Where next for Apple?

The iPhone 5 is out of the bag: but what else will Apple have to keep the firm at its peak for the years ahead?

Future road sign

The launch of the iPhone 5 is, most agree, a logical and predictable step for Apple. For a company that's bathed in innovation for much of its existence, the eventual roll-out of the iPhone 5, though outside of the usual day of release hype machine perhaps lacked the punch of Apple launches of old.

Few people on the planet, in technology or otherwise, could put together a launch event with quite so much impact. Tim Cook, to be fair, gave it a good go.

Much of that, of course, is down to the absence of the late Steve Jobs, whose ethos and approach still sits at the heart of Apple. Few people on the planet, in technology or otherwise, could put together a launch event with quite so much impact. Tim Cook, to be fair, gave it a good go.

Still, Apple achieved its immediate goal. It announced a new product, and already, the pre-orders are flooding in. Furthermore, it held back the widely-expected announcement of the iPad Mini, a smaller version of its iPad product that's set to do direct battle with the likes of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. The iPad Mini is set to follow in October (if you buy into the rumour mill) although Apple being Apple, it'll only turn up when the firm is good and ready.

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The announcements this week also included some more work on the mature iPod range, and a revamping of iTunes. And there's a sense of spring cleaning and tidying up, here. It's likely that what Apple is up to will improve and enhance its product line, certainly if the immediate response to its event is anything to go by.

But it does raise a continually nagging question as to just where the future of the firm lies.

Evolution and updates

Apple could continue evolving and updating the iPhone, iPad and iPod range for years to come. As it surely will. Furthermore, with its App Store and iTunes platforms, it also continues to own a hugely lucrative distribution network, over which it has immense control. Those factors alone will ensure Apple's revenues are comfortably in the billion for many, many years to come.

Certainly, its A6 processor will help too in giving more headroom to its products.

But Apple well knows that in order to stay relevant and vital, it needs to keep innovating, and to keep coming up with new products, and new ideas. It's not enough just to steadfastly defend the ones that it has (although Samsung's bank balance might disagree). So: where can the firm head next?

Appreciating that there's little obvious space in the computing or portable entertainment sector for Apple to exploit (although, the firm has a pedigree for lateral thinking that may yet surprise the market once more), the one area that the firm is often rumoured to be of interest is the living room. In particular, the television set.

However, herein lies a problem. Television screens are a mature business, one where premium brands have had to bring their prices down, such is the commoditised nature of the beast. Quality displays are available for prices that, just three or four years ago, would have brought home entertainment accountants out in cold sweat. That said, the Apple brand would attract a premium price, although it's unlikely to bring in the levels of revenue that Apple shareholders increasingly expect.

Innovations

But perhaps the bigger question is what could Apple bring to home cinema?

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The key innovations that Apple has succeeded with are the ones where a process is simplified. That it takes what people want to do, and bends the technology to meet that in as few interactions as possible. Is that really necessary with television sets, though? Are they that complicated for modern consumers to use?

Even integrating an abundance of different technologies, and the iTunes platform, it doesn't seem to present a sizeable opportunity for the firm with its own hardware in this sector (although we'll come back to iTunes shortly). Past suggestions for Apple have also included digital photography, which seems a remote possibility at best.

Software

Apple has long been insistent that there's lots of growth room left in its markets, and it's probably right, too. But for the firm to continue to grow, and find new markets, the answer may yet be in its software.

There's no chance, not for a long time at least, that Apple would even remotely consider licensing either MacOS or iOS for other platforms. The firm has grown by controlling all aspects of its products, top to bottom. The exception, though, is iTunes, where its release of a Windows version was, of course, gloriously championed with the words Hell froze over'.

Nonetheless, it's the digital distribution model that perhaps will outlive everything else that Apple is working on. Even if it doesn't press ahead with television sets and home cinema equipment, if it can find a way to persuade partners to integrate iTunes software into their televisions in the future, then that opens up far greater revenue potential.

Furthermore, as televisions evolve, why not offer apps for them, too? Can Apple broaden the market for software, now that it's seemingly out of major new product innovations and announcements for the time being?

Defining

The next few years will, thus, be both lucrative and defining for Apple. Its next big innovation in the post-Steve Jobs era will inevitably be pored over in exhaustive detail, and the release of the iPhone 5 and eventual iPad Mini won't do much to answer the questions, just yet, as to whether the firm is in safe hands.

The loud and appreciative reaction that's coming from consumers suggests an awful lot of enthusiasm for its product lines for some time to come, and that gives Apple a window to define its future.

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As things stand, though, the message coming from Apple, whether it means it or not, is more of the same. That's worked for many companies in the past, and will work for Apple this time around, too. It just seems a bit of an un-Apple thing to settle for. Chances are, it's unlikely that it will

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