Apple in 2017: Biggest year ever?

A radically redesigned iPhone and updates to other key products could bring the excitement back to Apple.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
5 min read
James Martin/CNET

If you thought Apple's last couple of years were big, just wait for 2017.

The launch of the large-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in late 2014 sent Apple's fortunes soaring. Apple became the most profitable company in the world, and the following year, with the 6S and 6S Plus, was even bigger. But enthusiasm waned in 2016 -- iPhone unit sales fell for the first time since the device hit the market in 2007.

For Apple, this past year was largely a time for refinements, not entirely new markets. But 2017 could be a completely different story. If all the rumors about the company's product lines are true, next year could be Apple's biggest -- ever. Think radically redesigned iPhones, revamped iPads and new product categories. And 2017 could be a big year for software and services, too.

Apple didn't have a comment for this story.

Here's what we could see from Apple next year.

Most dramatic iPhone changes ever?

OK, Apple always says its latest iPhone is the best ever. But 2017's claim may be legit.

We've just been through three years of the same-looking iPhone. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are water-resistant and boast better cameras, but they're no longer a must-have upgrade.

The 10-year anniversary of the first iPhone comes next year, and there's speculation that Apple could release a major new design.

Some rumors about the "iPhone 7S" (or "iPhone 8," as some have dubbed it) include reports Apple could finally introduce wireless charging and ditch the round home button that has been in every iPhone since the first, which would let it pack a big screen in a smaller body.

Apple could release three new phones next year, including a premium version with an OLED screen. That would allow for better image quality and a thinner device because the display wouldn't need backlights.

One thing all rumors seem to agree on is that there are big changes ahead for the next iPhone. It could set off what Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty has dubbed a "supercycle" of demand.

Redesigned Apple Watch

As with the iPhone 7, Apple released a second-generation version of its smartwatch that looked an awful lot like the original. (But now with a water-resistant body!)

Apple doesn't reveal how many Apple Watches it has sold, but IDC estimated the company shipped 1.1 million units in the third quarter, which included only a couple weeks of Apple Watch Series 2 sales. The firm said that "Apple's success will likely be muted as the smartwatch category continues to be challenged."

In other words, people aren't going gaga for smartwatches.

Still, Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this month that the gadget set a sales record during the first week of holiday shopping and is on track for its best quarter yet.

Apple in 2017 is expected to make the first design changes to the Apple Watch since it introduced the device last year. It has filed for a patent for a watch with a circular display, but it's unclear whether such a device could go on sale in 2017. Likely changes include better screens, new health-focused sensors and cellular connectivity that lets you use the watch without your phone.

Apple glasses?

Apple's next big wearable may be something worn on the face. A report said the company is working on smart glasses that would connect wirelessly to an iPhone, displaying images and other information to the wearer. But seeing this device next year could be a stretch; it's reportedly still in the exploration phase.

Google Glass, introduced in 2012, failed spectacularly, but this year's Snapchat Spectacles, which let users shoot videos to post to the Snapchat messaging app, have turned out to be hugely popular.

Watch this: Apple considers smart glasses, Amazon sues counterfeiters

AR, VR push

Apple glasses could be the company's first stab at augmented reality. It has largely been silent about the technology that overlays the virtual world on top of the real world (a good example of this is Pokemon Go). CEO Tim Cook has called it interesting, and it's certain Apple will do something at some point -- the question is when.

As for virtual reality, less is known about Apple's ambitions. The company likely is exploring the tech that's gotten the attention of Samsung, Facebook and Google, but it's unclear what its plans are for the market.

iPads without a home button?

Apple's iPad line hasn't sold well for the past couple of years. The company has been counting on its Pro line -- with optional detachable keyboard case and stylus -- to revitalize demand, but so far, iPad Pros haven't stemmed the two-year drop in iPad unit sales.

Apple MacBook Pro swaps outdated function keys for Touch Bar

See all photos

Reports say iPads could be in for big changes in 2017, some of which are similar to rumors of iPhone changes. Apple may get rid of the home button and minimize the bezels around the iPad screen. And some reports say Apple will introduce a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro (joining the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch versions it has now, though reports vary on the actual size of the new device). There's also talk the company could finally update its iPad Mini with a new 7.9-inch model in the spring.

New desktop computers?

Apple's computer line seemed like the forgotten child in its family of products. Some devices, like the Mac Pro, haven't been updated in years. Apple revamped its laptop line in late 2016, so 2017 could finally see some new desktop designs.

Smart home tech

One area that's gotten some attention from Apple -- but will likely get a lot more in 2017 -- is the smart home. Apple's HomeKit software lets you control things like smart locks and lights from your iPhone or Apple Watch. Expect to see companies releasing HomeKit-compatible devices next year.

And Apple could even release the first smart home device of its own, an Amazon Echo-like speaker that lets you talk to Siri to issue voice commands like controlling Apple Music or turning off your lights. The device may include built-in cameras that can distinguish between users and detect their emotions, as CNET reported in 2016.

Revamped software and services

There haven't been many rumors about new software and services from Apple, but 2017 could be a year when the company makes a bigger push outside its traditional hardware stronghold.