Apple has excelled at identifying an unmet need and serving it–the iPhone and iPad being obvious examples. To understand what Apple may do next, one should start with identifying a major problem with our digital devices and services that the company is positioned to address.
What is that problem? The problem is that we have too many devices, all with too many features and services. They all seem to demand attention, and they all have features we’ve not even discovered. Apple is in a strong position to address this problem of “digital overload.”
What is digital overload? Our digital systems may include a PC, smartphone, tablet computer, TV/digital-recorder, and automobile infotainment system. And, with the advent of Google Glass, a wearable device is probably next.
Features multiply with each new model and upgrade. It is a time-consuming and frustrating challenge to deal with all that complexity. The unmet need that Apple can address is to simplify the digital experience by making it more intuitive and consistent across devices. Make all our devices feel like one digital service!
A historical perspective is useful in understanding this opportunity. The Graphical User Interface (GUI)–a pointing device, windows, menus, icons–brought computing to the masses. The GUI’s familiarity helped us understand quickly how to use a smartphone or tablet computer. But the GUI is becoming over-burdened. For example, a menu is less efficient if it displays ten items rather than five, particularly if many of those items lead only to another long set of options from which to choose.
We also find an excess of features and options in each device. And we are bombarded with messages of various sorts. Proactive features such as Google Now have their points, but also can add to the constant digital demands for our attention.
So how could Apple address this need? It starts with improvements in Siri. The core breakthrough that will propel the next cycle of growth is natural language understanding and speech recognition technology. Apple’s Siri showed the potential of being able to ask for something the way you might ask an assistant.
The objective as discussed in my book The Software Society is “Personal Assistant Model,” an extension of what Siri does now. The Personal Assistant Model is the equivalent of the GUI in terms of its potential to drive another cycle of technology growth. The key is that speech and natural language interpretation technology have reached the point where it can support this model at an acceptable level, and the technology will continue to get better.