Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

First Third, 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: making any assumptions about Apple’s future based on their past is an easy way to be wrong. With that caveat in mind, let’s do exactly that.

Astute observers of Apple will know that they have announced products at four events every year since 2008:

  1. The spring event was once the iPhone software update preview for developers, which became the iPad refresh event,
  2. WWDC in June affords Apple the opportunity to launch new Macs, updates to iOS and OS X, and was once the iPhone update event,
  3. A launch in September of new iPods, iTunes updates, and now the iPhone, and
  4. An event in October for new Macs, and now iPad updates

Since new iPads arrived this October, the spring event might be depreciated (or might have a new function). If you’re this astute, you’ll probably also know that Apple has an optional January event, which used to be Macworld. They’ve used events in that month to launch some important new products: in 2007, the iPhone; in 2008, the MacBook Air1; and in 2010, the iPad.2

As of right now, riding on the (admittedly dubious) assumption that the products Apple introduced since June won’t be updated until next June, what does that mean for 2013? There’s no way Apple is going to go for nearly two full quarters without releasing a single new product. It seems clear to me that they’re making way for a new product introduction in the first third of the year, and the question now is what that product will be.

In his interview with Brian Williams, Tim Cook noted that television is an area of “intense interest”, the same phrase he used at D10 earlier this year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple is tooling up to build their own set, but it does mean that they’re looking at ways to improve the living room experience. They tried it with Front Row, and tried it with the Apple TV. The latter is becoming more successful, but it’s still a “hobby”.

As something that might be released shortly after the holidays — the time of year when people upgrade their televisions en masse — I don’t think Apple is going to stop selling a tiny box for an existing set. That market has too much potential for them to leave it. If Apple can get a small slice of the television set market, that’s good for them. But if they can have that slice and sell something to the rest of the market? That’s golden.3

I’m not sure this is the product for the first third of 2013. But I do think there’s something big coming up, and that January is going to be a huge month for Apple.

  1. The Air was important because it was the first product to be manufactured using the unibody production technique, even if it wasn’t announced as such at the time. It was the mass-production prototype for all future Apple notebooks. ↩︎

  2. There have been other, less-notable introductions in January: DRM-free music on iTunes in 2009, the iPhone on Verizon in 2011, and an education strategy for the iPad in 2012. ↩︎

  3. User experience comes before money, but I don’t think Apple’s going to ignore an opportunity as huge as an augmentation of an existing market. While there are some things that can only be done with integrated hardware and software, and while a set top box will be less elegant than an all-in-one solution, I think Apple recognizes as much as anyone that they’re not going to convince a huge group to replace their TVs so soon after the holidays. ↩︎