Coming up on the end of 2015, it’s a good time to look back at all of the latest Apple gadgets released this year. Some of the technologies released across several products were groundbreaking and enabling, but what wasn’t released also tells a story and likely predicts what is to come.
The Apple Watch was released in the Spring of 2015, and by most measures, has been a tremendous success. Whether it is used as a watch, a notification system, or a fitness tracker, it has found widespread appeal. One of the most interesting and key technologies that it introduced was Force Touch. This enables the device to sense the amount of pressure with which you touch its screen, thereby opening up a whole new branch of interactions for shortcuts and settings.
Similarly, the iPhone 6S was released this Fall with an updated version of Force Touch, rebranded as 3D Touch. This allows shortcuts into app functions directly from the home screen by touching the app icon with pressure to open up a brand new menu. Other implementations of 3D Touch include pressing with force on the left side of the screen and dragging right, which opens the multitasking screen, or force touching on a link or photo to open a preview that just hovers over what you are doing. It’s a remarkable technology right now, and can only get better in the generations to come.
Following the release of the iPhone 6S, Apple came out with this year’s iPad. However, it was not an iPad Air 3, as many had expected (though given how powerful the iPad Air 2 is, it’s not surprising that they didn’t advance this quite yet), but rather it was the long-rumoured iPad Pro. While the obvious attraction of this iPad is its sheer size, under the hood is a remarkable feature that gives the Apple Pencil its power. The iPad Pro has a scanning system that tracks the position of the Pencil 240 times per second, twice the rate at which it senses your fingertip, allowing you to draw with virtually no lag between the touch of the Pencil and displaying the line. It is like you are drawing on paper with ink. And it is because of this scanning system, or lack of it, that the Pencil is not compatible with any other previous version of the iPad.
On the software side, iOS 9 was released, and one of its key features is Split Screen on the iPad Air 2. This allows compatible apps to run in a reduced-size mode on only part of the screen, but share the screen with a second app, so that you end up with Safari on the left and Notes on the right, or some other combination to enhance your productivity. This is a fantastic feature, and is only available on the iPad Air 2 because of the sheer power that it is capable of producing. What is obviously missing from this implementation of Split Screen is the ability to drag and drop from one app to the other.
And this is where I wrap all of this together into my prediction for next year.
The iPad Air 3 was not introduced because it is going to include bits and pieces from all of the releases this year. The high scanning rate that enables Apple Pencil is built into the iPad Pro, but not any other devices. Since I think that the iPad Air has always been a wonderful device for drawing, I have a hard time seeing Apple limit the use of Pencil to only the iPad Pro, so I think this enhanced scanning rate is destined for a future iPad Air as well. Similarly, the Apple Watch and iPhone 6S introduced us to Force / 3D Touch, but the force sensitive display was not included in the iPads (Pro or Mini) released this year, but given the enriched workflows that this enables, I think that is likely to appear in a future iPad as well. Furthermore, I believe that by this time next year, the next iPhone or Watch will have been introduced with an upgraded version of 3D Touch that support multi-finger force touch, or “3D Multitouch.” I think it will be this version of Force Touch that make the leap to the iPad, and I think it will be this ability that enables the drag and drop between apps in Split Screen. As it is now, touching on something selects it, 3D Touching is a shortcut to a Preview window, but I predict a 3D Multitouch will be the key to actually “pick up” something and move it as in drag and drop functionality.
So, in my opinion, here are the key features that the iPad Air 3 is going to include next year: 240 Hz scanning system to enable Apple Pencil compatibility, and 3D Multitouch to enable drag and drop and other pressure sensitive applications. Since these are new technologies this year, they have been slowly released and are not in use across all the lines, as with the Retina Display. Without those, there wasn’t anything sufficiently interesting to include in a new iPad Air this year. So, next year, count on these techs to mature and come together in the iPad Air 3.
I’m saving my money for one already!