What to Expect from Apple in 2020

Here are some predictions and wishes for a very Apple New Year

I’m not just a tech pundit, I’m an avid tech customer. Each year, I buy new gadgets from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, which means I have a vested interest in their plans for the new year. However, few companies take up as much of my psychic space as Apple.

Like it or not, the tech company is not just a manufacturer of gleaming gadget goods. That it holds such a unique place in American Cultural zeitgeist is mostly thanks to its co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, who imbued product creation with something more than just development, design, and production, and sprinkled a sort of hyperbolic fairy dust over the whole thing so that, somehow, we never saw Apple products in quite the same way as we did, say, a laptop from Dell or a phone from Samsung.

Some of that magic surely died with Jobs in 2011, but I think Apple CEO Tim Cook has done a yeoman’s job of keeping that “fairy dust” flame alive, even if he hasn’t introduced as many fresh, awe-inspiring product categories to the Apple canon.

That all might change in 2020, though.

The New New

There will be many changes—some significant—to existing Apple product categories in the launch of the new decade, but this could also be the season of Apple “Wow,” where Apple reclaims its originator rights to the phrase, “One more thing.”

Apple in 2020
Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

You find signals of Apple’s intentions in the most unusual places.

It might surprise you to know that Apple has almost 7,000 job openings worldwide. They cover a wide range of skills and responsibilities and could be, when looked at a certain way, as a sign of future product activity.

I’ve never believed Apple wants to build a car. It’s a frustrating business with uncooperative third-party partners and a sales and distribution channel that actively fights against new consumer shopping paradigms. It has terrible upgrade cycles (think years if not a full decade) and selling at scale is incredibly difficult. These are all the hard lessons Elon Musk learned in his decade-plus climb to the top of the electric vehicle heap.

That Apple holds such a unique place in American Cultural zeitgeist is mostly thanks to its co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, who imbued product creation with...a sort of hyperbolic fairy dust.

Still, it’s clear Apple, even as it all but shuttered Project Titan, is still looking at car adjacent technology, and, according to its own job-postings, Apple is still hiring people to work on specific self-driving car tech like LiDAR.

I think 2020 is the year we finally learn what Apple’s been up to with car tech. If not in some sort of software or hardware instantiation, then at least during Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, possibly with the arrival of a new CarKit dev platform for integrating Apple’s Siri and hardware into existing Level 3-to-5-ready autonomous vehicles.

Apple Do, Apple See

Apple has some of the best smartphone-based augmented reality technology on the mobile planet thanks to bespoke silicon, world-class programming, and excellent sensor and camera hardware, but there have been rumors about Apple building some sort of AR wearable for years.

I see little reason for Apple AR Glasses, but it seems like every major tech company is hell-bent on taking a run at this.

Perhaps this year we see V-1 of Apple’s AR Glasses. Apple will not build its own eye-glass hardware. Instead, it’ll partner with a company like Warby Parker and then introduce glasses with one full-lens, transparent AR screen. Apple AR glasses will host the minimum amount of hardware and technology on the frames, just the battery, transparent OLED, bone-conductive audio, low-energy Bluetooth receiver, and display driver. The rest will live, as it does today, on your iPhone.

I want to be clear, having lived through the Google Glass debacle, I see little reason for Apple AR Glasses, but it seems like every major tech company is hell-bent on taking a run at this and I think Apple has the best chance of delivering a respectable consumer product.

This is another product that could show up at WWDC as a sort of experimental device with a potential release in 2021.

Apple’s Bread and Butter

I don’t expect any other new product categories (though I could be wrong, this is all guesswork, after all). Expect iterative updates on iPad Pros, Macs, MacBook Pros and AirPods. Apple will, however, offer significant upgrades across at least a pair of its flagship product categories.

iPhone

Expect Apple’s next iPhone–Apple iPhone 12–to ditch the TrueDepth module in favor of a true edge-to-edge Super Retina XDR OLED display. Apple will still find a canny way of maintaining FaceID biometric face-reading dominance, by integrating the necessary sensors into the display. Perhaps Apple will do this via display drill holes or figure out how to have the sensors read facial features through the OLED mesh. An under-the-screen Touch ID reader is, owing to how flaky they can still be, a maybe.

In any case, you’ll get your 5G iPhone so you can stop whining about it.

We’re also sure to see Apple’s first 5G iPhone, which should excite me, but considering how uninspiring some of the bandwidth numbers are for the most deployable 600 MHz band (assuming Apple supports that), I’m no longer as excited about 5G as I was I year ago. In any case, you’ll get your 5G iPhone so you can stop whining about it.

