours about the Apple TV streaming service, and you can find them all by following the link below.
Apple Hi-Res Audio rumours 2015
When the iPhone 6 was launched there were many audiophiles who hoped that it would include the ability to play Hi-Res audio files. Technically it does, as the DAC (digital audio convertor) included in the handset can handle 24-bit/96kHz audio, but it can not output it through the headphone socket. Mashable ran a series of tests to examine the possibilities on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, concluding that to listen to Hi-Res audio you’d need to output the signal from the Lightning connector. Thankfully, this isn't quite as bad as it sounds, due to the fact that at the last WWDC Apple announced new specifications in its MFI (Made for iPhone) program that allows headphones to use the Lightning connector.
At the time there was much speculation that this would pave the way for an imminent Beats Headphone set sporting a lightning connection and heralding in the new era of Hi-Res iTunes. This might still happen, but so far Sony and Philips have been the first to announce new headphones utilising this feature - the Sony MDR-1ADAC (£249), and the Philips Fidelio M2L (£200) - both of which come with built-in 24-bit DAC technology. It can only be a matter of time then before we see the emergence of a Beats version in the Apple store.
Of course headphones are one thing, but to play Hi-Res (or HD) audio customers will need Hi-Res tracks. Currently the iTunes store only sells 16-bit/44.1kHz tracks, which is lower than the 24-bit/96kHz quality that would bring the audio above that of a CD. Apple does have a large stockpile of Hi-Res music, as it requests these files from publishers so that it can create the Mastered for iTunes versions of albums, but up until now there has been no sign of it making these tracks available for purchase.
Companies such as HDTracks have filled this gap in the market up until now, offering a variety of formats for your HD delectation that can be downloaded to your desktop and then imported to iTunes. Whether Apple will follow suit is still unclear, as it will no doubt require agreement from the music publishers.
It's not out of the question, though, as in a recent interview with Time magazine U2 frontman Bono said that the band were working with Apple on a project that 'will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music'.
PREDICTION: With music sales beginning to slump Apple needs to inject something new into iTunes. Apple Music is one, Hi-Res audio is another. Expect this area to become very interesting before the end of the year.
iPad Pro rumours 2015
While sales of iPhones are still going gangbusters, the iPad, after its explosive start, has seen a steady decline in the past few sales quarters, dropping almost two million units since the same time last year.
Analysts argue that this is could be due to uncertainty about how often customers will choose to upgrade them. With a phone there are generally two-year contracts, after which iPhone users tend to move up to the newer model, but iPads have no such incentive.
The 2012 iPad 4 has a retina display, fast hardware, a lightning connector, and can complete pretty much any task you throw at it; so unless weight is a real issue there's not much reason to spend money on replacing it. The iPad Mini caused a surge of interest, quickly followed by the more impressive Mini 2 with its retina screen and high-level internals, but even that is tapering off, possibly now due to the larger phones beginning to cannibalise sales. In a recent interview with the New York Times, technology analyst JP Gownder stated that while the thinner and lighter iPad Air 2 could stimulate growth among professionals, "an iPad with an even bigger screen would have driven more new demand".
Microsoft has already been active in the larger tablet space, with its PC/Tablet hybrid Surface Pro 3 gaining very positive reviews and gleaning the company the best part of a billion dollars in revenue over the last quarter. Of course that device is really a PC with tablet facilities, and so would be better measured against the MacBook Air and now the new MacBook, but does illustrate that there is a market for touch-based productivity machines. Samsung also threw its hat in the ring earlier in 2014 with the release of the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, and again saw a generally favourable response. These two products have been steady, if not spectacular, but we can’t help think if Apple was to create its mythical twelve-inch iPad Pro, it would have a strong contender for the enterprise and professional market.
