ULUROO SPEAKS


The Next Two Years of Apple's Modern Design

20 November 2018


In case you hadn’t noticed, Apple products are looking a little different than they used to.

During the months leading up to the launch of the iPhone X in the fall of 2017, the elusive smartphone was referred to in software as the “modern iPhone.” This description is accurate: the iPhone X rewrote the playbook on the iPhone’s form and function.

Apple was right when it said the iPhone X was the start of the path for the next ten years of technology.

Earlier this year, anticipation for the redesigned iPad Pro rose when iOS 11.3 named a “modern iPad.” At the end of October, the dream was realized: the new iPad Pro models were the same massive rethinking of the iPad that had taken place a year earlier with the iPhone X.

The iPhone and iPad have been affected in slightly different ways by the “modern” design language. For the iPhone, it meant a glass back and a curved chassis; the iPad was thinned and flattened, harkening back to its original ancestor from 2010.

But the modern iPhone and modern iPad have shared some characteristics as well. There are three major traits the “modern” moniker has brought to both of these platforms.

The modern design language

First, and most prominently, modern Apple devices have thinner bezels (and, generally, larger displays). The iPhone XS Max and the 11-inch iPad Pro are the two best examples; they have very similar chassis sizes to their predecessors, yet they sport much bigger screens.

Second, modern Apple devices include the TrueDepth sensor array. Uluroo refers to the hardware system itself rather than Face ID because TrueDepth is about more than just biometric security: it enables Memoji, Animoji, and other augmented reality features.

Third and finally, gestures are these devices’ primary form of navigation. The physical Home button is no more; in its place is the Home indicator, which can be swiped in different fashions to access the multitasking view, the Home screen, the Dock, and other currently open applications. Control Center lives in the top-right corner of the display.

Thin bezels, TrueDepth, and gestures: these are the hallmarks of Apple’s modern design language. The iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad were the first three Apple products to go modern.

(The Apple Watch Series 4 is arguably the modern Apple Watch. Uluroo does not believe the Watch will ever get the TrueDepth system or gesture navigation because those features are simply not needed. The Series 4 is about as modern a Watch as we could ask for; the only major changes it will see in the future are even thinner bezels and a thinner chassis.)

So, what’s next?

The iPhone

The iPhone X may have been the device that kicked off Apple’s modern design revolution, but it still has a final frontier to conquer, a final compromise to squash. That compromise is the notch.

Ideally, the notch would not exist. It’s merely a placeholder, the somewhat awkward design element that will remain until the TrueDepth sensor array can be fully hidden beneath the iPhone’s display. When will that happen?

This is just speculation, but it makes sense that the notch would be axed in 2020. This is the final major step that needs to be taken before the iPhone reaches effective perfection. All of the iPhone’s other bezel sizes are just about right for the device to be held and used. By 2020, the three years since 2017’s iPhone X should be time enough for Apple to engineer the in-screen technology required.

Coincidentally, 2020 is also the year the iPhone is rumored to get 5G connectivity. The 2020 iPhone will thus be an upheaval both in form and function — just as the iPhone X was. It will be the ultimate realization of the iPhone X’s original goal, the goal that was impossible to achieve with the engineering techniques available in 2017.

The iPad

As far as design goes, the iPad Pro is very near perfection. For this reason, Uluroo does not expect its look to propagate quickly to the other members of the iPad line; it’s too big a selling point.

Whispers of an iPad mini refresh have recently hit the rumor mill. If this largely unexpected report proves true, the fifth-generation iPad mini will launch alongside the seventh-generation iPad next spring. Uluroo does not expect either device to undergo any significant design changes; they’ll both retain the older design language, and they’ll both support only the first-generation Apple Pencil. Internally, the devices will be identical, maybe running the A11 chip. The only difference will be in their display sizes.

The next iteration of these products will be a different story. Spring of 2020 is when Uluroo thinks the entire iPad line will be modernized. The iPad and iPad mini might even be consolidated into a single device (if the 9.7-inch model shrinks its chassis). Next year, though, don’t anticipate any major changes to the iPad’s design.

The Mac

For many years now, the Mac has been on two separate trajectories: 1) evolving toward a modern, streamlined design; and 2) ditching Intel processors for Apple’s own ARM chips. Uluroo is convinced that these two paths will intersect next year.

