As it is almost becoming a tradition in the industry, this time of the year gets fuelled with speculation, rumours, concepts and ideas on what the next iteration of Apple’s SmartPhone and mobile operating system would be. Here is a consolidation of what we know so far:
Little room for doubt here, the iPhone 6 will definitely have a larger screen and quite possibly come in two different screen sizes (4.7 and 5.5 inch). There are quite a few facts pointing in this direction, and beyond leaked designs and alleged pictures of iPhone 6 parts, the key hint is coming from down the supply chain, where screen manufacturers are already ramping up production of screens in these sizes in time for a potential September launch. The latest to be added to the rumour mill is the announcement by Japan Display that they would start production of a Quad-HD 5.5inch display in the second quarter of the year. Japan Display has recently been mentioned as to be entering the list of Apple’s component suppliers, and would mean a huge jump from the current 640 x 1136 resolution to a staggering 1440 x 2560. Details on the resolution for the eventual 4.7 inch display are yet to be released, but could be easily higher than current Full HD standards if density is maintained.
Some very realistic and others bordering science fiction, iPhone concepts are a gradual approximation to the real product to which we are already used to. There seems to be consensus on two aspects: A slimmer body and a much thinner bezel allowing to minimise the volume (and hence weight) increase of the device due to the jump in the screen. Most of the concepts are evolutions from the current 5/5s family design (see this beautiful – and realistic – video by Sam Beckett).
There have also been alleged leaks of schematics that describe with high precision how the device would look like which have been used to create yet another concept which would inaugurate a new look for the iPhone saga.
iOS 8 and Wearables
It is becoming increasingly clear that iOS 8 would evolve the new look and feel inaugurated with iOS7, and would have a strong focus on Health and Fitness, in line with the blooming of wearable devices in the last couple of years which are seeing fitness as a huge potential market for wearable technology. It looks like all Health functions will be grouped inside Healthbook, just similarly to what Passbook meant as a place for coupons and passes. The increased popularity of iBeacons could possibly mean some further development of this technology with real life applications in iOS 8.
And wearables. While Healthbook would put your iPhone 6 at the core of your fitness activity, allowing you to track all your progress, monitoring health parameters would require sensors that are best fitted to wearable devices. This would be a good symbiosis with the much spoken and yet to be seen iWatch, which could pack an array of sensors to monitor your blood pressure, heartbeat and possibly even sugar levels and other parameters. This would be the perfect complement to create a complete ecosystem around Health & Fitness and would mark the start of Apple in wearable technology where others already have a couple of iterations.
As in previous years, still quite some time until we get to know iOS 8 as usual in WWDC 2014 -likely to be held mid June this year- and an eventual launch of the iPhone 6 in September, once iOS 8 goes through it’s beta phase, in what should be possibly one of the most feature and innovation packed launch in the iPhone’s history, teaming it with new devices, new design concept and a change in size. Looking forward!.
Last week at WWDC, Apple introduced iOS 6 amongst others. Without entering into two much detail about the hundreds of new features that the new OS will bring, there is one that reveals that Apple might be taking a serious look at mobile payments. With the introduction of Passbook in iOS 6, your iPhone will turn into a very convenient digital repository to place all sorts of digital goodies. Vouchers, loyalty cards, promotion codes, QR codes, which include boarding passes, and movie tickets, just to name a few. These can even be geotagged, so they would become active whenever you are near the target location.
Interesting and definitely very useful, but not outstanding from other competitors which are already offering partial solutions to this problem. Likely to have a wonderful user experience though, and would define standards so that companies can create their own passbook-able digital goodies. Apparently big players in different industries are already signing up for the new platform.
However, this touches some of the items that other companies are defining around a potentially very lucrative industry: mobile payments. Storing credit / debit / stored value cards in your mobile phone would be no secret, and would be similar to Google Wallet, which opens the door to adding more intelligence to the physical moment of payment.
There are many different ways into which Apple might decide to introduce mobile payments, but considering their usual appetite to be real game changers, it will be interesting to see if they have anything awaiting down their sleeve.
So far the traditional approach would be to use cards stored in the phone –in Passbook- to be used through NFC (it is yet to be seen whether iPhone 5 would ship with NFC, even though many rumors point in this direction) the integration with Passbook and other digital goodies such as vouchers, loyalty points, etc would help create a more interactive payment experience, but this would not be seen as a breakthrough as it would be quite similar to the ecosystem defined by Google around Wallet. And above all, Apple would be making not –or little- money out of this.
The payments ecosystem is complex and involves many actors. From issuers to merchants, it’s an industry which has a great dependency on a very established infrastructure, and in which having the right coverage and capillarity to reach a high percentage of POS (Points Of Sale) where new technologies of mobile payments would be accepted. This will surely be a challenge, even for a company with the drive and ability to massively push technology as Apple. NFC, with support from many companies will take some time to takeoff until a large number of Points of Sale are upgraded to support the near field technology. Yes, it is getting lots of support from mobile phone manufacturers, but merchants are yet to catch up (one-third of POS expected by end of 2012, with 2% at mid 2011 in the US).
So having set the scene, it will be very interesting to see what Apple has to offer in the mobile payments space, whether they will just rely on their ability to attract merchants to adopt Passbook as their natural digital distribution platform for digital goodies -and eventually payment methods- while reusing the existing NFC standards and Card issuers as Mastercard, Visa or American Express, or whether they will decide to change the way we understand mobile payments the same way they did with the way we understood the SmartPhone or even the way we consumed music.
There is something I quite missed on today’s Apple event. It was not Steve Jobs, and it was not iPhone 5. Actually, whether it was an upgraded iPhone 4 (as it finally turned out to be) or the long awaited iPhone 5, the feature I really missed is the NFC chip built into the latest object of desire.
manufacturers announcing -or even shipping- NFC-capable phones, it is surprising that Apple chose not to make a move on this space. The whole set of actors in the industry, from hardware and software manufacturers to card issuers, financial institutions and merchants are positioning themselves on what looks like one of the next big things in both Mobile Technology and Financial Services.
Apple is known for not leaving anything to chance, so either they do not believe in NFC (clearly unlikely, considering the push and support the technology is getting) or they are preparing something really big that is worth waiting for their next generation SmartPhone to be unveiled.
So is Apple preparing a move similar to Google’s in this space, by combining the hardware -probably linked to the iPhone 5 launch sometime next year- with a complete ecosystem of applications and platforms to cover the whole, end to end payment experience?. Is it wise for Apple to reach the market at least half a year later if they want to have a predominant position in this space?. Time will tell, but it looks that either they have an ace under their sleeve or it will be a big leap to cover if they wait for iPhone 5 to step in.