I’m hoping Apple decides to fill what I see as a hole in its iPhone lineup with a new iPhone 12 SE. I believe there’s still a market for 4-inch iPhone, especially one that costs $199. To do so, Apple should not only shrink the screen, but it should look at a composite body. I would not expect this device to deviate from the iPhone 8’s screen and Touch ID technology.

It’s also worth mentioning that Apple will not remove the charging port from any of its iPhones in 2020. Will it switch to USB-C? Probably.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is unquestionably a hit piece of wearable technology and is putting the watch market, in general, to shame. To be fair to that market, traditional watch sales had been shrinking for years and Apple probably owns a big piece of what is surely a smaller pond than it was, say, a decade or so ago.

It’s high time for a round Apple Watch.

Three out of four members of my household wear an Apple Watch; I even gave up wearing my analog watches (I have a collection) for Apple’s digital wonder. But I think it’s time for a change… in design. Apple really hasn’t touched the Apple Watch’s fundamental square case design since its launch in 2014. It’s high time for a round option.

I understand this might cause some challenges for a few Apple Watch apps, but most of the ones we use on the Apple Watch are controlled by Apple (Maps, Activity, Health), so I think Apple can adjust for this rather quickly. I also believe a circular design can still accommodate current band design and attachment technology. Watch WWDC for new Apple watchOS interface design options for a signal that this new look is coming.

Take on the Books

Considering the out-sized attention every single Apple product release receives, it’s hard to believe that in the desktop and laptop space, Apple still owns just 16% of the market. Obviously, Microsoft’s Windows platform has seen some losses over the last decade, too. But you know who’s comparatively killing it? Chromebooks. Not necessarily the pricey ones like Google’s Pixel Go, but the $250 ones fly off shelves, especially during the holidays.

I think Apple has the opportunity to take a larger bite out of the education market with a MacBook EDU.

In 2020, I think Apple has the opportunity to take a larger bite out of the education market with a MacBook EDU, a $499 macOS laptop, possibly made with some durable composite materials, a totally sealed keyboard, a free suite of Apple iWork products and, yes, 50 GB of free iCloud storage. I know, this is unlikely, but I also know Apple cares about the educational market and, even with all the headway they’ve made with $249 iPads, I’m sure there are many more parents and districts that would prefer to hand out sturdier and more-productivity-friendly laptops.

In Service Of

For all the sex appeal of Apple’s hardware, Services will remain Apple’s fastest-growing revenue segment and of central importance to Apple’s long-term strategy.

I use many of Apple’s services and am generally pleased, but have grown weary of paying multiple, full-freight fees over the course of the month. Apple now has enough services:

  • Apple Music
  • Apple News
  • Apple Arcade
  • Apple TV+
  • iCloud Storage
  • Apple iPhone Upgrade Program

that it must offer some sort of Apple Bundle, its own “Apple Prime.” If it leaves out the iPhone upgrade program, I think Apple can reasonably charge $199 a year for access to all its services (family versions), including an unlimited amount of iCloud storage.

A key part of Apple’s service plan is TV+, which is off to a bit of a bumpy start. Yes, I enjoyed The Morning Show, but I have yet to watch anything else on the platform. Even at the bargain price of $4.99 a month, its clear Apple has its work cut out for it when it comes to content quantity. I know Apple is reportedly busy talking to other studios about acquiring some IP (James Bond!) for TV+, but in 2020, I expect it to at least double its content creation investment (it’s currently at $6 billion, a fraction of what Netflix invests each year) and/or make a major acquisition. Some have floated Netflix, but I doubt the streaming leader will say yes.

Getting Smarter

Apple will finally address its smart home woes in 2020.

I expect a HomeKit and Home app overhaul.The agreement to join the smart home Open Protocol working group could be step one in Apple acknowledging that it’s doing this wrong.

Apple could collapse the next Apple TV and HomePod Mini into one device.

It will (okay, it must) release a small, affordable HomePod Mini, which should look a lot like the original HomePod, but small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. There is a chance that Apple could collapse the next Apple TV and HomePod Mini into one device. In other words, the next Apple TV, which is also due for an overhaul, would finally gain those Siri listening, speaking capabilities, which, up to now, Apple has insisted in splitting between the Apple TV remote and your TV’s speakers.

Trust me, it’s not a crazy idea, especially now that Apple is freely seeding Apple tvOS on third-party hardware like virtually all Roku-enabled TVs and it is clearly less concerned about maintaining an iconic Apple TV box next to every TV set.

So What

Perhaps I should’ve started by saying that there’s an equally good chance that none of these predictions will come true, but I honestly believe that, in order for Apple to maintain its lead where it has it, catch up where it’s fallen behind, and leave the competition in the dust, it needs to do all this in 2020 and much, much more.