What to expect from Apple in 2017

It's set to be a busy year at Cupertino

Apple had a relatively quiet 2016 – no new product categories, few Mac releases, one new iPad, a new Watch… and while there were three new iPhones, they shared their design heavily with their predecessors. We did, however, get new versions of four operating systems, which is impressive in itself.

Next year we expect things to get busier, starting with Apple moving into its new ‘Spaceship Campus’ headquarters at the start of the year. But it’s the hardware and services that Cupertino will be unveiling that we’re really interested in. Here’s what we expect to see from Apple in 2017.

iPhone 8: something big for iPhone's 10th anniversary?

Reports are divided right now over whether Apple's biggest release of the year will be an iPhone 7S, or whether it will go straight to iPhone 8. If Apple keeps following its recent pattern we'd expect the iPhone 7S, meaning the same design, with some new features – maybe including an OLED screen and extra 3D camera capabilities.

But since the design of the iPhone 7 was already so close to that of the iPhone 6S, rather than the bigger overhaul we've become used to with a full number change, there are also rumours that we might see something more drastic, especially since this year is the iPhone's 10th anniversary.

Perhaps a curved display, and/or an edge-to-edge display as on the super-cool Xiaomi Mi Mix, and perhaps a return to a glass rear panel, too. We think there's a good chance that either the 2017 or 2018 iPhone removes the bezel from the left and right sides of the display at least, but maybe keeps the top and bottom sections.

New iMacs: new ports, and maybe a redesign, for Apple's all-in-one

This year was the first since 1991 in which there were no updates to any of Apple's desktop computer lines. We expect that to change in 2017, with the iMac at the front of the queue. We doubt there will be a change to the current two sizes (21.5 inches and 17 inches), but we do think a minor redesign is likely, reducing the size of the bezel and making them generally look more like the new MacBook Pros and 12-inch MacBook – maybe even with a Space Grey colour option.

Apple's new Touch Bar seems like an obvious addition to the iMac's keyboard, along with the updated key mechanisms from the latest MacBook Pros. Thunderbolt 3 will probably feature heavily in the ports, although we hope Apple will use the extra space to keep some of the current ports too.

No doubt we'll see the super-fast flash storage from the MacBook Pros, and maybe Intel's newest Kaby Lake processors, which are just starting to arrive in desktop chips. We doubt they'll go touchscreen and flexible like the Microsoft Surface Studio, though.

New Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 3? We'll never give up hope!

Some people have given up on there being a new Mac Pro in 2017 – or ever again – but we think Apple might finally see the time as being right this year. If there is an update, we expect Apple will make sweeping changes to the whole machine – although it probably won't be a full redesign.

It would likely get a range of Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of its six Thunderbolt 2 ports, allowing for 5K displays to be attached via a single cable. It would get the same fast flash storage as the MacBook Pros, and would benefit from Intel's latest range of Xeon E5 processors, released in 2016.

There have been big updates in graphics cards since the Mac Pro's release in 2013, too, and with Apple favoring AMD Radeon Pro in the MacBook Pro for its GPU needs we wouldn't be surprised to see AMD make special cards for an updated Mac Pro too.

iPad Pros: obvious updates, plus a new model?

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro's first birthday came around at the end of 2016, and sailed by without the big tablet getting an update. It seems likely that both it and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will get updated in March. We doubt that either will be a drastic reinvention – an A10X processor would make them fantastically powerful, and the larger model would probably get the True Tone display of the smaller one.

Otherwise, they don't need much of a hardware update – it's in software that these tablets could get the biggest boost, and we think there could be a big iOS 10 update alongside their release, with more iPad-oriented features.

That said, there are suggestions of a third iPad model being released, with much bigger changes. According to reports, it could have a larger 10.5-inch display in a body the same size as the 9.7-inch iPad by having an edge-to-edge screen – and it could even do away with the home button, instead using a virtual button, with a fingerprint sensor hidden under the screen for security.

If changes that big are coming, we doubt they'd arrive in the first half of the year, so it could be a new model to arrive in October/November – especially if the iPhone is going with an edge-to-edge screen too, because we doubt Apple would let the iPad steal its iconic handset's thunder.

