For Apple, as 2015 draws to a close, it's natural to look back at what the company did this past year with an eye on what that means for 2016. The product innovations include Apple's first wearable, the Apple Watch; the redesigned single-port, super-slim MacBook that incorporates Force Touch; the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus that offer 3D Touch (and other innovations like Live Photos); and, of course, the introduction of the iPad Pro. The company also gave its Apple TV set-top box its first overhaul in years, adding an App Store all its own for the first time. And Apple banked on its 2014 partnership with IBM to develop a range of additional MobileFirst iOS apps covering 65 professions across 14 industries.
All in all, that's not-very-shabby set of accomplishments.
So, what's ahead in 2016?
Apple Watch 2 (and watchOS 3)
Apple's first major revelation of 2016 is likely to be a second-generation Apple Watch, accompanied by an update to watchOS. Although there's ample speculation on new features Apple could pack into the updated smartwatch -- features like a FaceTime camera or even 3D Touch capabilities -- I'd put money on Apple refining the existing features rather than cramming everything but the kitchen sink into the watch.
Apple seems committed to only building functionality that makes sense on the wrist. For that reason, expect to see a focus on the basics like battery life and app performance. Apple might even go further in allowing the Watch to operate in a less tethered state than the original, but I'd expect this to be in the form of improved Wi-Fi capabilities and support for a greater range of Bluetooth accessories rather than in slapping a carrier SIM card inside.
Although Apple could add more health-tracking capabilities, this seems unlikely given speculation that Apple would aim to do that in a more medically-oriented device. Sticking with basic fitness allows Apple to provide useful tracking without needing to meet the regulatory hurdles associated with medical devices.
That said, I do hope that the accompanying update to watchOS expands on some of the built-in tracking capabilities. Apple should be able to expand tracking goals to allow users to set preferred primary metrics outside the somewhat vague calorie-based movement and even vaguer exercise designations. Setting metrics such as distance or step count as primary goals for Apple's ring interface would be a welcome option and help it better compete with rival dedicated trackers.
I also expect Apple to make the forthcoming watchOS update available to first-generation watches. Although some of Apple's refinements will come from hardware advances, the company should be able to support new features and even performance boosts on existing models as well.
New iPhones (and maybe even a new 4-in. model)
Of course, Apple will announce a new generation of iPhones next fall, likely delivering an all-new design. Rumors that the company will also introduce a new 4-in. model in the spring seem less solid. Although Apple has kept the smaller iPhone 5S around, it appears that's simply so it can offer an entry-level device for no money down with a contract. If Apple sticks to its current approach of offering a two-year-old model at this price point, it would logically maintain the current iPhone 6 in that spot. Of course, with carriers (and Apple) moving away from traditional contracts toward leasing or monthly payment plans, Apple might not see the need for such a bargain-basement device. The mix could then include a newer but still smaller iPhone.
Expanding Apple Pay
Apple Pay has seen a fair amount of growth in the U.S., particularly in the number of banks and other financial institutions supporting the platform. Widespread acceptance at merchants has grown at a slower pace, though the liability shift this fall that encouraged merchants to begin accepting EMV chip cards has spurred some wider adoption, including in the small business sector. As mobile payment processors like Square begin shipping appropriate readers, this should encourage broader acceptance.
Outside the US, however, Apple Pay has struggled to gain traction. Limited card issuers supporting Apple Pay in countries like Australia, Canada, and Spain make widespread adoption challenging. Complicating the matter is that these countries have been using the more secure cards just now being introduced in the U.S. for some time. The result: Less incentive for merchants to begin accepting Apple Pay.
Apple will definitely want to focus on getting its payment platform more widely accepted in the U.S. and abroad -- that's obvious from its deal early this month with UnionPay in China. Ironically, Google's efforts to expand Android Pay will probably help Apple Pay expand as well given that both platforms rely on contactless NFC payment terminals.
Getting iOS out of the way of the iPad Pro
One consistent thread among iPad Pro reviews has been that the device's hardware is held back by the constraints of iOS. This will prove an interesting challenge for Apple to solve. The company definitely wants to maintain a consistent mobile OS and maintain it as separate from OS X. Expanding iOS across a broad range of form factors, storage capacities and processing capabilities isn't an easy feat. Likewise, the iOS App Store approach doesn't scale well when it comes to pro apps because of the lack of support for paid upgrades, a factor that some developers see as an Achilles's heel for the device. (Similar complaints have been made by some developers exiting the Mac App Store as well.)
It's hard to see exactly how Apple will reimagine iOS to accomodate an ever growing lineup of devices, but the company is likely aware that this is a challenge to meet. I expect to see some notable advances on this front, though don't look for them much before WWDC next summer.
Continuing to invade the enterprise
Apple staked its claim to enterprise mobility with the iPhone and with its mobile management capabilities as far back as 2010. Partnerships with IBM, Cisco and others are continuing to drive enterprise adoption of iOS devices. No doubt, iOS will see challenges in the enterprise in the form of Android devices running newer versions of the OS that feature the secure Android for Work (as well as from Microsoft's Surface Pro lineup). But Apple is well positioned as a leader in business transformation through mobility, particularly as the partnership with IBM continues to expand.
Macs have also gotten some enterprise credibility of late with IBM announcing during Apple's quarterly earnings call this fall that it has been saving roughly $270 for each MacBook its employees use instead of a traditional PC. During the JAMF Nation User Conference, IBM Vice President Fletcher Previn said that only 5% of IBM employees using MacBooks called the help desk for support compared 40% of PC users. Expect to see Macs becoming more common in business, though not as common as PCs or iOS devices.
A more diverse company
If there's one thing that you can say about Apple in 2016, it's that the company will have diversified its product lines, services, and interests compared to just two or three years ago. That should give it a solid footing to expand its revenue sources and help it to capture broader shares of existing markets, particularly in the enterprise.
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