Imagining Apple's Future

We asked design, innovation, and marketing pros what the folks who gave us the iPod should focus on now

Business schools and design consultants have a favorite exercise they like to use when they're trying to prod students and colleagues to come up with new ways of thinking about old problems. It's called What Would Apple Do? The idea is to think of a horrendously complicated problem and imagine what Apple would do to come up with a simple, elegant, engaging solution that's delightful to the eye and easy to use.

With the annual Macworld Conference & Expo, a mecca for Apple (AAPL) aficionados, competitors, and Steve Jobs groupies, just wrapping up, we decided to put a sampling of designers and innovators through the same exercise. In past years, Jobs has used Macworld to unveil the first Apple computer powered with Intel (INTC) chips and the first iPhone. This year, it was the MacBook Air, a laptop so thin it can fit in an interoffice manila envelope. Our designers tried to imagine what would happen if Apple took its design process and applied it beyond its usual stomping grounds. What if Steve Jobs took the stage and dramatically unveiled an Apple car? Or Apple iMoney software to manage your finances?

Here are a few ideas for Apple to ponder. Some are radical, others more predictable. Are you listening, Steve?

IDEA: APPLE AUTOSUGGESTED BY WES BROWNPARTNER, ICEOLOGY (LOS ANGELES)What if Apple designed a cool, green car, with a seamless voice/video entertainment system? Brown envisions a dash-mounted touch screen that would allow passengers to pick music and movies, much as they do on an iPhone. Voice controls would allow the driver to use the system without having to take his eyes off the road. Even the best multimedia dashboard systems, such as BMW's iDrive or Audi's MMI, are overly complicated says Brown, an analyst with the consumer marketing firm Iceology. Apple has already collaborated with automakers from Ford (F) to Ferrari to make sure iPods connect to car stereos. Brown sees greater possibilities. An Apple-branded micro-car, à la the smart car by Mercedes-Benz or the Mini, could yield an entirely new automotive experience. "People are already used to paying a premium for Apple products," says Brown.

IDEA: IPOD PROJECTORSUGGESTED BY BRUCE CLAXTONSENIOR DIRECTOR, DESIGN INTEGRATION, MOTOROLA () (SCHAUMBURG, ILL.)Claxton wants to build on the sleek-looking designs and easy-to-master controls of Apple's existing media devices. One idea: a small, portable projector that could plug directly into an iPod or iPhone to display images and movies against a screen or wall in a larger format. He says that Apple devices like the iPhone and iPod already encourage people to socialize as they trade photos and music. Claxton envisions a host of additional features that would enable even more collaboration. "Such a thing would simplify sharing and make slide shows and films more portable and interesting," he says.

IDEA: PERSONAL FINANCE SOFTWARESUGGESTED BY CHRIS CONLEYPROFESSOR OF DESIGN, ILLINOIS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGYPARTNER, GRAVITY TANK (CHICAGO)Conley, executive director at the innovation consulting firm, suggests that Apple reinvent personal finance with software similar to iLife, its digital media suite, or Final Cut Studio, which enables users to produce professional-quality videos. He sees an Apple solution that neatly manages expenses, investments, even long-term planning, all in the elegant style for which Apple is known. The program could also help investors achieve social-responsibility goals, screening for firms that help impoverished workers, for example. Charts and graphs could be automatically updated to reflect movements in the stock market or changes in net worth. "You could even keep track of expenditures on portable devices like the iPod," he adds.

IDEA: VIDEO CAMERASUGGESTED BY GEOFF VULETACEO, FAHRENHEIT 212 (NEW YORK)Vuleta would like to see Apple apply the same savoir faire that it brought to digital music players to video cameras, a move that would capitalize on the surge in popularity of video-sharing sites such as YouTube. "No one has gotten close to creating an intuitive, elegant, spontaneous video camera yet," say Vuleta, who runs the innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212. That makes it a prime target for an Apple redesign. "This company knows how to swoop in late and slash the nonsense out of a product," says Vuleta.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.