Four Industries Apple Can Disrupt in the Near Future

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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Brian Snyder / Reuters

Over the last 10 years, Apple has done a rather amazing job of disrupting quite a few industries. By my account, it has dramatically impacted the PC, tablet, consumer electronics, telecom, music and TV industries in a big way. And I believe that Apple is on the cusp of disrupting at least four more major industries in the next three to five years.

The first industry I believe Apple will shake up is the TV industry. Just about every major PC and consumer electronics company is trying to break into interactive TV (or “ITV” as it is called) and be the first to own this market. To date, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony and even Apple have tried desperately to create the next big thing in TVs and, perhaps more importantly, find a way to integrate the internet and internet video channels into their new visions for the TV.

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In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Steve tells Isaacson that he has “cracked the code” for ITV and, of course, everyone is wondering what this means. The most logical answer is that Apple will apply Siri voice comprehension technology to the TV user interface and then tie it to the iCloud service, marrying all of your digital content together for viewing on multiple screens–with the TV being the one focused on entertainment. Whether it will be delivered in an Apple TV-like box outside the TV or an actual TV itself is still a big question, but Apple’s attempt at creating a new approach to the TV interface and linking it to unified personal content, if done right, could be revolutionary.

Imagine being able to just tell your TV, “Find Big Bang Theory,” and it goes right to all available versions on broadcast, cable, your digital video recorder or online. Or ask it about a football player you just saw make a touchdown, and on the bottom of the screen it shows you his stats. Or if you want to find out about Yosemite, just ask Siri and it will find all related video and web content available and give you exact answers to your query on the TV. But perhaps its greatest feat will most likely be to instantly decipher the plethora of web-based video content that is online, and neatly show what is available for a given topic right on your TV screen.

For example, let’s say you want to see something about how to roast a turkey. Siri could search its database and find out all of the best shows on TV, your DVR or the web and then post them on your screen for you to pick. And I mean any database, including things you’ve bookmarked about roasting turkeys on any of your Macs or Apple devices that are connected via iCloud. Those results could be added to the list of available shows to watch on that topic.

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This could be the most disruptive thing in the television industry to happen since the introduction of color, eventually burying the remote control by putting the entire TV industry on a course to use voice as the new remote instead. It will find ways to marry broadcast, cable, satellite, DVR and internet content into manageable channels that bring all of it together in the cloud and display it via voice command on the TV screens throughout the home. And it looks like Apple could be the company to take the TV industry into this new century.

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The second industry Apple is poised to disrupt is the auto industry. I have been searching for a new car and one of the major criteria in my search has been the ability to integrate my phone and its content into the navigation and sound system in the car. I want a Bluetooth connection as a speakerphone, but I also want it to use the content in my phone—mostly music and podcasts—and I want it done wirelessly.

In my search I was pleasantly surprised to see how far Microsoft’s Sync system has come. And Toyota’s Entune system already uses a Bluetooth connection to send audio content from a phone to the car’s speaker system.

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Now imagine if Apple began working with the auto companies directly and, in extreme circumstances, was perhaps able to get a 7-inch iPad into these cars. In this case, it could have a 3G chip inside for direct connection to the internet. And of course, it would have Siri’s smart voice comprehension technology. While most of its greatest features, such as searching for the closest bank or cleaners or pizza place would be restricted to parking mode, many other voice driven features could be part of the user interface and services. It could get and respond to email via voice, do text messages via voice, and more importantly, it would be tied to Apple’s iTunes and iCloud services. That means you would always have access to your content no matter what it is and could call it up on your car’s display whenever you wanted it.

Another way to do this would be to make any regular iPhone or iPad function as host devices while the car’s navigation screen would function as a video terminal that just mirrors their displays. If you’ve ever used the iPad’s Airplay features, you already understand the potential. Using an Apple TV box, I literally mirror the iPad’s content on my big screen TV. And if I use my iPhone 4S, I already have the Siri voice UI—at least for my content. Now imagine having that type of voice UI and content connection in your car.

Sure, there would be restrictions about using certain features while driving, but having the car’s screen running iOS and Siri could make the car’s information system even more useful. Again, Apple could be the big disruptor that brings the auto industry into a century in which information and personalized media become a key part of the auto traveling experience.

