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Apple, emerging technology and the iPhone that could be


I take a look at the exciting Emerging Technologies that Apple could put into the next iPhone – but probably haven’t.


Today there are no fewer than ten multi trillion dollar trends coming down the line – from the Connected Home and the Internet of Everything to Autonomous Vehicles, from the Robotic Revolution to Wearables and Human 2.0 and I’ve no doubt that some of you have already read about – or even bought a product that fits into one of those new categories.

Underpinning all of these trends are at least 178 emerging technologies, hidden among which are technologies that can give Apple – or their competitors with the ammunition the need to disrupt existing markets and industries and create new ones.

This article only scratches the self healing surface of what some of these technologies do, and how Apple could leverage them, the benefits they could have to society and business – and, perhaps more importantly, to Apple’s shareholders, could be tremendous. That is, of course, if Apple got its innovation mojo back – which, unfortunately doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. That said though, as we prepare for Apple’s 2016 keynote and the unveiling of their latest products hopefully they’ll surprise us. And as a camera enthusiast a DLSR quality camera in the new iPhone will tick my box but copying Samsung by allowing people to use a stylus with the new iPhone won’t.

My radar below will introduce you to some of the technologies that are entering the market today, and in the future:


2016 Griffin Emerging Technology Radar

Fig 1. 2016 Griffin Emerging Technology Radar


On to Apple

Every hour of every day Apple sells over 34,000 iPhones but unlike many of their other competitors Apple’s earnings are accretive.  As soon as a new consumer purchases a device, whatever that device is they instantly become hooked into Apples enormous proprietary multi sided ecosystem and when their new carrier contract expires they simply upgrade to the latest iPhone and Apple’s cycle of increased earnings continues.

So long as the number of new consumers hooking into Apple’s ecosystem is greater than the number of people leaving it Apple will only continue to get richer and while you can run iOS apps on Android using emulators like Cider it’s complicated so once people are hooked they’re hooked. Therefore it’s no surprise that Apple have over $220 Billion of cash in the bank.


To innovate or not to innovate, that is the question

Over the past few years there have been lots of questions about Apple’s ability, or propensity to innovate and after the Steve Jobs era Apple many can argue that Apple has become more of a follower than a leader – loosing some mind share to Samsung – but I for one see a multitude of opportunities for them to regain their disruptive crown and be first to market with a host of new products and services that appeal to the global mass market.

Today there are a multitude of game changing emerging technologies across eleven categories that will change not only how we view and interact with each other and the world around us but also how it interacts with us. And if anyone has the money, engineering proficiency and global scale to commercialise these new technologies then it has to be Apple.


Disruption made simple

One of disruption’s simplest laws is the Law of Convenience. Successful separate products and services inevitably merge over time and the iPhone is a perfect example. Take for example your own daily behaviours. Every time you used to leave your house whether it was to go to work, go on vacation or just go out for the evening you’d have likely taken your watch, camera, camcorder, keys, money, tickets and your phone.  Today every one of these products has been consolidated into one device, your iPhone.

Your watch, camera and camcorder? Use your iPhone. Your keys? Use your iPhone to automatically lock and unlock your Connected Home Smart Lock with HomeKit. Money? Apple Pay. Your tickets? PassBook. Your phone? Well, you still need that but one day that’ll be merged into you but that’s another story for another day.


Deconstructing the iPhone

Being able to define the basic functional categories for the components in a product is a convenient innovation trick because it allows you to quickly overlay new Emerging Technologies, by characteristic or category, and zero in on areas you can develop.

Breaking it down to its simplest functions the iPhone is a digital device that senses, translates, receives and sends data from a variety of sources in digital form and presents the output to you in a way you can understand and interact with it. Consequently the deconstructed iPhone relies on sensors, functional commodity components that provide the processing power, an intermediary software layer that combines all the different inputs together in different ways that allow Apple and its developer community to create new services and a user interface. Collectively these four areas come together to give you your user experience and these are the areas we can focus on first so let’s look at what Apple could do with that big cash pile of theirs.


