Why Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s “Next Big Thing” Might Be Many Little Ones

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There’s no doubt that one of the big factors weighing on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is concern about innovation. Despite the company’s history of developing revolutionary products and disrupting markets, many investors remain unconvinced that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) can innovate without visionary founder Steve Jobs.

After more than a decade at the head of consumer-technology innovation, Apple-as-innovator suddenly appears to be running second to Samsung in hardware and to Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) in software.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Nothing short of a new blockbuster product seems likely to convince the growing army of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) skeptics that a post-Jobs Apple can innovate its way to continuing growth for years to come. Even Jim Cramer, who remains bullish on Apple, said Thursday that what the company needs is “the next big thing.” That’s probably why there’s been so much anticipation of the planned Apple TV. It’s presumed to not only be a blockbuster, but a big-ticket item, just the kind of product that could put juice back in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s stock.

But investors may be missing clues about Apple’s future that suggest it could rest not on the next big blockbuster iProduct, but in spiderweb-like growth through “next little things.” Let’s take a look at some of them:

Now that’s a smart outfit
A recent patent granted to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) sheds some light on the company’s plans for a smart shoe. This may sound odd, but it hints at a larger project Apple has in the works with NIKE, Inc. (NYSE:NKE). The two companies are developing smart apparel.

Imagine shoes that gauge wear and tear, that tell you how far you’ve run or walked, maybe even whether they fit right. Imagine clothes with sensors to measure body heat and perspiration, movement and other metrics for use in your workouts and activities. All the information these shoes and garments collect will be processed by your iPhone, iPad or iPod, making Apple an important component of your health goals.

There’s also been speculation that Apple is developing a smart wristwatch, possibly providing what’s essentially a wearable, miniature iPhone. Some say this could be big seller. But with details at this point scant at best, there isn’t much but speculation out there for investors to consider.

Apple in your auto
Here’s another area where we know Apple is already at work. Cars are getting smarter, and that’s a good thing, because drivers are becoming increasingly distracted (i.e. dumber). Any time a driver is clutching a handset, whether they are texting, talking or looking for a song on iTunes, it’s dangerous. That’s why the integration of Apple’s Siri into cars over the coming year is an important development.

Consider this piece on Cars.com: “Siri can read incoming text messages, respond to texts and emails, add calendar appointments, check the weather, give sports scores or stock quotes, find points of interest, announce turn-by-turn directions or make a phone call over the car’s Bluetooth system — just by pressing the steering-wheel Bluetooth button for a few moments. It’s all part of Apple’s new Eyes Free mode, which works while your smartphone screen stays dark.”

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