I've had the privilege of following Apple as a professional industry analyst since 1981. During those 36 years, I've learned a lot about Apple’s way of thinking and how its products impact the market, often becoming rapid mainstream phenomena that push the industry to adopt new standards, helping grow and diversify the PC and consumer electronics business.
A good example of this is when Apple put a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive in its very first Mac, at the now iconic desktop computer's launch in January 1984. The PC industry had rallied around 5¼-inch floppy disks as the de facto medium for storing data. But Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and his team understood that the hardshell case surrounding 3.5-inch floppies was more durable—and more importantly, small enough to help them reduce the Mac's physical size, making it seem almost svelte when measured against comparably bulky IBM-style PCs. In two years, the PC industry had moved to 3.5-inch floppy disks.
Then in 1989, when Apple was under the leadership of John Sculley, the company began to focus on making the Mac a multimedia computer. By adding a CD-ROM drive, Apple delivered a much larger portable storage medium for playback of content that could include text, images and full-motion video. The Mac became the first bona fide multimedia computer, and by 1992, all PCs included either CD-ROM drives, or ones capable of supporting rewritable discs. (Apple was ironically late to the rewritable CD party, failing to add such a drive to the Mac until 2001.)
Apple continued to drive the PC industry forward with its candy-colored iMacs in 1998. The highly personable computers folded the monitor and desktop portions into a single case, begetting today's one-stop desktops that we've taken to calling all-in-ones.
Of course Apple's most revolutionary product remains the iPhone. Cupertino's iconic smartphone has had a dramatic impact on computers, consumer electronics and the telecommunications industry, as well as the lives of billions of people around the world. Apple may not have invented the smartphone, but it added vital advances like its superlative touchscreens, generous system memory, and above all else, an ingenious dedicated operating system that lured developers who've gone on to create millions of apps for the company's iPhones and iPads.
If the rumor mill is correct, Apple will introduce its newest version of the iPhone this fall. As in the past, I expect the company to include new features that will greatly impact the smartphone market and help drive these new technologies toward mass adoption. While the three features I'm about to highlight are still rumored, as we near the new phone's launch, stories sourced from the supply chain tend to be more accurate.
The first impactful feature identified by top analysts who talk to the supply chain will be the inclusion of face and eye scanning, which could be used to replace passwords or numerical codes so that a person can access their iPhones faster and more securely.
Though Apple arch-rival Samsung already uses this technology in some of its smartphones, and Microsoft is popularizing face scanning to replace passwords through Windows 10’s Hello feature, if Apple adds this to a new iPhone, it will wind up being the company that takes the feature mainstream. Apple's market power and reach would help make face and eye scanning a dominant feature, and force smartphone makers to embrace the tech in short order.
The second thing Apple may do is include "wireless charging" in its new iPhone—that is, charging without the need for physical wires or cables by simply placing the phone on or near a charging station. Again, Apple wouldn't be the first to do so, since Samsung already offers this feature with its 8S model, and other companies have begun offering wireless smartphone chargers as well.
But if Apple adds wireless charging and backs a specific wireless charging standard, it will drive much faster adoption of the technology across the board. And while it might be a feature unique to premium smartphones at first, its inclusion in the new iPhone will drive the technology to the midrange smartphone market more quickly.
The third thing Apple will almost surely do via the new iPhone is make augmented reality a mass market technology all but overnight. At its WWDC developer's conference in June, Apple announced ARKit, an toolbox designed to unlock augmented reality's potential. Apps created with this new developer tool will work on anything from an iPhone 5 series phone forward. If you want to get a sense of what AR apps can do, madewithARKit showcases early examples of AR apps made for iOS 11 and due to launch sometime this fall. (Given Apple’s history, I wouldn't be surprised if the company also added some sort of souped-up camera, or a hardware boost that makes AR apps on the new iPhone even more functional and spectacular.)
Whatever the case, when Apple does introduce its new iPhone sometime in the coming months, I expect its new features to again drive the smartphone market forward, compelling rivals to adopt its approach or refine to its standards, making cutting edge technologies mainstream.
Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.