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What’s happening in this space?

Every day there are giant leaps in this category, so much so that by the end of this Century we could see the first immortal Humans. Today it’s already possible to replace over 70% of the Human body, whether that’s with artificial components or live organs and transfer memories between one individual and another. However, while no one has yet managed to crack transferring someone’s consciousness along with those memories there are a number of Emerging Technologies which will help us at least mimic it.

The following is just a slice of some of the activity in this space. 3D Printing and our ability to print Human body parts including bones, cartilage, ears, livers and hearts is already being realised through companies like Organvo and one day it’s these companies that will signal the end of organ donation and help us live for even longer than we do today.

Advances in robotics, exoskeletons, neural interfaces and natural language are rapidly helping disabled people realise new levels of freedom and capability that in some respects already make them more capable than non disabled people. Meanwhile technologies like Crispr, a game changing Genome editing technology will allow us to literally upgrade our DNA and eradicate genetically transferred conditions forever and new stem cell research looks like it will hail the end of Arthritis and much much more.


So what could Apple do?

While Biotechnology is racing ahead like a runaway locomotive going down a mountainside Apple has a number of plays here, particularly in the emerging Telehealth space. As new sensors hit the market it would be easy enough for Apple to embed a variety of new “Sensor Clusters”  into the iPhone’s fingerprint ID button, or even into the casing or screen. With the right non invasive sensor technology your finger, let alone the rest of you, can say a lot about your health.

Work out better, get fitter, live longer with Health Book: Sweat alone can reveal your hydration levels, electrolyte balance, Lactate threshold, Glucose levels, the number of calories burned, the condition of your metabolism, your body’s nutrient balance and much more and that can all be measured with just one sensor system such as the one from Kenzen.

Other light based, non invasive sensors such as Kenzen Echo go even further – peering under your skin to extract even more biochemical data. Heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, oxygen saturation, Cortisol levels, Carbon Dioxide levels, pH, arterial hardness and blood composition and there are even sensors that can decipher your Genome and measure how hard you’re working your muscle groups down the gym.

Analysed properly all of this data can be used to diagnose everything from chronic Genetic conditions all the way through to the Flu and it can also tell you how likely you are to have a Heart Attack. Feeling ill? Touch the Fingerprint ID sensor for two seconds and a live doctor could kick off a Facetime and walk you through a diagnosis and that’s just for starters, tomorrow for example those doctors could be replaced by a cognitive computer system like IBM’s Watson. In the US the healthcare industry is worth $3 Trillion so it’s best not to under estimate the upside on this one but why stop there, health cuts across the insurance market too and recently Apple have teamed up with the Pentagon to further research into the wearables space.



What’s happening in this space?

New energy innovations have a much longer development cycle than other emerging technologies but as with all categories there are some developments that come to the market faster than others. Trying to reproduce stable Cold Fusion reactions that last longer than a micro second will still take decades but Smart Energy Grids on the other hand are becoming an increasingly important part of today’s energy strategy.


So what could Apple do?

While it doesn’t make sense for Apple to try to embed a small Fusion or NASA built Microwave Energy Device into the iPhone there are a variety of innovative energy technologies they could harness to improve your experience.

The ultra thin iPhone: The first are Thin Film Batteries which not only are very flexible but are also, as their name suggests very thin, by using this new technology Apple could create even thinner iPhones, or if combined with flexible OLED displays they could create an iPhone or wearable that you could fold, roll up or stick to yourself and again these new form factors alone would help them create a whole raft of new innovations and services.

Never charge your iPhone ever again: In the meantime though if they didn’t want to create a foldable, stickable insanely thin iPhone then they could focus on more boring energy innovations such as Energy Harvesting, Piezoelectric and Wireless Energy technologies which at worst will mean you will never have to plug your iPhone into a charger ever again and at best it would mean you never have to charge your iPhone ever again. Yawn.


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What’s happening in this space?

