Apple Odds & Ends Leading Up to WWDC AI Day

Apple Is Rebooting Its Search for a New Next Big Thing
Apple’s search for a bold new product category is back on, and it includes a foray into robots. Also: The company is preparing new iPads and accompanying accessories for May; the Vision Pro gets another Personas upgrade; and Apple makes an eyebrow-raising management change.

A few interesting Apple nuggets from Gurman this week:

Then there’s the smart home segment, where Apple still has grand ambitions. It has discussed automating household functions and offering a revamped Apple TV set-top box with a built-in camera for FaceTime videoconferencing and gesture-based controls. And the technology will all work seamlessly with both the iPhone and Vision Pro.

Only "discussed"? If Apple isn't less than a year away from shipping a 'FacePod', something is up. Such a device should have shipped years ago. All the pieces are there now with FaceTime as a part of tvOS (using your iPhone) and yes, the gesture video stuff baked into macOS. We just need some hardware...

One piece of the strategy is a lightweight smart display — something akin to a low-end iPad. Such a device could be shuttled from room to room as needed and hooked into charging hubs stationed around the house. Apple has started small-scale test production of the screens for this product, but hasn’t made a decision on whether to move forward.

This, on the other hand, makes no sense to me. A low-end iPad you take from room to room with the need for several charging hubs? I do like the concept of Google's Pixel Tablet speaker dock, so perhaps this is similar, but it also sounds complicated. Also, why "low-end"? I'm sure we're missing something here. Regardless, if it means iPadOS finally getting multi-user support, I'm all for it.

A nearer-term move into robotics would be a device Apple has been working on for several years: a table-top product that uses a robotic arm to move around a display. The arm could be used to mimic a human on the other side of a FaceTime call, shifting the screen to recreate a nod or a shake of the head. But this device, too, doesn’t have unified support from Apple’s executive team.

This almost sounds like a screen that will have arms, which would be humorous – Nintendo R.O.B. anyone? – but what Gurman undoubtedly means here is an arm that supports the display and allows it to move. Think: the beloved iMac G4 – aka the "iLamp". I, like many, loved this iMac. I would buy a smaller FaceTime-focused versionthat moves (!) – in a heartbeat. Could this be an iPad stand?

2024 is shaping up to be the year of the iPad. The new iPads are finally approaching. You can circle early May on your calendar if you — like many Power On readers, apparently — have been eagerly waiting for an upgraded tablet. On the docket is the revamped iPad Pro, an iPad Air, a fresh Magic Keyboard and an Apple Pencil. Altogether, this launch is shaping up to be one of the biggest updates to the Apple tablet in a single day. And it’s a long time coming, especially for the iPad Pro. That model hasn’t had a meaningful refresh since 2018.

For those looking for more specific timing, I’m told the launch will probably happen the week of May 6. Another data point to that end: Apple retail stores are preparing to receive new product marketing materials later that week. That’s typically a sign that a new product release is incoming. It’s also worth reiterating — as I reported at the end of March — that the complex new iPad screens are behind the roughly one month delay from the initial March release plan.

Shipping that week would make more sense if they announce the week before, in order to give Tim Cook something upcoming to tout in their earnings call on May 2. Standard Apple playbook stuff...

Beyond that, it sounds like the OLED screens on the new iPad Pros will be impressive. No updated iPad minis until end of 2024 – boo... And any foldable iPad remains a long way off – if it ever comes. No surprise there...


Why did Apple Watch chief Kevin Lynch move to the company’s AI group? One of the “palace intrigue” stories that got overshadowed by the Apple car cancellation is the shifting role of Kevin Lynch, who oversaw the project during the last few years.

For about a decade, Lynch reported to Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams. In addition to handling the car duties, he has run software engineering for the Apple Watch under Williams.

In a curious shift, Lynch has now begun to report to John Giannandrea, Apple’s AI chief. Lynch and Williams continue to oversee the Apple Watch, which raises the question: Why was the move necessary?

People close to the matter believe Lynch’s move is meant to bring order to an area that has befuddled Apple: AI. That’s something Apple also attempted to do with the car. Lynch originally joined that project in 2021, months before leader Doug Field stepped down to run electric vehicle efforts at Ford Motor Co. He’s seen within the company as a crack engineering manager.

As noted weeks ago in commenting on Gurman's reporting on the death of the Apple Car project, the move of Lynch to AI seemed like one of the bigger deals of the whole shift. Gurman speculates that this could be his path to SVP, if a shakeup is needed with Giannandrea stepping back. That's unclear, but again, this shift means something as we approach "AI AI AI AI AI AI" Day...