Reading the Apple tea leaves for what's coming

Reading the Apple tea leaves for what's coming

A new iPhone and Watch are almost certain this fall, but how about a Mac with Touch ID?

For Apple fans, August usually represents the summer doldrums, the dead time between June's annual Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) and September - when Apple rolls out new iPhones, operating systems and other bits of hardware ahead of the holiday shopping season.

We know iOS 10 and macOS Sierra are on the way. But what else will be announced? No one outside Apple knows for sure. But there are plenty of hints, rumors, and educated guesses regarding Apple's fall plans. Let's read the mystical tea leaves and see what's likely on the way.

apple watches Apple

A new Apple Watch

First, the low hanging fruit: An updated Apple Watch is obvious, with hardware designed around the features announced at WWDC, including a faster processor and more RAM. We can expect this because watchOS 3 puts applications into memory during startup and leaves them there for faster launches -- addressing one of the complaints from early Apple Watch users about third-party application load times. Given that, in the past, every version of iOS has been tuned specifically for new hardware coming in the fall, it is logical expect the Watch will go the same route.

As for watchOS 3, which developers have now, I expect it to provide new exercise profiles for more accurate calorie counting (and I'm hoping it will fix the inaccurate heart rate measurements I've seen when doing strength training). I also expect expanded profile support for even more activities -- specifically tuned for certain motions. Among the possible additions: watch hardware that can measure swimming, which would mean reinforcement of the Watch itself to be more water resistant, with a touch screen that works when wet.

I also expect the next Watch to be much more independent of the iPhone, just as some iPad models offer iPad: WiFi + Cellular connectivity with built-in GPS. Apple execs may have tipped their hand when they revealed Find My Friends for Apple Watch. A function like Find My Friends could benefit from a GPS-enabled Watch because of how personal the device is; it is, after all, strapped to your wrist.

Another feature that would benefit from WiFi + cellular/GPS is the newly introduced SOS emergency call function. In concert with Find My Friends, the Watch with cellular connectivity could be a real life saver -- literally.

Additionally, with Continuity technologies  like Handoff (which allows you to switch to another Apple device mid-task), iCloud syncing and other tricks Apple uses to connect devices, a standalone Apple Watch would become another discreet device in the  Apple ecosystem. It would be linked to other devices, but not reliant on them.

Two issues need to be addressed for this to make sense.

First built-in cellular capabilities might require a data plan. As on the iPad, cellular could be optional -- but would Apple customers pay a monthly charge for the capability? (For the record, I would.)

Secondly, the biggest engineering trick would cramming that new hardware into a case no larger than the current Watch form factor, without cutting into battery life. New Apple products tend to maintain similar battery life as their predecessors, even as the hardware advances. So I expect a watch that lasts as long as the first version, even if it works as a more standalone device.

I have no doubt this is technically possible. But we won't know whether they make it into the Apple Watch 2 until this fall.

The next iPhone, now with Pencil support?

My iPhone expectations aren't dramatic; rumors abound already about colors -- from Space Black to Deep Blue; a dual-camera system; a revamped  sound system more in line with the upgrade received by the iPad Pro lineup; and the much-debated disappearance of the headphone jack. (You may as well jump right to the comments section below and rant about this is if you really want to. Won't change anything, though.)

apple pencil

What I think is pretty much a given is support for the Apple Pencil. Additions to key system software apps like Messages and Notes allows scribbling of handwritten messages, so it makes sense that the next iPhone display is updated to support the Pencil features already found in the iPad Pros. I bet the next iPhone's display will be capable of detecting when the Pencil is near and cranking the display to double the normal input scans to 240 times a second. That would provide the same smooth drawing experience iPad Pro users already get.

It would also mean support for shading, pressure-sensitive drawing (for thinner or thicker lines, depending on the force applied), and advanced palm-rejection tech to avoid spurious input.

That new iPhone screen will also be, I hope, a True Tone Display. This might be wishful thinking, but having a display that automatically adjusts its white point and intensity based on the current lighting conditions would be great, especially since the technology works so well on the 9.7-in. iPad.

Although a lot of people see this year's iPhone as more of an incremental update -- with Apple saving its big revamp for next year's 10-year-anniversary edition -- I expect a lot of useful upgrades that add up to another success, regardless of whether the outer casing looks like the first Apple Watch.

Don't forget the Macs

When it comes the iMac and Apple's laptop line-up, I found the WWDC demo of Apple Pay on the Web noteworthy. As it was detailed in June, you can make a purchase on a website and if an Apple Pay option is available, choosing it will kick off the Continuity feature called Handoff. That allows you to complete the purchase on your Mac by scanning your fingerprint on your Touch ID-enabled iPhone.

Touch ID

In theory, this showcases the technical harmony of Apple's devices and highlights the company's ecosystem prowess. But I'm sure Apple also knows the whole set-up, as envisioned, is also kind of clunky. This will certainly work well enough for most Mac and iPhone users, but I bet Apple Pay on the web will work even better on new MacBook Pros that ship with built-in Touch ID support.

I don't think the arrival of Apple Pay on the web is a coincidence; and since Apple Pay is still expanding in coverage and usage, bringing more users the option and opportunities to use the new payment system makes a lot of sense. For that reason, I'm thinking the next generation of Macs -- especially the portable lineup -- will get Touch ID.

Oh, and while we're hoping, let's dream of a WiFi + cellular MacBook Pro; isn't it about time?

So there you have my educated guesses about which new features might/could/definitely will/probably won't be announced next month when Apple kicks off its Fall lineup (starting with the iPhone right after Labor Day, if history is a guide).

They say trying to predict the future is folly; I guess we'll see. I'll report back later this year with an I-told-you-so -- or a mea culpa.

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