New materials are also being created at an alarming rate and this news should be like Manna from Heaven for those of you with butter fingers. While scientists are busy creating Aerogels that are as light as air and stronger than steel and creating Programmable Matter which can change its shape, density, conductivity and texture at will like the T1000 in Terminator you’ll be happy to know the real scientists among them are working on new material innovations that save you money and make you look even cooler.


So what could Apple do?

As many of you can attest to having a Spiderman screen cover, that is a cracked screen, is not something that you’re likely to be a fan of so while Apple is busy creating its next generation self-righting phones that land screen up if you drop them there are real scientists at work fighting your corner.

Your indestructible iPhone:  Liquid Armour, gelatinous materials used in body armour that solidify when struck and absorb all of the energy of an impact and Self Healing Materials that can repair themselves if they’re scratched or damaged are already hitting the market. While most of today’s commercial self healing materials are still limited to metals and alloys, which nevertheless still account for half of your iPhones surface area, scientists have been creating self healing glass since 2011.

Looking good was never so easy but why stop there? Caltech and DARPA, to name but a few have been creating self healing, indestructible components, electronics and even software for years.


User Experience

What’s happening in this space?

The UI and UX space is literally crawling with new tantalising innovations. Everything from Augmented Reality all the way through to Virtual Reality and everything in between, every one of which helps us close the gap between the Physical and Virtual worlds.

The way that we interact with our devices and the way in which we not only interact with the world but it interacts with us via, for example the Internet of Things, Autonomous Vehicles and Connected Home is on the cusp of a revolution that most analysts estimate is worth at least $16 Trillion.

As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous and as the number of forms it takes increases, everything from Smart T-Shirts and wearables all the way through to Smart Thermostats and Intelligent Billboards the way in which we interact with it is going to have to change, and it is.

Billboards and shop window displays already use facial recognition to tailor adverts for your specific demographic, Boeing engineers use Augmented Reality to fix aircraft faster than ever before and USAF F-35 fighter pilots can control remote UAV’s and ‘Gremlins’ with nothing more than their minds.


So what could Apple do?

As for Apples user experience, as great as it is it’s stayed the same for a number of years now. Yes they have iterated new features in iOS but all of the interaction with your iPhone still involves touching it unless of course it’s plugged in and you say “Hey Siri”.

Ditch your touch screen forever: Apple have a veritable treasure trove of choices here. Want to change tracks on your iPhone? Use gesture control and simply swipe across courtesy of the good folks at MIT who’ve developed a miniature RF chip called Chirp. Want to feel what the fabric of the shirt you’re browsing on the internet actually feels like? That’s Hepatics. Want to experience that movie or website in 3D or even in Holographic form? The technology is already here. Want to unlock your phone securely just by looking at it? Then thank Fujitsu and their Iris Authentication system.  Maybe you’re simply fed up of having to lift a finger to do anything? Then control everything on your iPhone with your mind in the same way that disabled people are now increasingly able to control Exoskeletons, prosthetic limbs and wheel chairs with just a thought.

Chatty Siri loves replying to your messages: For those of you that don’t like any of those ideas well, you can always just interact with your iPhone using Natural Language technology and for those of you who find E-Mailing or texting people laborious then why not let your iPhone reply for you using technology like that from Narrative Science whose narrative technologies have been used by companies that range from the US Government all the way through to some of the world’s top news agencies. Today robo journalism, tomorrow the E-Mails to your boss… Happy days.


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Machine Systems

What’s happening in this space?

No matter how you slice or dice it though most computer systems today are still pretty stupid, at least when compared to the Human brain which has over a hundred billion Neurons compared to your iPhone’s one billion transistors.

While transistors and neurons aren’t precisely equivalent to each other that pushes the scales further in our Brain’s favour but as time passes the scales are tipping further and further into the Machines favour and one day as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and a host of thought leaders have suggested sentient, artificially intelligent machines could rule the world… All hail my Dell laptop!

