Apple’s Big Plans for Late 2014

"Late this year we've got the best product pipeline I've seen in my 25 years here.” – Apple SVP Eddy Cue

If anyone at Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is planning on a summer vacation, they’d better take it soon because all hell is about to break loose in Cupertino. Starting around mid-summer, the tech giant will be preparing to launch its first new device since the iPad, a breakthrough new service, and a major iPhone release. At least, that’s the way it’s shaping up.

I don’t expect any details to be revealed at next week’s Worldwide Developers Conference where the focus is expected to be on software, software, and more software.

Besides iOS 8 and a host of other software updates, Apple is expected to make one exciting announcement at its WWDC: a home automation software platform that will enable iPhone and other iOS devices to control smart household systems and appliances in the exploding Internet of Things universe.

Smart homes are nothing new, but neither were smartphones when Apple launched its game-changing iPhone. The one thing missing from the notoriously fragmented home automation market has always been a standard platform for third-party security, lighting, HVAC, entertainment, and home appliance manufacturers.

Look for Apple to provide that key missing piece for developers next week. And pray that nobody figures out how to hack into our smart homes.

Meanwhile, at the inaugural Code Conference earlier this week, Apple senior veep Eddy Cue auspiciously said, “Late this year we've got the best product pipeline I've seen in my 25 years here.” Here’s what I think he was referring to, what CEO Tim Cook has been hinting at since late last year, and why, come December, Apple will finally prove it hasn’t lost its innovation mojo.

The iWatch commeth

On Tuesday, a report from Brian Blair of Rosenblatt Securities said Taiwan’s Quanta will begin production of Apple’s long-rumored iWatch in late July or early August, meaning the company’s first wearable could launch as early as September. Apple is also said to be planning 18 to 21 million units, a huge number if the report is accurate.

The reason I think the report is credible and we can expect an iWatch launch in the fall is that Tim Cook has indicated more than once that exciting new product introductions would be forthcoming in 2014. In other words, the CEO’s credibility is on the line. And since everyone is waiting for a major new device category, the smartwatch has to be it.

The iWatch is expected to sport a round multitouch display plus an array of sensors and the rumored Healthbook app for mobile fitness and health tracking. I don’t know if that’s the killer app that’s going to make this a must-have device, as so many pundits seem to think. Personally, I’m more interested in being connected hands-free.

Another first: Apple and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) will launch new category hardware at roughly the same time. Google announced its Android Wear platform in March, but smartwatches from Motorola, LG, and others aren’t expected until later this year. Should be a fascinating head-to-head battle to watch (no pun intended).

iPhone 6 and iWallet: Like Beavis and Butthead, Kirk and Spock, peanut butter and jelly – they belong together

It’s been widely reported that Apple will launch iPhone 6 with a larger 4.7” screen this fall and possibly a 5.5” version later this year or early in 2015. But based on a number of factors including analyst predictions, teases by Mr. Cook, and patent filings, there’s a good chance that Apple will launch a digital wallet service along with its newest iPhone.

By combining the secure Touch ID fingerprint scanner from iPhone 5S, iBeacon location awareness from iOS 7, and an integrated NFC chip (a first for iPhone), Apple might finally be able to pull off what Google, PayPal and a host of startups have been unable to do: disrupt the mobile payment industry.

With somewhere between 600 and 800 million credit cards on file – depending on which report you read – iTunes represents the largest credit card database of any single company on Earth. And that means Apple’s got powerful clout to entice a critical mass of retailers to support its long rumored iWallet service.

While the Beats acquisition is expected to bolster Apple’s declining iTunes revenues and App Store sales are going gangbusters, I think Apple is the right company in the right place at the right time to bring mobile payment technology to the masses and make a bundle doing it. Unfortunately, an iPhone costs just a bit more than a leather wallet.

What about the “I finally cracked it” Apple TV?

Ever since Steve Jobs’ infamous “I finally cracked it” statement in Walter Isaacson’s biography of the iconic CEO, we’ve all been waiting for Apple to clean up the fragmented mess we call our living rooms.

The ever-candid Cue was pretty vocal on that subject at the Code confab, saying, “The TV experience sucks.” He went on to explain that the problem is too many “disparate systems” with “no standards.” And then, summing up why it’s probably taken so long for Apple to put a solution together, he said, “It’s a complicated landscape.”

No kidding. We’ve heard plenty of stories about Apple’s attempts to negotiate deals with media companies, content providers, and cable giants. Everybody wants exclusive rights, subscription fees, and branding … and nobody wants to pay for any of it. A complicated, fragmented mess indeed.

What I do know is this. Nothing’s likely to happen on the reinvented Apple TV front until one or both of the Comcast/Timer Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV megamergers go through, and that’s next year. Besides, I doubt if Apple could have pulled off another major new product launch in 2014, so it’s just as well.

One more thing. As with all things Apple, you know the secrecy drill. This is all speculation, nobody at Apple is talking, objects in mirror are closer than they appear, and your actual mileage may vary. But if most of this stuff doesn’t come to pass, and pronto, Cook and Cue may be looking at early retirement. That, I’m pretty sure of.