We know Apple will introduce new iPhones, iPads, and Macs. We think we know it will plot a “Find My”-based tagging system and OS upgrades. But beyond easily anticipated iterations of its existing systems, what else can we expect in 2021 for the Apple enterprise?

Privacy and surveillance

Apple may appear somewhat isolated in its stance on privacy in the present, with Facebook and some governments seemingly determined to dilute the protection it provides. The company’s arguments — not least that privacy is a human right — are supplemented by the need for enterprise smartphone users to protect their corporate data.

Those arguments are also underlined by the impact of egregious attacks against democratic expression, such as those recently revealed to have taken place via NSO Group spyware. Such attacks illustrate the danger of untrammelled government surveillance in the hands of some regimes, and also show that once a weakness exists, it will be exploited. 2021 will see a lot more discussion on privacy, as individual and enterprise users wake up to its importance in a digital age.

If maintaining this level of protection demands a few advertising firms change their business plan, that seems a small price to pay – and some firms with a background in advertising may find themselves able to unlock unknown opportunities through this transition away from surveillance capitalism, transforming the ads industry landscape with new competition. Apple, meanwhile, will continue to innovate ways to protect users against increasingly invidious attacks on their privacy.

Remote working and collaboration

COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation, particularly around remote working.

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We know the pandemic will not disappear overnight. Even if 7 billion doses of vaccine were available today, it would take a great deal of time to inoculate everybody.

This means the scenario that fosters remote working remains, and as these investments are made it seems increasingly probable that WFH will become part of the new normal. There are winners and losers to this (including knowledge workers in developed economies who may now find themselves replaced by equally talented employees elsewhere), but as recent security challenges have already shown, enterprises must now invest in robust endpoint security, backup systems and mobile device management solutions designed to provide resilience in an increasingly widely distributed threat environment.

It’s not just security: productivity and collaboration tools will see accelerated development and deployment as enterprises work to optimize and develop new working practices. It’s also inevitable we’ll see further investment in customer-focused communications, from Apple Business Chat to an innovation war between Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Given the millions it has spent on litigation with FaceTime, will Apple step up to innovate in this space or simply retire its Apple-only video collaboration app?

Augmented reality, WWDC

It’s hard to ignore just how prepared the stage has become for augmented reality and virtual reality experiences. Not only are many of us cooped up at home, but humans crave contact and new experiences to divert tired minds from the misery of lockdown. It is, however, (I think) fair to believe most AR/VR titles currently lack the visceral grip of high-end gaming experiences: headsets are heavy, experiences choppy and, while there’s a growing space for reality augmentation in terms of indoor mapping and retail therapy, a 21st Century eWorld or Second Life seems lacking.

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Might this be set to change in 2021 with Apple allegedly preparing to introduce its own take on AR in the form of Apple Glass?

If so, the introduction of a new platform will need developer support, which means will need to convince developers to do so. The most likely place to make that pitch? WWDC (possibly online once again). Will these devices integrate the kind of night vision tech as seen in iPhone 12 Pro Max?

Apple Silicon and the new Mac normal

The industry will also be watching news from WWDC closely because it may also be the forum for the first Apple Silicon Macs aimed at high-end professional users as the company continues to extend its industry leadership in processor development and design.

We’ve already speculated on the Apple Silicon road map, but with 16-core chips pegged for 2021 and 32-core processors potentially emerging for introduction the following year (when we may also see the move to 3nm chips), enterprise users seeking to invest in new PC hardware may yet become convinced to dump legacy systems in favor of Apple’s industry-leading new Macs.

Can Intel, AMD or even Qualcomm keep up?

Will Windows for M1 Macs be available then? Then there’s the evolution of Apple and 5G. What impact will its attempt to create its own 5G modem have on the enterprise? Will business users have to contend with two incompatible mobile broadband standards?

Services get (even more) serious

Will Apple’s services be an enterprise opportunity outside the content creation space? Given the importance of the creative markets to Apple, it’s difficult to ignore those spaces.

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Apple’s decision to expand its content distribution system with subscription services for sundry creative markets means that for music, movies, TV, books, news, and games it now offers an end-to-end ecosystem for the creation, distribution and delivery of these experiences. It does so via a multi-platform ecosystem that is itself subject to annual improvement, giving developers in those spaces and consumers good reasons to stick around, so long as the price (and profit) are right.

So, how is Apple going to increase margins for content creators in these sectors in 2021? And what steps will the company take to minimize customer churn? With so many of the company’s discounted subscription offers scheduled to expire by the end of Q1, it seems appropriate to expect more news from the services team in or around March.

Will this dovetail with the release of the highly important Connected Home IP standard? If so, what enterprise benefit will be unleashed for Apple-based businesses exploring IoT deployment? After all, if you can use the Home IP system to handle the needs of a home full of smart devices, you can also use it to handle the same needs in a smart factory, farm or any other industrial deployment making use of smart machines.

One more thing: Watch Apple’s next step with iPad, a platform that has seen some big leaps in price/performance this year with the introduction of the impressive iPad 2020 and iPad Air 2020.

Please let me know what you’re expecting from Apple in 2021.

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