Today our brains still operate thirty times faster than the world’s fastest super computers but that gap’s closing fast. There are an increasing array of technologies coming to the fore, ranging from Quantum Computing through to Artificial Intelligence and with the advent of Cloud computing many of them, from Machine Learning all the way through to Machine Vision can be consumed over the wire as a pay as you go service so if you have an internet connected device you’ll soon be able to tap into some hitherto unimaginable and crazy new services.


So what could Apple do?

Have a conversation with Siri: The fact still remains though that your iPhone is dumb. Have you ever tried to have a real conversation with Siri? Other than wondering why you’ve tried I’ll go so far as to suggest it was a one sided conversation but the advent of Neurosynaptic Chips and IBM Watson will change all that opening up a world of new possibilities and a world full of new “Personal Digital Assistants”.

Meanwhile AI powered bots, which are increasingly looking like the best candidates to disrupt the world of business, transactions and commerce are slowly changing the way that we, particularly Generation Y interface with companies, services and each other and over the course of the next five years or so expect apps to be increasingly replaced by Bots. As Tim Cook himself recently announced, “Why use a bag of hammers



What’s happening in this space?

Today’s cameras and camcorders still have a long way to go before they can mimic the Human eye and in the twenty first century where we’re talking about putting people on Mars isn’t it odd that a mass market technology that was first invented in 1826 hasn’t advanced much?

Think of a child’s party. The photos and video you take simply won’t be the same as being there, the slice of the action that they take won’t have the same field of view as your own field of vision, they’ll be in 2D not 3D and you won’t be able to focus in on parts of your photos that come out blurred.


So what could Apple do?

There’s a lot that Apple could do here to close the gap between their current cameras capabilities and the Human eye but the iPhone’s current form factor does mean that their options are more limited than they otherwise could be.

Unblur your photos: Images that can be refocused once they’ve been taken though are nothing new. Lytro first pioneered the technology using Light Field Technology, also known as Plenoptic Photography in 2012 and in 2014 HTC tried to copy it using a second camera embedded into the HTC One and stereoscopic post processing software. Using Lytro’s technology if, for some reason all the photos you took turned out blurred you could use your iPhone’s touch screen to bring them back into focus. Voila lots more happy memories.

Naked Eye 3D: As for 3D photography and video that doesn’t require the user to wear special 3D glasses, also known as ‘Naked Eye 3D’ the technology has been commercially available in camcorders and small form factor digital cameras since 1988 and in 2014 Amazon built the technology into their Fire phone and the technology is now advancing at a furious clip. Today Apples biggest foray into 3D screens are two patents and iOS’s Parallax 3D feature.

A full 360 degree immersive experience: When it comes to capturing more than just the small slice of life that’s in front of you there are and increasing number of new technologies that Apple could take advantage of. The first is to take an approach taken by the Fly 360, a small sphere packed full of cameras that records everything around, above and behind you and whose video footage you can zoom around and through using a simple app or web extension but in the short term Apple’s only option here would be to use the Fly 360 as an accessory.

Panoramas just got better: Another option though and one that Apple could adopt in the very near future is a new curved image sensor that’s been developed by scientists at Northwestern University. All of today’s image sensors are flat but the back of the Human eye is curved and it’s this that gives us our peripheral vision so suddenly that slice of life would become a 190 degree slice and if you built it into both the front and rear cameras then arguably you’d have a 360 degree panorama that you could zoom around and through in a similar way to the Fly 360.


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Many of the Emerging Technologies that Apple could use to reinvent itself, gain first mover advantage, differentiate and disrupt not just the smart phone market but entire industries already exist and I haven’t even discussed the new emerging security technologies such as Touchless Biometrics and in many cases private and Academic institutions have already done the heavy lifting for them.

Consequently there’s no reason why Apple and their $220 Billion cash pile couldn’t help them take that extra step to commercialise and prepare those technologies for the mass market. The only remaining question therefore is do they have the will?  I for one am already on the edge of my seat waiting to see what their new iPhone 7 DLSR killer camera looks like… then again maybe I’ll wait another cycle before I upgrade.

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