Note: You may think what I am describing is just an iMac and it sort of is. I think this is a next step device that has a chance to come out for three reasons. Apple likes simplicity, they like control, and they like making 30% off everything sold on iOS. That is why this device makes sense. I should also add: I don't think this product will be good for computing in general but I think it will happen.
Computing In A Mobile-Only World
With the dawn of the post-PC age we come to a time where the computers in our pockets are powerful enough to meet all of our computing power needs. For many people, from a strictly computing power based perspective, buying a Mac or PC is a waste of money. The computer in their pocket could power anything they wanted to do, but they need/want the form factor of a laptop or desktop. If they are being purchased for the physical keyboard, the screen size, and the form factor why not take the form factor and connect it to the mobile devices that they already own?
Note: You can already power a display with some Samsung phones but my solution is so much more than just powering a display with a mobile device.
Introducing The Lightning Display
The Lightning Display is a monitor that your iOS devices connect to via ‘Air Play’ and so much more. It is the solution to many of the problems people will have if they only own mobile devices. Beyond the form factor of a traditional desktop it would act as: - A back-up solution - Personal/family file hub - Extra file storage - Possible TV replacement - Desktop form factor replacement - Charging dock for iOS devices
You have the freedom of a mobile device but could also have the ergonomics and screen real estate of a desktop. The LD would not be a touch screen, which I believe is a bad idea for most desktop situations. If it isn’t a touch screen how will apps made for a smaller touch screen work? A hybrid version of iOS and OSX I will call iOSX. It runs your apps in iOSX mode when connected to the LD while maintaining the ability to function normally on your iPhone or iPad. Of course developers would have to program in this functionality otherwise it would be a poor experience using touch screen apps with a mouse and keyboard.
Keyboard and Mouse Support
While I do use an external keyboard for long form writing on my iPad I am not one of the people calling for a ’Surface’ like mouse input on the tablet itself but for the larger screen I can think of no better form of input that is currently available.
Expanding On The Lightning Display’s Features
If you read my post on Apple's mobile storage problem you know my feelings on iCloud. It just isn't an answer for everyone. The LD would have a built in hard drive for storage for files you want but don't have room for on your mobile devices. It would also wirelessly back up your files like Time Machine does for our Macs already.
Acting as a simple home server, any device on the network could access the media files stored on the LD. It could also allow every user in the house to access content bought on each others iTunes accounts. This would be a super simple environment that was mostly automatic and with little user input. It becomes the hub of the home supplying all stored media to all other devices by streaming over the local network. Dedicated applications would make it easy to browse through the stored media from every user in the house.
Walking up to the Lightning Display would display a prompt on your iOS device that asks if you want to connect to the LS. You press yes and get the custom experience that you have set up. This would work for multiple users making it so users don't have accounts they have devices. Another design that benefits Apple by making it so every user needs to buy an iOS device.
It would be very handy to walk into the computer lab at school, pair your phone, and get to work will all of your files there. With less security risks and less cost to school it would be a win, win.
Developers Would Be Less Restricted
The App Store has a strict list of rules that applications have to follow if they want to get their app in the store. Many of these limitations could be lifted to make iOSX apps as capable as Mac apps. Things like displaying two screens at once, sending information easily between two apps, etc.
I don’t know if you experience any neck or wrist pain when using an iOS device for long periods of time, but you probably will sometime in the future. These repetitive strain injuries are a serious problem that will affect a lot of people going mobile only. The LD would hopefully eliminate some of these issues.
For smaller houses it could be the "TV" of the house where movies are watched on the bigger screen. It could also make watching TV-Shows easier with an Apple TV like experience with big icons leading directly to different content providers. Maybe it could have a way to favourite shows and be shown where they were available to watch be it on the hard drive, Hulu, Netflix, or iTunes. Building the features of an Apple TV directly into it would add value and depending on the size of the Lightning Display give an in to the living room acting as the mythical iTV.
Apple Would (Probably) Prefer You Buy A Lightning Display Than An iMac
Apple makes most of its money on iOS devices so an expensive peripheral could just be icing on the multi-billion dollar cake they get every quarter. They also like the fact that they control almost every aspect of iOS. In particular deciding what apps are approved into the App Store, almost nothing makes it onto iOS without their permission. They also make 30% of everything sold on iOS and while they do have the Mac App Store people can get software from other sources. I believe they would like their 30% from everything sold on the Mac too but they aren’t going to stop allowing you to download software from other places so they may just divert you to an iOS device with a Lightning Display. If you are thinking this is some nefarious plan it probably isn’t. Apple is a public company and they want to make as much money as possible. So how will the release of a Lightning Display make more money compare to selling a Mac?
People Upgrade iPhones Quicker
The two-year contract many people sign to get an iPhone for around $200 makes people more likely to upgrade phones every two years. Mac’s have a much longer life in most peoples minds. People are going to upgrade their phones anyway, how does this affect their bottom line? The faster upgrade cycle means they can iterate faster and expect most users to have the newer models. More powerful devices means the potential for more powerful apps, which can be sold for more money, which are sold on the App Store.
Apple makes 30% of everything sold on iOS. (Except things bought on a web browser) While not the biggest source of revenue for Apple it still makes them more money than if people were buying software from a 3rd party on a Mac.
An Incentive To Buy From Apple Directly
Apple has a minor problem, many people buy iPhones from carriers rather than directly from Apple. Last year there was a push to get more people buying directly from Apple Stores. By bundling the LD with a new iOS device and giving a $100 or even $200 App Store gift card would give customers a big incentive to buy there.
I Will Re-Iterate - I Don’t Think It Will Be A Good Thing
I think the LD is coming but I don't think it's a good thing. As the world moves to mobile we also move away from the internet as we know it. Apps have replaced web browsing and the App Store owners can control which apps we see, download, and use. Apple's walled garden is (relatively) safe but it also means they can deny legitimate apps for any reason. Just try finding a Bitcoin app on the iOS app store. As a Canadian I don’t often quote America’s founding fathers but Benjamin Franklin put it well:
They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Why Not Buy An iMac?
You can do almost everything I have included in this post today with an iMac, or any Mac really. So why wouldn’t customers just buy a Mac instead of an LD? Apple would make the Lightning Display seem like a better buy.
- It would be cheaper.
- It would be easier to use.
- You'd be able to buy an iOS device and an LS for about the same price as an iMac but have portability of mobile.
- It would seem like a logical purchase for many people that already owned iOS devices but need a traditional computer experience for just a couple things.
- Back ups and other perks would be an almost necessary thing for mobile-only people.
In other words Apple would make iOS and an LS a seemingly better value for the customer. The customer would in most cases unknowingly trade freedom and customizability for the simple, safe walled garden they know. For computing in general it is a worrying trend, right now anyone can create a website but as we go to mobile the open web is replaced by applications. Apple would hold even more power over what it deems acceptable for you to have access to.
When the idea of a Lightning Display first came to me I thought it was awesome, I would have bought one day one. However the more I thought about it the worse it sounded for customers and the better it sounded for Apple. I have no doubt that if Apple releases one it will sell well but it might really hurt computing in general. The Lightning Display enigma: it could be very good for many people but hurt them in the long run.