The third industry Apple could turn upside down is the watch industry. For centuries, watches have been–for a lack of a better term–dumb watches. Only in the last 30 years have they gotten smarter, with the introduction of things like calculator watches and more recently, chronographs and satellite watches tied to the atomic clock.

But Apple has stumbled onto something interesting with the iPod Nano. Many people have started to use it as a watch. And a whole side industry has popped up that is creating watchbands for iPod Nanos. I don’t believe Apple ever dreamed of the Nano as a watch, but it has become a happy new application for the company’s tiny touchscreen iPod.

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Apple could do some very interesting things to the Nano with a few simple tweaks. What if they put a Bluetooth radio inside and allowed it to become an extension of my iPhone? I normally carry my iPhone in my pocket, so when an alert comes up I have to pull it out to see it. But what if that alert showed up on my Nano watch? Or what if they added a Siri Interface and tied the Nano display to the iPhone? I could just ask my watch to show me the last message or e-mail I received through iMessage and it would pop up on the Nano’s screen.

With voice feedback, Apple could perhaps tie it to the iPhone’s GPS and, when walking, tell a person to turn right or head north to get to the coffee shop you just asked Siri about. Of course, they could put a Wi-Fi radio into the Nano as well, and let it get a direct link to internet data when connected. But it would make more sense for it to use a Bluetooth connection and tie the Nano to the iPhone’s 3G radio so that it would be connected all the time. If Apple used the Nano to mirror some of the functionality of my iPhone in a watch format, the company could potentially redefine the role of the watch.

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And the fourth industry Apple could possibly impact is the appliance industry. In 1997, I gave a speech at the Agenda Conference where I envisioned a refrigerator of the future that would have a screen on it and would be connected to the internet. I suggested that it would have a bar code reader on it and that as I put items in the fridge, it would automatically put them in inventory. As I took items out and did not return them to the fridge, it would automatically put them on a shopping list on the screen. I even suggested that if I called up a recipe from the internet, it would be smart enough to see what the ingredients were and pop them onto the shopping list. And if programmed properly, it could even order items from—and all of it would be on my doorstep when I came home from work.

Of course, today we do have a couple of refrigerators with screens on them connected to the internet, but that is all they are–internet terminals.

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If Apple applied their iOS software to appliances and married it to iCloud, they could turn pretty much any screen integrated into things like refrigerators, ovens or even cabinets into application-specific smart screens. They could all have access to the internet and iOS apps, which could be tailored for their integrated locations. For example, what if I had an iOS screen embedded into the mirror in my bathroom? As I get ready in the morning, it could be programed to fetch weather reports, updated news items and info related to my commute. It could read out my daily appointment schedules and search my iCloud account for anything I want, including music, podcasts or YouTube videos as I prepare for the day. You get the idea.

I have no doubt that we will have many screens in our home and as part of our digital lifestyles, and if Apple can unify them behind iOS, its apps and its iCloud ecosystem, it could have quite an impact on the appliance industry of the future. And believe me, the appliance industry is interested. Besides embedding a screen on a refrigerator, they have also added internet connections to ovens, microwaves, lighting systems, air conditioning systems and heating systems to try and make them smart devices connected to an internet ecosystem. But today, most of them are acting as dumb terminals. For them to reach their potential, they need to have an operating system that is tied to a broader ecosystem that could deliver even greater functionality through connectivity; and Apple’s iOS, apps and iCloud could play an important role in helping this industry deliver smart homes and smart appliances.

Keep in mind that all of this could happen because Apple has created a fundamentally unified platform—one that’s tied to an operating system, apps and the cloud eco system. It’s consistent across screens but it can also be made to be application-specific depending on what a particular screen’s use might be. So it’s not too far of a stretch to see how Apple’s platform, when applied to a TV, automobile, watch or appliance could give those objects a digital intelligence.

I suppose if we think hard enough we could probably come up with some other industries Apple could impact with this platform. But I believe that the TV, auto, watch and appliance industries could be next on Apple’s disruption agenda.

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Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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