3. Hands-free interfaces
Yes, I’ve figured out how to swipe at the latest version of Mac OS X. But you know what would be even better? Being able to wave at my iPhone instead of having to fumble with the keypad. Once you’ve tried Oblong Technology’s hands-free interface, even a touchscreen seems dated.
The only problem is that Oblong’s system is still too expensive for the mass market. Apple is legendary for turning Xerox’s high-end mouse-and-menu workstations into affordable Macintoshes in the early 1980s. Couldn’t they do the same with a hands-free interface?
Another form of R&D: Give your products to a whole bunch of kids. In 2002, Apple began helping the state of Maine leapfrog its students ahead of wealthier states by giving Maine’s schools a special deal on notebooks. Every seventh- and eighth-grader in Maine gets an Apple laptop that they can take home after school. Classrooms have wireless networks. Not only are the kids learning to use the tools they’ll someday encounter in real-world jobs, but they’re also being trained to prefer Apple over Windows. Apple has long focused on the educational market for both ideological and marketing reasons. Now would be a good time for a big national giveaway on MacBooks or iPads for future geniuses—and future customers.
1. Reinvent the battery
What’s the biggest problem with your phone, laptop, or music player? It runs out of juice when you’re nowhere near a power supply to recharge it. Even with a less thirsty CPU, energy-saving software, and premium batteries packed into as much internal space as possible, Apple’s products can’t hold enough power for a full day of heavy use for most customers.
Battery technology has advanced much more slowly than chips and displays. Apple’s approach to product design—don’t just think outside the box, replace the box entirely—could change the way mobile gadgets are powered. Is there a battery technology waiting to be discovered that blows past lithium-ion tech?
Could a new kind of battery be recharged without a special power adapter, or even without a wall socket? If my phone is about to conk out, could I get it to last a few minutes longer by shaking it? I’m fond of my Android phone, but its less-than-all-day battery life has caused me plenty of problems, and before day’s end I often run down both the battery in the phone and the spare battery I carry with me. If Apple offered an iPhone that I could use in the real world for a week without a recharge, I’d switch on the spot.
Of course, what has made Apple so special for decades isn’t fulfilling my wishes, but going beyond them. Dear Steve Jobs: Please bring me yet another gadget I would never have even thought of. Now more than ever, you can afford to do that.