Apple’s event invitation, via MacRumors.com

Anticipating Surprise from Apple

There seems to be consensus about 3 announcements Apple will make on September 9th:

  1. 4.7 and 5.5 inch iPhone models
  2. Payment facilitation beyond Apple properties
  3. A device made for wearing on the wrist

In general, Apple’s past behavior is an excellent indicator of its future behavior, which makes many aspects of its events quite predictable. But Apple’s famous secrecy has one main purpose: to create a sense of wonder and surprise during announcements. Keeping future products secret enables announcements to feel like “major leaps forward.” The alternative, complete transparency during development, can make each update seem merely incremental. A new hardware product category, new size formats for the largest existing category, and a new service make for more potential surprise than we’ve seen in nearly a decade.

What are the potential surprises? Assuming the 3 announcements above, here are 16 big questions:

  1. Will the wearable accept user inputs (vs only be a sensor)? If it does, what will the primary interface method be? (voice, touch, mini-touch – e.g. just swiping)
  2. Will an Apple wearable be ready to ship for the holidays? It makes sense to announce a new product category well before it’s available because there is no cannibalization risk. Announcing early could help iPhone sales and dampen interest in less compelling wearable devices. But the size, universal nature, and potential price points make this a perfect gift and they would have 2–3 months between announcement and delivery, so it seems plausible.
  3. Will Angela Ahrendts present? Will any of the other new hires? Paul Deneve, Dre, Jimmy Iovine…
  4. Will there be a new 4” iPhone or just a price drop of the 5/s/c? As much as we’ve heard about the popularity of larger phones in the US and worldwide, the best-selling phone in the US for the past 3 years has been a 3.5–4” model. Only selling former generation 4” devices seems risky unless the 4.7” iPhone’s form factor can be easily operated with one hand. Otherwise many people would have a tough choice: get Apple’s best phone OR Apple’s best one-handed phone. Apple is not perfect at predicting consumers’ desires, even in the US, as proven by Tim Cook’s surprise of the 5s/5c balance.
  5. Will Apple discuss “one-handed use” with regard to iPhone? One-handed use is how they positioned and explicitly advertised the last iPhone screen-size increase.
  6. Will the wearable have NFC + TouchID built in? This would make sense if the purpose of paying with a device rather than a card is convenience. But if the purpose is killing receipts, which seems more compelling than saving your hand a trip to your pocket, the difference between tapping your phone and tapping your wrist is minimal.
  7. What will the wearable be called? iWatch seems to be the consensus and Apple has applied for rights to the name, but they did the same for “iSlate” before the iPad’s introduction.
  8. Will the wearable have its own cellular data connection (or only connect through the iPhone)? If it’s announced at the same event as the iPhone updates, it seems likely to be treated as an “accessory” to the iPhone. But there are important use cases where you’d want to the wearable to remain functional without an iPhone (e.g. going for a run).
  9. Will Apple increase the free iCloud storage limit? Time to balance the benefits of recurring “services” revenue with the single-minded “we create the best experience for one purpose: to sell more devices” philosophy. Less cloud storage than the local storage on your phone makes iCloud Backup a niche product.
  10. How will the wearable be charged? Wireless charging is rumored, but there are both technical and user experience challenges. Technical: can enough charge be transmitted without requiring you to remove the device from your wrist for direct induction? Experience: where do you keep the wireless charger, next to your bed? Is it easy enough to transport for travel, and does that create a third charger everyone needs to pack everywhere they go?
  11. Will Beats be mentioned in regards to the wearable? Potential for branding, celebrity endorsements (Beats’ forte, rarely employed by Apple).
  12. Will Siri become more proactive? In other words, will it function more like Google Now by surfacing proactive, contextual information rather than only being responsive to voice requests. Given the potential challenges for user inputs to a device small enough to wear and the frustration with Siri’s limited built-in voice responses, this seems important if the answer to #1 is yes.
  13. Which retailers will accept Apple’s payment mechanism? User adoption and payment processor adoption can only go as far as retailer adoption. Two choices: use existing technology (less dramatic improvements) or install new retail hardware (slower rollout, expensive for retailers).
  14. Will the payment processor support non-iTunes / App Store eCommerce? Challenger to PayPal / Stripe with TouchID authentication?
  15. Who will introduce the wearable to the world? Steve Jobs has personally introduced every major Apple product category to the world: the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. I say there are 3 options: Phil, Craig, Angela. Long shot: Jony, who has never presented on stage at an Apple event, but comes closest to Steve’s capturing of a product’s “spirit” when featured in launch videos.
  16. What will the wearable’s band be made from? Rubber, leather, metal? This will reflect its positioning and whether a device can become fashionable to the masses.

Regardless of this event’s outcomes, it will be a good indicator of Apple’s future and the consumer technology landscape.

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