The 12-inch MacBook was originally intended to push the envelope on the Mac’s design as far as thinness and lightness. It makes perfect sense for the “futuristic” Mac, if you will, to be first to get both the modern design language and Apple-designed processors.

In addition, it’s been seventeen months since the MacBook was last updated. If Apple were only planning to give it a modest speed bump, it would have done so at this year’s WWDC or October event. When WWDC 2019 rolls around, it will have been two years since the last MacBook refresh. Clearly Apple has something big up its sleeve. Anything less than transformative would have happened by now.

Uluroo expects a modernized iMac Pro and external display to launch next June. The iMac Pro will still use Intel processors, but it will debut alongside the not only modern but ARM-enabled MacBook. This will be a clear signal of Apple’s intent to move the whole Mac line away from Intel.

This raises the question of what size screen the MacBook will have. Apple can’t shrink the chassis around the already-crammed-in-there keyboard, so the display will get bigger and have smaller bezels. The MacBook will have something like a 13-inch screen in the same form factor as it has right now.

Later in 2019 (presumably October), the transition will continue with an ARM Mac mini, an ARM and modern iMac, and an ARM and modern MacBook Pro. These machines will have even more powerful processors than we’ve seen from Apple’s silicon team.

If the 13-inch MacBook Pro were to get a larger display, it would be more distinct from whatever screen size the now-12-inch MacBook ends up having. Would the 15-inch notebook shrink in chassis size? This would resemble what happened to the iPad Pro models earlier in the year: the smaller one would get a bigger screen; the larger one would get a smaller chassis. It would certainly make sense.

Thus, by the end of next year, Apple’s laptop line could consist of 13-, 14-, and 15-inch display sizes. This is assuming the current MacBook retains its chassis size; the 13-inch Pro retains its chassis size; and the 15-inch Pro becomes smaller while retaining its display size.

Finally, in June of 2020, the shift will be complete: the Mac Pro and MacBook Air will get ARM chips and the modern design language. The already-modern iMac Pro will get an ARM processor. Uluroo believes the Air will be the last to go modern because it’s the lowest-end, and the Mac Pro and iMac Pro will be the last to go ARM because they’re the highest-end.

Clearly, not all of these guesses will prove accurate. But Uluroo stands by the general idea: the ARM transition will begin next year with (at least) the MacBook and end in 2020 with (at least) the Mac Pro. The timeframe for the modern design language is harder to estimate. It seems logical for the 12-inch MacBook to get thinner bezels soon, but that privilege may be reserved for the higher-end Pro laptops.

Timeline

Below is a list of past and future Apple products’ launch months, beginning with the iPhone X in 2017 and ending with the 5G, notch-free iPhone in 2020.

September 2017: modern iPhone

September 2018: modern Apple Watch

October 2018: modern iPad Pro

March 2019: iPad mini (5th generation); iPad (7th generation)

June 2019: modern iMac Pro; modern pro display; modern/ARM MacBook

October 2019: ARM Mac mini; modern/ARM MacBook Pro; modern/ARM iMac

March 2020: modern iPad; modern iPad mini (possibly just one iPad: a miniaturized 9.7” model)

June 2020: modern/ARM MacBook Air; ARM iMac Pro; ARM Mac Pro

September 2020: notchless/5G iPhone

2020

On this conjectural timeline, the threads of Apple’s modern design revolution converge in 2020: the year that the full Mac line goes ARM and modern, the year that all iPads are modernized, the year that the iPhone X’s design reaches perfection.

Why 2020?

Because Apple Glasses are on the way, and Uluroo believes they will arrive in October 2020.

Doesn’t it make perfect sense for Apple to tidy up all the flaws in its current designs before launching the device that will set the tone for the next decade, or decades, of technology? To make the iPhone, iPad, and Mac essentially perfect before the next big thing?

Once again, there’s obviously the chance that Uluroo is overestimating the pace at which these changes will hit. Maybe the shift won’t be complete until 2021. But the above timeline makes sense based on logic as well as the current state of Apple’s product lines. The MacBook is begging for a refresh; the iPad won’t go fully modern for at least another year; and the notch is on borrowed time.


If you thought Apple’s product design was going stagnant, buckle up. The next two years will be quite the ride.


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