Speculation of a 12.9in iPad Pro has been consistent across the tech press, although recently things have gone a little quiet. Bloomberg did state that this new category device would finally make its appearance in 2015, so the idea is still circulating, albeit in a less enthusiastic fashion. How such a device would function is another area of hot debate. One thing most people agree on is that it will be aimed at professionals and enterprise rather than consumers. Apple and IBM agreed a deal last year to create one hundred custom-built enterprise apps for iPads and iPhones, and to optimise IBM’s cloud services for iOS. This could significantly improve the penetration into enterprise that so far the iPad has struggled to secure.
A larger, pro device, might make this transition a more alluring one for businesses at large, with its productivity capabilities increased. It’s also worth noting that back in March Apple was granted a patent for an advanced stylus that featured an extendable, and possibly interchangeable, nib. This kind of tool could also open up possibilities in professional design, or other industries that require detailed recording of bespoke information.
Some suggest that the new iPad should become an OS X/iOS hybrid device that allows multiple apps on screen at once and extended functionality. This would make the iPad Pro (when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard) a real alternative to the MacBook. With the current iPad Air bearing a 2K screen there is also a theory that a bigger offering would possibly step up to 4K as a way of maintaining the crystal clear displays, which have become the hallmark of high-end iPads. The current A8X chip found in the iPad Air 2 is certainly a hugely powerful processor, which should be able to deal with the kind of computational challenges required to push that many pixels if need be.
Achieving a hybrid device is no small task, and while the Handoff and Continuity functions in iOS and OS X bring the two platforms closer together, both are still running separate versions of apps on their systems. Bridging that gap might be a challenge too far for Apple in 2015, especially when focus has been trained on the introduction of the Apple Watch. We also know that Tim Cook isn’t the biggest fan of the converged device, comparing tablet-laptops hybrids like the Surface with a "toaster fridge" and suggesting such a device wouldn’t work as well as the two devices separately. A purely iOS 12.9in iPad would still find its place though, as the increased space would allow photography, video, and office apps to really shine.
PREDICTION: Rumours have been persistent for this device, and with iPad sales slowing it would make sense to introduce a new model, especially one aimed at the enterprise market. We Autumn 2015/early 2016 could see the arrival of a larger iPad, but it will be iOS based rather than an OS X hybrid.
iPhone 7 rumours 2015
Believe it or not, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are eleven months old, so rumours are well underway about the nature of these record-breaking models’ successors. In previous years Apple has been consistent in its approach to upgrading the iPhone. 2014 saw a redesign of the casing, and the introduction of the first Apple Phablet, so we’d expect the 2015 models to keep that exterior and instead increase the performance by upgrading key components.
One potential change is that of replacing the gorilla glass screen with sapphire. We already know that the Apple Watch features this highly scratch-resistant material (except for the Watch Sport that will use Ion-X glass), but scaling this up to the kind of numbers required for iPhone launches is questionable. Apple did acquire a sapphire plant in Arizona, with the intention of working with GT Advanced Technologies, who specialise in the manufacturing of the jewel. This agreement soured though when GTAT declared bankruptcy in October 2014, and the plant now lies dormant while Apple decides how to proceed with its sapphire production.
In standard fashion we’d expect the new iPhone models to have upgraded chips - with the A9 set to take over from the very impressive A8 - and the cameras, which are such strong selling points for iPhones - will no doubt include the latest dusting of Apple magic to makes images even more vibrant. There are also rumours of Force Touch capabilities, and even a reversible USB charger that can be inserted any way round, just like the Lightning connector.
PREDICTION: Expect mainly internal upgrades to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and that they'll sell in quite incredible quantities.
Read our iPhone 7 rumour round-up for more on the next generation of iPhones, as well as our articles on the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6c. Or watch us pontificate about likely announcements at the September launch event in the following video:
iPad Air 3 & iPad mini 4 rumours 2015
Of course, we're also expecting to see new iPads from Apple this year, and not just the aforementioned iPad Pro. Since launching the first iPad in 2011, the company has updated it every year since, so an iPad Air 3 is on the cards, as is the next generation of iPad mini.
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