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Apple’s next hardware will move beyond phones and tablets

Apple CEO Tim Cook departs the stage following his keynote address at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California June 2, 2014.


If the Apple software announcements earlier this week seemed mild or even dull to some, it's because Apple's big news always comes in hardware. Though CEO Tim Cook's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote didn't hint at what new devices are coming, what seems clear is that Apple is looking to grow its ecosystem beyond phones, tablets and laptops.

It's a good bet that in September or October we'll get a new iPhone, probably with a bigger screen and some other more ordinary upgrades. We might get also get new iPads – though in truth, improvements to tablets are likely to be largely in software now.

But the forthcoming features Apple put on display also suggest Apple wants to branch out. Most importantly and symbolically were Continuity and Handoff, which let you not only continue work when you shift from one device to another, but also transfer functions so that, for example, you will soon be able to use your Macbook to answer a text or call sent to your iPhone.

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If you carry an iPhone or Macbook around, being able to work seamlessly between your devices or use your laptop to answer texts probably seems intriguing. (If you're on Android or Windows or some other platform, you'd be forgiven for yawning a bit.) Any kind of wearable device – like the rumoured iWatch – would take advantage of this feature to transfer messages, reminders and phonecalls from one device to a watch, without needing you to take your phone out of your bag or pocket. Similarly, aggregating health information into one app, as Apple has said it will do with Healthkit, will make a lot more sense with something on your wrist to count steps or track your pulse. Now that those features are in place, it seems almost a no-brainer for Apple to branch out into a smartwatch that serves as both health tracker and companion to the iPhone and iPad.

Apple's entrance into the smarthome is a bit more complicated, and might not necessitate new hardware. Homekit is a set of apps and standards that Apple will use to ensure that automatic lights or garage door openers work with your iPhone. Apple could make a control panel or a thermostat like Nest – but it's more likely they'll just rely on the iPhone or iPad with their fingerprint sensors for both home control and security.

Nonetheless, that kind of integrated thinking is what suggests that Apple is also getting closer to a more complete vision for Apple TV as well. Though there was a time when people were expecting an actual TV set, Apple's emphasis on Continuity and integration suggests that a set-top box that works in conjunction with an iPhone or iPad is more likely. Imagine a system a bit like Microsoft's Xbox One, but with Apple's trademark polish as a way to search through cable TV, or watch YouTube videos, expanding on what Apple has now to include the entire universe of content, easily accessible from the user-friendly interface of a touchscreen.

What's more, Apple's demonstration of Metal, which improves gaming performance, suggests that we might finally see Apple get into the console-gaming space with a modified, updated Apple TV, perhaps one that not only syncs with a phone or tablet, but also supports more traditional controllers (iPhones and iPads already do). With console-quality graphics finally possible, a significant market would be opened up – particularly amongst those who find big games like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto intimidating, but still want to kick back on the couch and play something simple.

But if yesterday's announcements suggested that wearables, the home, TV and gaming are new categories Apple will enter, it also hinted at what hardware is not coming, too. Though many – including me – have speculated about an iPad Pro that takes an Apple approach to the tablet-laptop hybrid, the emphasis on Continuity and Handoff suggests Apple is fine with where is stands now: the iPhone for mobile, the iPad for the couch and light work, and the Macbook and Mac for productivity. Rather than Microsoft's hybrid approach with products like Surface Pro 3, it seems Apple are satisfied with dividing tasks by device – which certainly seems to be working well for them.

What is clear, however, is that Apple must expand its product line. High-end smartphone sales growth is slowing, as it is in tablets, too. But with this week's announcements, it seems that Apple has given itself a myriad of options to make new things in other categories – and we might thus see some "exciting" product launches quite soon.

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