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Following the iPhone, what is the next smart invention cooking in Apple's labs?

 Apple Inc. continues its quest to identify new revenue and profit streams and is currently exploring the potential of smart personal robots, a sector that could emerge as the next big thing for the iPhone maker.

According to Bloomberg, sources familiar with the matter who requested anonymity due to the project's early stages, Apple engineers are investigating a mobile robot that can follow users around the home. Simultaneously, the company is developing a domestic robot that could be placed on a table, equipped with an intelligently moving screen.

Although Apple's efforts are still in the preliminary phases, and it remains uncertain whether the discussed products will ultimately be launched, the iPhone manufacturer is facing increasing pressure to find new income sources. This comes particularly after the company announced in February that it had discontinued its project to produce smart electric vehicles. Meanwhile, Apple's Vision Pro mixed reality glasses, which it has been working on for years, still require time before they can become a significant revenue source for the company.

Gaining a larger foothold in consumers' homes

Apple could potentially expand its presence in consumer homes with smart robots, leveraging advancements in artificial intelligence. However, the company needs to adopt a clear strategy, particularly as a project featuring a robot equipped with a mobile screen has been repeatedly added and removed from Apple's product roadmap over the years, as reported by sources to Bloomberg.

The robotics work at Apple is carried out within the Hardware Engineering division and the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning group, led by John Giannandrea. Meanwhile, Apple executives Matt Costello and Brian Lynch oversee the development of these new devices. Despite this, Apple has not officially committed to either of the new projects, which are still in the early stages of research. A company spokesperson declined to comment on the circulating information regarding these matters.

Cool response

Investors displayed a lukewarm response to the revelation of Apple's intentions to venture into the smart home robotics industry. Apple's share price saw a modest increase of less than 1% to $169.65 at the Wednesday close in New York, coinciding with the day the company's plans were unveiled. Meanwhile, shares of iRobot Corp, known for their Roomba vacuum cleaner and extensive experience in robotics, experienced a brief surge, spiking up to 17%. However, by the end of trading on Wednesday, the gains of iRobot Corp's shares had diminished to less than 2%. Investors initially pushed iRobot's stock higher, speculating that the company could benefit from Apple's foray into robotics.

An old idea led to a dispute within Apple.

Before Apple canceled its electric car project, the company informed its top executives that its future would revolve around three key areas: cars, homes, and mixed reality. With the release of the Vision Pro mixed reality headset and the subsequent cancellation of the car project, Apple's current focus has shifted to how it can better compete in the smart home market.

According to Bloomberg, a few years ago, Apple's top executives, including the head of hardware engineering, John Ternus, and members of the industrial design team, showed interest in a project involving robots with screens that could be placed on tables for use. The concept was centered around creating a robot that would move the screen in response to the user's head movements, particularly during video calls using FaceTime. However, Apple was concerned about whether consumers would be willing to pay a high price for such a device.

The project also faced technical challenges related to the small robots' ability to support the weight of the mechanical motors that would control the screen's movements. The main obstacle was a disagreement among Apple's executive managers over whether to proceed with launching this product or to cancel it, as reported by sources to Bloomberg.

A secret facility for Apple's testing.

Near its main headquarters, Apple Park in Cupertino, California, Apple owns a secretive facility that is designed to resemble the interior of homes. This allows the company to test devices and future initiatives intended for home use. The company has...

Obsession with "the next big thing"

Apple's quest to discover "the next big thing" has been an obsession since the era of Steve Jobs. However, the company has found it challenging to envision a new product that could rival the iPhone, which accounted for 52 percent of Apple's $383.3 billion in sales last year. Smart electric vehicles alone had the potential to add hundreds of billions of dollars to Apple's revenue, partly because it was anticipated that these cars could be priced at around $100,000 each.

Few other products have the potential for revenue growth like this, but Apple has several projects in development. These include the updated Vision Pro glasses, Mac computers with touchscreens, AirPods equipped with built-in cameras, and new health technologies such as a blood sugar monitoring device.

Artificial intelligence is also a key focus for Apple's future endeavors, and it could integrate with Apple's now-revealed robotics work. Using generative AI algorithms will make Apple's robots smarter and more capable of navigating and understanding crowded spaces within people's homes.

