Apple (s aapl) had a huge 2011 according to the numbers, thanks in large part to the success of the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. But it also wasn’t really a year in which we saw a lot of big changes on the hardware front, even though iOS 5 and iCloud made big splashes in software. That’s part of why I think we can expect a lot of changes in terms of devices in 2012.
Apple’s next iPhone is one many probably feel we’ve already seen in previews, since the rumor mill prior to the release of the iPhone 4S was focused more on the so-called iPhone 5. A lot of what was said about that device should probably come to pass when we do get a new iPhone next year, which Apple could well call the iPhone 5.
A release in fall is probably in the cards, since Apple would gain little by releasing a new iPhone in the early summer so soon after unveiling the iPhone 4S, so it’s hard to pin down anything definite about the device at this point; a lot can change in mobile in nearly a year, after all. But there are a few safe bets regarding Apple’s next smartphone.
First, expect an A6 processor, possibly quad-core, powering the device. Also, a larger screen and a new physical case design are almost guaranteed. I don’t think Apple would go the route of the Android-makers with anything gigantic, but a respectable 4-inch display seems likely. And while LTE still isn’t a guarantee, it’s a good bet for 2012. Near-field communication (NFC) is less certain to make the cut, since that tech still has a long way to go before (if) it goes mainstream.
Making predictions about Apple’s iPod line is definitely tough. The media player got virtually no changes in 2011 compared to 2010, and its impact on Apple’s overall revenue picture continues to dwindle. The iPod touch is still an important part of the lineup, but even its future might become a question sometime in the next couple of years.
In 2012, I see Apple finally putting its iPod classic to rest, and maybe the shuffle, too. The iPod touch will likely get the spec bump it missed this year, bringing it closer to the current iPhone 4S in terms of wireless radios and processing power, and possibly a physical redesign, too. The real question mark, and maybe Apple’s greatest opportunity to shake up the media player market, is the iPod nano.
Users have been looking for an update that brings Bluetooth on-board with the diminutive nano, making it compatible with wireless headphones (better when worn on the wrist) and possibly enabling a live data connection between it and the iPhone. I suspect that Apple skipped a proper update for the nano this year because it’s actually working on making the nano the perfect connected companion for the iPhone, thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 tech, but we’ll see in 2012 whether or not that’s the case.
Rumors about the iPad 3 are already swirling, since it seems on track for an early 2012 release. I think we’ll see it arrive around the same time as last year’s iPad 2, so between February and March, complete with the Retina Display users have been looking for since the iPhone 4’s release.
What else will the iPad 3 offer? That’s a good question, and one that hasn’t really been addressed all that much in early reports. Its features will be dictated largely by what the market demands, which shouldn’t be much judging by the current tablet market picture. In 2011, Apple ruled the tablet market without a real competitor in sight. In 2012, it will have low-cost alternatives nipping at its heels, but it still isn’t looking at any competitors who are truly shaking up the space.
As a result, I’d expect to see an iPad 3 that resembles its predecessor in most regards, with the aforementioned improved screen, as well as a slimmer design and maybe a longer lasting battery. Apple has the right recipe for success in other regards, and the iPad 3 isn’t really crying out for camera improvements or additional wireless tech. Adoption of Bluetooth 4.0 is probably also on tap, as well as an upgraded A6 processor, but I wouldn’t expect much else.
Instead of making dramatic changes or additions to the iPad, expect Apple to offer a low-cost option in the form of the iPad 2, likely limited to either 8 or 16 GB of onboard storage. And as much as I and Kevin admire the smaller, 7-inch form factor, I think Apple might keep that one in reserve for at least another year.
In 2012, iDevices won’t be the only devices getting big upgrades. Apple’s Mac division is still a big revenue driver for the company, and in the new year I expect them to focus on the products that will have the biggest role in the future of computing. The MacBook Air is the crucial device here, but iMacs, too, should be in for big changes.
The MacBook Air is Apple’s most forward-looking Mac, and it has plenty of room to grow. In 2011, the 11- and 13-inch form factors got even better thanks to much-needed processor upgrades and the addition of Thunderbolt tech. In 2012, I expect Apple to expand the line as it moves to push aside the MacBook Pro in terms of its importance to Apple’s notebook offerings. So a 15-inch Air is likely, as well as more substantial improvements to the 11- and 13-inch devices, aimed at shoring up their remaining weaknesses: battery life and storage. Higher resolution displays are another definite possibility.
As Apple’s strongest desktop product, expect iMacs to get significant updates in 2012, both externally and on the inside, too. The current iMac case design is getting a little long in the tooth, and is overdue for an update. Intel (s intc) has new processors that will likely make their way into Macs in the works, and we should see them in the second quarter of 2012, so expect new iMacs around then, too. Other changes might include high-res displays like those that could make their way to the notebook line, and solid state storage as the default option on some models.
As to the rest of the Mac line, I’d expect to see upgrades for the Mac mini, but not necessarily any big improvements for the Mac Pro. Apple is clearly focusing on consumer products, and it could let its more powerful desktops languish again as a result.
It’s the last big question mark for Apple’s 2012 plans, the mythical iTV. I think we’ll see Apple make its move here, and introduce a television set late in the year, complete with a full App Store, Siri controls and iCloud support. Whether or not we’ll see its set-top Apple TV gets a similar upgrade strikes me as less certain, but since it could act as a gateway device the way the iPod touch does for the iPhone and iPad, I think we’ll see that, too.
This is the rough roadmap I see in place for Apple’s 2012 product plans. Predicting Apple’s plans is likely a fool’s game, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Let us know what you think is coming out of Cupertino in the comments.