Apple's 2012 plans: iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air

By Jonny Evans

Keep your ear to the ground and you hear all kinds of Apple [AAPL] related rumors. While you should take most of these with a huge pinch of salt, many hint at what's coming next from the Cupertino company. So what should you expect from Apple next year?


[ABOVE: Is Apple planning the 'mobile wallet' for 2012?]

Sifting the chaff

We're looking at faster and bigger MacBook Airs, the iPad 3 HD, iPhone 5 and perhaps the last ever revision of the Mac Pro. We're on notice to anticipate an Apple TV/television and, of course, there's always the regular software upgrades to look forward to, but we won't dwell on these this time around. So, what do we know.


MacBook Air

I think there's potential in reports the MacBook Air will be supplemented with introduction of a 15-inch model in or around March 2012.

Will the system have the "oomph" required by professional musicians and video artists? I doubt it, which is why I think this model will supplement the existing offering, with a high-end (17-inch?) MacBook Pro left available for such users. I don't expect the MacBook Pro range will be retired.

The claims in brief: these new Macs will appear in Q1/2 (March) and may be equipped with Intel's quad-core Ivy Bridge i7 processor, which delivers 20 percent better CPU performance and a 60 percent improvement in graphics power.

The caveat? These claims originally emanate from Digitimes, and have been endlessly repeated by the usual oxygen-starved suspects.

How likely do I think this is? I'm convinced Apple intends migrating its notebooks to become MacBook Air-style machines, so I think it highly probable that a 15-inch MacBook Air is part of the plan.

iPad 3, the iPad HD

Remember the heady moments early in the evolution of the Post PC age (last year) when people said iPads weren't creative tools?

Recall the days before GarageBand and Pages and iMovie and other creative apps hit the Apple tablet? Watched the building momentum surrounding iPads and the enterprise? Kept up to date with new HTML 5-based solutions such as the business class Cortado suite which delivers highly secure access to enterprise class content, with complete security?

Next year it gets even better with the iPad 3. This tablet will deliver huge improvements in graphics and processing power, thanks (presumably) to the new A6 chip inside.

The device will support new classes of app, including professional apps -- Final Cut? Logic Studio? These improvements will also make Apple's iOS even more of a contender in the gaming market, and will open all kinds of opportunities for new and advanced virtual and augmented reality solutions, including Apple's new Google-destroying Mapping services.

These conjectures match the trajectory of Apple's iPad evolutions so far. So expect: Faster processor, much-improved shatter-resistant screens, Maps, battery life enhancements and more in the next release.

There has been speculation the new tablet will appear as soon as March 2012. I'm not convinced it will be that month, but can see it land in the second calendar quarter.

How likely do I think this is? A new iPad is as inevitable as any other new Apple product. The company will now fight tooth and nail to maintain as large a slice as it is able of the tablet market it helped invent.

The iPad mini

"Fight fire with fire," the maxim claims, and Apple knows this. Amazon's Kindle Fire is off to a strong start and while it is incinerating sales of similarly-configured 7-inch tablets from other less successful makers, it is also taking a bite out of Apple's iPad offering, some analysts claim. I'm not in position to decide if this is just wish fulfillment or a reality, but I can speculate on Apple's response -- A 7-inch iPad mini.

This will offer everything you get in the current generation iPad, will be slightly cheaper, and will deliver a much better experience than Amazon's offering. I've been reading the reviews and the Amazon device is as good as it costs: slow response times, confusing navigation and more characterize the focus-group-developed device.

How likely do I think this is? While I can see a 7-inch iPad making sense, I'm not convinced Apple executives agree. At the heart of their argument is the need to avoid muddling the iPad market by offering too many configurations. Conversely, by deliberately leaving the 7-inch segment unpopulated, the company is giving its challengers a unique selling point from which to compete. Amazon's early success shows there's a market for a 7-inch device: it's a compromise between portability and legibility. If Apple does move to offer a 7-inch configuration, then it will also starve competitors of the components they need.


The iPhone 5

The LTE iPhone will appear around Q3. Equipped with a multi-core A6 processor the sleek curved device will also offer much-improved battery life and a larger screen, if only because it lacks a physical Home button. 8-megapixel camera and more.

"Next year's iPhone to feature a 4-inch display by LG Display, half an inch larger than the 3.5-inch display and retina display resolution will remain unchanged because LCD is currently being regarded as the right solution to offer value with better cost-cuts," an unnamed LG Display executive reportedly told the Korea Times.

The iPhone was originally expected for introduction this year, but this slipped due to production costs, a Business Insider report claimed.

However, given the intense competition across the smartphone industry and the anonymity of the cited (and much-repeated) source, I'm inclined to dismiss those claims as sales-damaging FUD, and I'd ask what steps were taken to confirm them. I'm willing to bet there's only one -- anonymous and therefore not especially credible -- source for these claims.

However, ask me if there will be a new iPhone (with LTE support) in 2012 and I'll say: "Yes".


The Apple television

I've written extensively on this. I can't predict a time for this device to appear, if at all. I'd like to imagine it seeing a June 2012 introduction, just in time for WWDC.

Most recently the analysts at IHS pointed out: "Apple has the opportunity to do for television what has done for PCs and tablets - offering something that's easy to use, works right out of the box and that delivers a compelling user interface that's unparalleled in the industry.

"But even more important than that, Apple is really the only company that can pull off partnerships with operators, allowing it to offer a television set that's completely ready to watch when a consumer buys it, requiring no additional hardware like a set-top box, or a subscription for service from a third party."

How likely do I think this is? I've been expecting Apple to do something of this ilk for years, but a recent comment on one post set me thinking: Do we need a big television in the corner, or do we need a small box with a pico video projector? Why not kill the television market by losing the television?

Speculation of course, but I often look around my flat and wish the television wasn't there, because it is a large box of nothing when it isn't on. And don't even get me started on remote controls.

The Mac Pro

There's been speculation the Mac Pro may have reached the end of its trip. Perhaps this is true, but I'm inclined to expect one more iteration of the professional level Mac, which may then be kept available for another year or two, essentially while mobile devices catch-up to the power and performance of professional desktops. I think this has to be a possibility as the desktop/notebook/tablet matrix transforms the PC landscape.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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