The genius of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) product innovation is that Apple has found a way to think years, even decades ahead of consumers. It revolutionized what we thought about cell phones, created an app model that didn't previously exist, and is currently taking steps to connect us to everything, all the time.
Don't get fooled by the product announcements most people focus on; it's the software that Apple will use to differentiate itself in the future. Airplay allows your Apple devices to communicate with each other, AirDrop makes other devices accessible, and iCloud stores photos, music, and soon passwords that pull you in and keep you in the ecosystem.
Slowly, these products creep into our daily usage and become a natural extension of us. Turn the lights on remotely, check your security camera, change a file on your smartphone, and beam anything to the nearest Apple-powered screen.
What Apple is doing is making the device itself ubiquitous. Wherever or whenever it's convenient to do what you need to do, from business to recreation, on any of your Apple devices, a solution will be available. Wi-Fi, iCloud, AirDrop, and AirPlay are just the ways Apple uses to connect them and make sure Apple is everywhere.
The next step
Don't think the iWatch or iTV product rumors will just be devices on their own. The point is to connect you even more to the Apple ecosystem. An iWatch could be an extension of an iPhone or iPad, relaying iMessages, emails, and of course music. The iTV could be a screen for AirPlay, a cable replacement, or your home movie theater, all through Apple services and devices.
The connectivity of these devices is probably more important than anything else because that allows Apple to create a user experience no one can match.
Can the competition catch up?
Google is a larger player in smartphones and is on Apple's heels in tablets, but it lags behind in a few key ways. Consumers don't update its operating system, and it doesn't have a viable TV offering yet. In many ways, Google is ahead of Apple from a software and cloud perspective, but it doesn't make all of those services available to all devices right away like Apple does.
Microsoft has smartphones, tablets, and TV access with Xbox One, but its installed base is so small that developers don't leverage the ecosystem the way Apple's do. I think Microsoft is Apple's biggest challenger, but the price of Xbox One is a hurdle and people don't seem to be thrilled about using Windows for mobile just yet.
When it comes to connectivity, Apple has a huge lead in access and usability and Google and Microsoft are playing catch-up. Pay attention to how Apple's new product announcements this year enhance connectivity and function between devices, not just how the device itself works, because that's where Apple is building a real advantage.
Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.