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1 Underappreciated Apple Catalyst You're not Considering

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With Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) shares still trading mostly sideways following the January earnings plunge, investors continue to search for the next important catalyst that can help the company return to its former glory.

The usual suspects are all here. New iPad models could come as early as next month, but may also be pushed out to later this year, because the tablets were updated at the end of 2012. The next iPhone is potentially due out this summer, as Apple may be moving that product cycle up to fend off competitors. The inevitable dividend boost, or some other form of capital return, is very likely imminent, because it's that time of year.

However, there's likely another underappreciated catalyst on the horizon that most investors aren't considering: iOS 7.

Lucky number 7
Apple hosts its Worldwide Developer, or WWDC, in June. That's less than three months away, and the company should expectedly preview the next major version of its mobile operating system platform iOS. Arguably, this year's iOS 7 release may prove to be one of the most important versions for Apple's ecosystem in years. There's one specific reason why this version will be so critical: Jony Ive.

Late last year, Apple ousted former iOS chief Scott Forstall amid a rare executive shakeup at the highest echelons of the largest tech company. Forstall is the man who led iOS to become Apple's dominant platform over the years, and it now powers over 70% of revenue. He's also the executive who's been widely criticized about Apple's interface design direction. I'm not just referring to the skeuomorphism, but, rather, the overall interface.

Over the years, critics have continued to deride the iOS interface as dated, since the platform still looks mostly the same as when the original iPhone launched in 2007. There have been numerous changes over the years, but the core interface is largely unchanged. The toughest part for Apple investors? The critics are absolutely right.

Goodbye, first mover advantage
(NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) has come an incredibly long way with interface since the early days of Android. Hiring Matias Duarte out of Palm before that company was swallowed by Hewlett-Packard was a big part of that, since he brought many innovative new interface designs to the platform. In characteristic Google fashion, the search giant experimented with numerous ideas with Android interface before getting to the clean look it now sports.

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows Phone interface has been widely hailed as featuring an innovative interface, even if that hasn't translated into meaningful market share gains. The live tile approach is wildly different than both iOS and Android, for better or for worse.

BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) is also exploring many new interface ideas with its new BlackBerry 10 platform. CEO Thorsten Heins even recently had some fighting words, calling the user interface five-years old (it's actually six).

Apple was undeniably the first mover in capacitive touchscreen interfaces on smartphones, but it has been slow to embrace change as rivals continue to dream up new interfaces that now feel more modern compared to iOS.

Ive's our man; if he can't do it, no one can
Ive is now the head of all "Human Interface," along with his normal duties as industrial design guru. He's traditionally been a hardware player, physically crafting the minimalist designs for Apple products; but now investors will see him give software interface a shot. He'll still have Craig Federighi's engineers doing the nitty gritty work for him, but Ive will now call the shots with the overall look and feel of both iOS and OS X.

Shortly after the shakeup, an anonymous Apple designer told The New York Times: "You can be sure that the next generation of iOS and OS X will have Jony’s industrial design aesthetic all over them. Clean edges, flat surfaces will likely replace the textures that are all over the place right now." There's no shortage of third-party concept videos floating around out there as loyalists contemplate what iOS 7 will look like under Ive's direction.

An iOS interface design makeover is long overdue, and Ive is just the man to deliver it. Software experiences are one of the most critical aspects of any device, and a revamped interface could translate into a meaningful boost in demand. A dramatically improved interface could spark a whole new wave of upgrades, as well as lure new users into the platform.

An Ive-designed iOS 7 could be a total game changer.

There is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2013, at 6:33 PM, H3D wrote:

    "There have been numerous changes over the years, but the core interface is largely unchanged. The toughest part for Apple investors? The critics are absolutely right."

    They're right that a lot of it is unchanged.

    They're wrong if they assume that that is necessarily a bad thing.

    Apple don't do change for change's sake. Users so not want that sort of change.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2013, at 6:43 PM, makelvin wrote:

    "...He's also the executive who's been widely criticized about Apple's interface design direction. I'm not just referring to the skeuomorphism, but, rather, the overall interface...'

    Actually, I do think that the skeuomorphism interface that Scott is pushing really sucks. The new iTunes music app on the iOS 5 and iOS 6 is probably one of the worst app update in the history of iOS apps. Frankly, I am kind of glad that Scott is out; I am this kind of app update direction will finally be put to an end once and for all.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2013, at 7:49 PM, greenember wrote:

    Apple is between a rock and a hard place and an even bigger rock. The UI is stale and they need to update it. If they do it too fast, they'll alienate their user base. If they do it too slowly, they reinforce the perception of stagnation and a lack of innovation. If they incorporate more gestures, they'll be accused of copying BlackBerry. If they add widgets, they'll be accused of copying Android. It will be very interesting to see them work their way out of this situation, if they can. With HTML5 gaining steam and putting the future of a large number of apps in jeopardy, they need to be something more than just an app launcher

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2013, at 9:19 PM, Oril wrote:

    I fail to understand how apples operating system that hasn't been upgraded in six years with no change in sight can be considered a catalyst but yet you fools don't hesitate to dump all over Blackberry because they delayed rollout of its new BB10 system until January of this year in order to get it right.

    This article is nothing more than another lame attempt by fools to pump apple with useless innuendo.

    Heins was right, apple is out of ideas and out of touch. Any innovation they once had died with Steve Jobs.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2013, at 9:33 PM, Oril wrote:

    Blackberry's new operating system BB10 could not have been rolled out without the accompanying release of new devices, Z10, Q10. That has now been done successfully world wide with many more devices including a new BB10 playbook later this year.

    This fact alone puts blackberry light years ahead of apples outdated system using outdated devices.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2013, at 9:52 PM, Jjkiam wrote:

    Hmm let's just wait and see if he was right. Seems the Defense Dept doesn't agree. What amazes me about this drama is that the so called new BB OS from the pix in the media looks ALOT like that old stale IOS UI.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2013, at 12:14 AM, lowmaple wrote:

    Well Oril, if it's 5 or 6 years old you of course know Jobs has not been dead that long.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2013, at 12:17 PM, rlcato wrote:

    Tap icon; opens app. (Swipe). Yeah that's so old school.

    There must be a better way.

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