Does Apple need a boost? Not if you look at its revenue stream. The tech darling has racked up millions upon millions of sales, and has a strangle-hold on the mobile computing market. Yet, even with the success of the iPhone and the iPad, there is a storm gathering off in the distance. This year, Apple could fall out of vogue.

Recent products have added features to existing innovations, and updates to its operating systems have not exactly caused the same fervor as the initial launches. Then there's the recent Apple Maps debacle. While the iPad Mini might be a good fit for some, the device is essentially a smaller version of the iPad with the same characteristics--but a lower resolution screen.

So what should Apple do to liven up the brand this year? Here are four ideas that could cause a firestorm.

1. Capture home automation.
For the most part, Apple has ceded this market to other innovators. But the Nest Learning Thermostat has Apple written all over it, and Philips makes a unique LED-bulb called the Hue that you can control with your phone or tablet. Sounds like advancements that would benefit greatly from Apple's design sensibility. Of course, Apple has made a foray into home automation with Apple TV, but how about a wall-mounted display that controls lights and heating? Or a display that shows energy-use trends?

2. Make cars easier to drive.
There is a glimmer of hope here. Chevy just announced that its new Spark EV will allow you to control your car stereo (and a few other things) with Apple Siri. Apple should move further into the auto market, which desperately needs design help. I'd like to see an all-Apple Operating System interface that makes climate settings, radio options, and even advanced features like lane departure warnings as simple to use as the iPad. But don't actually use the iPad, please. A car operating system needs to be finely integrated into the driver controls, and reduce driving distractions.

3. Manufacture rugged products.
Rugged products--those designed to handle the elements--work well in the field, but I want them to work even better. An Apple rugged phone would be much easier to use than the iPad or the iPhone; a more intuitive interface could save lives. I'm picturing something like the SpareOne, an emergency phone that runs on a single battery, with first-party apps geared for survival and field work. Going rugged would allow Apple to prove some manufacturing muscle with some new space-age material, important now that it is building facilities in the U.S.

4. Get back into the business market.
Apple has steered clear of the business market, unless you count Microsoft Exchange support in the iOS Mail app. The tech giant has produced some of the best pro-level software like Aperture. But how about creating a whole division focused on business? Bring the design sensibility of the iPhone to the sales automation market, or business security, or customer relationship management. For the biggest win of all, consider making a true thin client to compete with the Google Chromebox. Not just another version of the Mini, but a slim office computer that only runs a browswer and basic business apps.

Published on: Jan 3, 2013
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