You’ve got five minutes with Apple boss Tim Cook. Quick: how would you use your time? What idea would you pitch Which product would you beg him to launch – or ditch? And (assuming he asks) where would you advise him to take Apple over the coming years?
For this fantasy feature, we put ourselves in that wonderful (and entirely imaginary) position. We created an Apple manifesto for 2013 and beyond. From iPhone mini to iPad 5, from iWatch to iOS 7, here’s what we’d like to see from Apple’s next round of launches. Oi, Mr Cook! We’d like a word…
The Next iPhone(s)
After seeing a comparatively major physical overhaul in the launch of the iPhone 5 – among other things, Apple made the first change to screen dimensions since the first iPhone – expectations are high for the follow-up. What can we expect? And what should Apple do, if it knows what’s good for it?
1. Lower price tag
Let’s start with that price tag. Seems a bit high, don’t you think? Could you sell the iPhone 5S for a few hundred quid less, Tim?
We jest, of course. Yes, it would be nice to pay less for a top-of-the-range iPhone, but we’re talking about something more complex: either splitting the iPhone into two product lines, with one aimed at the budget market, or overhauling Apple’s entire supply chain to shift its focus towards emerging markets such as India – the latter being the policy recently advocated by former Apple boss John Sculley.
Numerous industry rumours suggest Apple will create a lower-cost version of the next iPhone; the latest reports propose this could have a see-through plastic design.
We’re not convinced by Sculley’s drastic conceptual leap – shifting from rigorous perfectionist to budget box-shifter would undermine everything that makes Apple unique – but that doesn’t rule out some kind of compromise. We’d like to see Apple experiment with a parallel line of lower-cost iPhones, produced with cheaper materials or less powerful components: an iPhone 5S. And then go to town on an iPhone 6 proper.
2. Smaller body
One theory is that an ‘iPhone mini’ will be launched at a lower price alongside a full-sized iPhone 6. Much as the iPad mini’s non-Retina display lets Apple keep the price down and target the upper end of the e-reader market.
But we’re going to wish for something else. The iPad mini is increasingly looking like the all-purpose portable computing device of choice, with a form factor that suits gaming on the go, surfing, email, eBooks, and so on. And the logical companion for a jack-of-all-trades iPad mini isn’t a full-sized iPhone, which serves a similar purpose; it’s a specialist phone.
Our fantasy iPhone mini is the size of a mobile from the late 90s. It doesn’t have the screen for gaming or video, but you can read your email and surf websites on a stripped-back, Instapaper-style optimised interface, and a range of apps enables you to customise the experience almost without limit.
Artists conception of an iPhone mini, next to the iPhone 5
3. Fingerprint-scanning security
Speculation over an iPhone with a fingerprint sensor was sparked in July of last year by Apple’s acquisition of AuthenTec, a company that specialises in related security systems. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted that Apple will find a way to conceal the fingerprint scanner in the iPhone 6’s Home button to maintain the minimalist design.
But this is our fantasy, so we can be more specific. The fingerprint scanner replaces the passcode, of course, but why not go further: if Apple adds multiple user accounts to iOS 7, the scanner could enable the iPhone to punch up your personal apps, email accounts and system preferences.
And what if using different fingers produced different results? Touch your index finger to the Home button and the iPhone activates normally, use your middle finger and it brings up the camera… using your left thumb could even call the emergency services if you’re being mugged.
4. Advanced gestures
To start with, this could offer another labour-saving substitute for a passcode. Already available on a wide range of Android handsets, gesture unlocking lets you open a smartphone by swiping across a grid of nodes in a preset pattern.
But let’s go further. Like our fingerprint sensor, the grid would be sensitive to multiple gestures, each one unlocking a specific user account or function. And within iOS the gestures could continue: the iPad game Infinity Blade interpreted a range of gestures as triggers for magic spells, so why not let the user program gestures on the Home screen? At the swipe of a finger, you could activate apps, send off frequently repeated messages (a text to your wife that says “leaving the office now”, for example), jump to a bookmarked Safari page or do essentially anything that a PC user could set as a keyboard shortcut.
5. NFC e-wallet payments
You may well have heard users of non-Apple smartphones talking about something called NFC. This stands for near-field communications, and is a set of short-range wireless standards that let mobile phones communicate with each other – or with other electronic devices. Plenty of NFC-equipped Android phones can act as an e-wallet, paying for goods with a swipe of your handset.
We’d like to see Apple join the NFC party. Passbook – which offers a partial e-wallet experience already, providing quick access to tickets, boarding passes and loyalty cards – could be expanded to include NFC and mobile payments.
6. Customisable hardware switches
We’ve toyed with the idea of adding an extra hardware switch or two, but that would probably be a step too far for Sir Jony. Instead, we’d like to take an existing idea from the iPad – that you get to pick whether the side switch controls lock rotation or mute – and run with it on our next iPhone.
On our fantasy iPhone 6, an option lets you program the mute button to do almost anything – switch vibrate or 3G on and off, set Do Not Disturb or Airplane mode, or activate emergency battery measures.
7. Laser keyboard
The iPhone’s keyboard can be a bit cramped for typing, so why don’t we give our iPhone 6 the ability to project a laser keyboard on to any nearby flat surface? Aatma Studio’s conception of such a setup is pictured below.
If you think this sounds fanciful, you should know that standalone products that do this are already available. ThinkGeek.com’s Cube Laser Virtual Keyboard connects to iOS devices via Bluetooth and retails for $149.99 (£98.75).
8. Face recognition – the next generation
Our iPhone 6’s front-facing camera runs all the time in quiet low-power mode, simply looking for anything head-shaped; when it spots one, it scans it to work our how close it is, and if the face belongs to its owner. If the answer is yes, it wakes up the iPhone. Better still, it could immediately start taking shots with the rear-facing camera, helping you grab pictures before you hit the shutter button.
Even with the low-power stipulation this would hobble battery life, so naturally we’ll make face-scanner mode optional.