Watch 3: Apple's wearable could be a slow-burner

It's too early in the Watch's life yet to say whether we can expect yearly updates to the wearable. On the one hand, it looks like it could become the big holidays seller for Apple, in the way that the iPod used to be. But does it really need to be updated every year for that to be the case? With the Apple Watch 2 and watchOS 3 fixing most of the original model's weak spots, it's possible Apple could be selling the exact same model at the end of 2017 and still get great sales figures.

However, if Apple does update it, there are some indications as to where it could go. A FaceTime camera and independent 4G data connection are obvious possible features to add, though the latter may be too much of a battery drain. A new screen technology, microLED, could improve the display and be even more energy efficient, but that looks like it's a few years away yet.

There are rumours that Apple is looking at a new design with a round screen, but that would mean a big rethink of the software too, so seems unlikely. Put simply, it would likely take more than a year to develop the technology for most of what we'd like to see.

A Watch 3 with a faster processor and a camera seems possible for 2017 if anything does appear, otherwise we'd just expect more band colours, and maybe some new body colours or materials. We do expect watchOS 4, though, and we really hope it will finally offer the ability to sell and install custom faces.

MacBook Air: the poor old Air is probably on its last legs

With the introduction of the 12-inch MacBook, and Apple putting lots of emphasis on the new MacBook Pro 13-inch models being thinner and just as light as the MacBook Air, we don't see much light at the end of the 2017 tunnel for the Air. However, it's Apple's cheapest laptop by a good margin, so it will probably still be available until Apple can come up with something to replace it at the lower price. Speaking of which…

12-inch MacBook: the same outside, but what about inside?

The 12-inch MacBook will probably get an update in 2017, but we're torn on whether it'll be minor or hugely groundbreaking. The likelihood is that it'll get a bump to the newest generation of Intel processor, and probably the wide colour gamut displays that all Apple's other Retina Macs now offer.

But perhaps a bigger change is coming. Apple's A10 processor from the iPhone now appears to be almost as powerful as the Intel processor in the MacBook in some benchmarks – and it's much cheaper to make, based on various reports. We also know that in macOS Sierra Apple has added some support for its processors at a deep level.

If Apple is looking to stop making the MacBook Air, a 12-inch MacBook that runs on Apple chips could be the sub-$1,000 replacement machine. This is a long shot, for sure, but it sounds like Apple could have everything in place for this switch at some point in 2017 – maybe at WWDC, when it announces new tools for developers. One thing we don't expect to see on the MacBooks, however, is the Touch Bar; we think that will stay as a 'pro' tool on Apple's notebooks – which leads us nicely on to…

MacBook Pro: new processors and higher max RAM

With the big MacBook Pro redesign this year for the 13-inch and 15-inch models, we don't expect major changes to these machines in 2017. An update late in the year to include Intel's next generation of processors is likely, which should also enable Apple to offer up to 32GB of RAM – its decision not to do so with this year's redesign has been a bone of contention for some users.

We'd also hope to see the line come down in price, with the lowest-priced new Pro (without Touch Bar) replacing the older model at the bottom of the range.

Apple TV: ready for 4K?

Apple's smart TV box doesn't need many changes in a new version, but 4K video output is the obvious upgrade. If Apple TV does go 4K, we'd expect the addition of 4K movies to iTunes pretty quickly, and easy ways for developers to support the higher resolution.

A new box with HDMI 2.0 and support for UHD and HDR video seems likely, along with maybe more horsepower for game developers to take advantage of, so that games look good on the high-res screen. It would also give us a long-overdue way to watch our 4K iPhone videos on our TVs easily.

More AI: it's the future, so expect to see more in iOS 11 and macOS 10.13

This year, Apple expanded Siri to allow third-party apps to access the assistant for the first time, and included an astounding machine learning system in the Photos app that can identify objects and places in photos without using the cloud for processing – it all happens on the device. It also added smart intelligence to its predictive text engine.

And we know that Apple's just getting started – it's committed to publishing its AI research in the future, to help develop it further. It reportedly acquired two machine learning companies, Turi and Tuplejump, which could help make software more predictive and helpful.

Maybe most interesting of all is a patent for interacting with Siri within the Messages app. Chatbot AIs are nothing new, but Apple's implementation is clever – instead of having a dedicated interaction with Siri, you can just ask Siri to take care of something within a conversation, such as sending money or checking when people are free. Sounds like a great new iOS 11 and macOS 10.13 feature to us…

Apple Car… nope

Whatever's happening with this, it's not happening in 2017.