Apple will not be the first.

Apple is not set to be the first major tech company to develop a domestic robot, as Amazon introduced a similar model named Astro in 2021, priced at $1,600. However, Amazon has been slow in making the robot widely available. Meanwhile, the most popular household robot remains the Roomba vacuum from iRobot, which made its debut over two decades ago. Other companies have also introduced concepts of robots that mimic the size and movements of humans, but these have not achieved the desired level of popularity or distribution.

Challenges that hindered previous ambitions of Apple.

Despite Apple's unsuccessful attempt to enter the automotive world, there is a silver lining in that it has prepared the company's infrastructure to venture into other initiatives and projects, such as domestic robots. The American corporation can now repurpose many of the resources it had allocated to its automotive division to enhance its work on home appliances and robotics. It is worth noting that Apple's original vision for a robot aimed to create a device capable of fully autonomous movement (similar to a car) and equipped to handle household chores like dishwashing. However, achieving this vision will require overcoming extremely difficult engineering challenges, which is unlikely within this decade.

A guide reveals Apple's intentions.

Bloomberg reported that Apple, through its website, has announced its intention to recruit individuals with expertise in the field of robotics, indicating its efforts to expand the teams working on its new project. According to one of the job descriptions, Apple is seeking innovative and diligent engineers specialized in machine learning and robotics to assist in researching, identifying, and developing complex and intelligent robotic systems and experiments in the real world.

Reason for the market's lack of response

Technology writer and artificial intelligence analyst Alan Laqarh spoke to "Sky News Arabia Economy" about Apple's potential foray into the realm of smart personal robots, as reported by Bloomberg. He emphasized that the market's reaction to this news is telling, as Apple's stock did not experience any significant increase following the disclosure. Laqarh noted that investors are fully aware of Apple's bureaucratic approach to new products, which could ultimately extinguish any hopes of the new product reaching the market. He recalled the example of Apple's car project, which after more than five years of progressive news, ended in early 2024 with Apple abandoning the idea of producing its own vehicle.

Laqarh explained that the market's response was very tepid. Observers and investors are no longer willing to rely on any claims related to Apple's products until they see the product themselves or are certain that it has reached the final stages of manufacturing. He pointed out that Apple's production of home robots capable of moving around would represent a significant shift for the iPhone maker, especially during a challenging year. This year, Apple has faced several setbacks including a decline in iPhone sales in China, a fine of around 2 billion dollars from the European Union for violating competition laws, and a lawsuit from the US Department of Justice over antitrust issues.

Robots are not "the next big thing."

According to Al-Qarh, the world is currently experiencing a rush to create humanoid robots, supported by generative artificial intelligence technology that will make these robots more aware of their surroundings. However, Apple's main issue in this domain is its constant pursuit of "perfection" in its products, which often leads to delays and hesitations in launching any new product. If the company does not alter this policy, the release of a mobile robot could take many years, and it's not out of the question that Apple might abandon the idea entirely at the last moment, mirroring the scenario with its electric car project. Therefore, it is unlikely that robots will be "the next big thing" for Apple.

The image is still unclear.

The speaker, Al-Qareh, in a conversation with "Sky News Arabia Economy" website, noted that the clarity regarding Apple's robot project is still somewhat obscure since it's in its initial stages. Moreover, the expectations surrounding it are quite high. Discussing a robot that has the capability to follow users around the home is not an easy feat to achieve due to numerous design challenges, particularly considering Apple's production standards. Apple, known for its iPhone, has hesitated in the past to launch a small robot equipped with a screen that could be placed on a table. However, the current discussion revolves around a robot that would move throughout the home, leading to significant skepticism about whether these robots will actually reach consumers.

The commentator suggests that Apple's next big breakthrough could be the introduction of a foldable iPhone, enhanced with generative artificial intelligence software and applications. Although the company has been slow to enter the foldable phone market, the release of such a device is expected to significantly transform its business operations, potentially becoming a new source of revenue and profit. Apple has successfully positioned the iPhone as a premium product with a unique allure among consumers who are eagerly anticipating a revolutionary step from the company that would propel them into the next era of iPhone technology.


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