Apple 2013: Cupertino's new product army goes to war

In a pattern that's so utterly obvious I believe you need to be paid, deluded or in denial to remain blind to it, Samsung, Google and others now intend launching watches, televisions and other devices first rumored as being on the Apple [AAPL] product road map -- but they shouldn't expect an easy ride…

Apple is ready for battle

Innovation time

One of the many criticisms against Apple raised in recent months has been some hocus-pocus claim the firm's stopped "innovating". Innovation is such a great word and it appears for many it means delivering devices with a different screen size, along with some software-based features that sound interesting but most won't use.

Apple's task will be to effectively define and execute innovative but useful features -- a pretty big challenge that doubtless keeps a lot of its top brass wide awake through sleepless nights.

I've been tuning into the Apple Rumor Radio Networks (ARRN) and I'm picking up chatter that hints its leaders are using the stress constructively.

Apple television

Surely there's no real need to recap these rumors? In brief this is expected to be an Apple-branded television equipped with iTunes integration and app support. It also seems likely to be the best TV around. I previously speculated the set would support UltraHD, making for higher resolution and potentially more graphically rich images than we've seen so far. That was speculation, but a report from Digitimes adds a little substance to these thoughts, claiming a 4K display with a resolution of 3,840-x-2,160.

"The sources said that Apple and Foxconn Electronics have been in discussions for quite some time in terms of the TV's mass production schedule, but that Apple has been considering where panel supply for the TV will come from, as Ultra HD TV panel makers, most of whom are based in Taiwan, are expected to be producing at nearly full capacity in 2013 in order to meet demand from China-based TV vendors.

"Additionally, other panel makers in Apple's supply chain that may have the ability to produce Ultra HD TV panels are expected to allocate most of their panel production to the company's iPhone, iPad and iPad mini products instead, as ultra-mobile devices are expected to be popular in the market during 2013, the sources noted."

It's wise to note that many Mac rumor mongers like to warn that Digitimes reports aren't always especially accurate. Though I note even MacRumors avoided making that caveat in its report of the report.

New model iPhone

No, not the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6, but a new iPhone configuration. This is likely to be a more affordable iPhone, but that won't be its main selling point. It's debatable if this device will turn out to be the also heavily speculated upon iWatch, or a separate entity, but it seems possible this will offer consumers most of the iPhone features they love shepherded within a stunning new design.

Apple will offer it at lower cost, but it will be the device itself it will be selling, rather than the price of the device.

Piper Jafrray's Gene Munster says on this:

"We continue to believe Apple will have a cheaper phone product to address the emerging markets. In recent public comments, Tim Cook noted that the original iPod cost $399 and eventually the company released a $49 iPod Shuffle which addressed a broader market. We believe Apple will likely introduce a cheaper device in the September quarter."

A very interesting report this weekend suggested the impact this device will have upon the smartphone market, the main one being to expand iOS marketshare at the expense of everyone else.

New iPhone model

Yes, this is the iPhone 5S or (probably subsequent) iPhone 6. Sifting through the clamor, the new model could make its appearance as soon as June/July, but I'm anticipating the big upgrade may not appear until 2014, as other elements of the company's multi-platform, multi-device strategy get put into place.

Alongside improvements in processor speed, memory, display responsiveness and continued seamless integration (impossible within the Anrdoid ecosystem) between the devices and the software that they run, you can anticipate other features to make an appearance in the next two models, such as:

  • Biometric security
  • Wireless charging
  • iSight Pro camera
  • Haptic Home button (this maximizes display size without demanding users buy jeans with giant pockets).
  • Incredibly sensitive, possibly translucent, touch displays
  • New displays will be thin, light and scratch-free (using Sapphire crystal, used for military armor).
  • Inevitably these devices will be thinner and lighter
  • NFC support -- useful for some implementations, but unlikely to be a full wallet replacement as yet, mainly because the big banks seem reluctant to allow for open competition in their sector.

iPad improvements

A grim reality being faced by most tech firms is that when it comes to device and PC manufacture, this is now an Apple and Samsung world. Korea's family-owned big tech conglomerate now faces a public Californian company that farms manufacturing out to others.

It seems reasonable then to suggest that Apple's so-called "tightly controlled" ecosystem is effectively more reliant on third party partners than that of Samsung. The effect of that is that while Samsung represents a controlled business model in which one firm is responsible for all elements of product manufacture, Apple's is more open as more third party partners benefit from its success. Which will probably be pretty hard for some Apple critics to swallow, I recognize making this point will be controversial.

Apple now has a chance to grow its grip against its ex-partner with the iPhone 5 and next-gen iPad mini. A recent IDC report tells us: "In terms of market share, Apple significantly closed the gap with market leader Samsung in the quarter, as the combination of Apple's iPhone 5 and iPad Mini brought Apple up to 20.3 percent unit shipment share versus 21.2 percent for Samsung."

So, when might we expect new iPad models?

  • Digitimes suggests we're looking to Q3 2013 when the company is expected to launch thinner, lighter, faster models.
  • A report earlier this month suggests a July introduction for the new configurations -- calendar fans will note this is in the third calendar quarter.

Oddly enough, these systems are unlikely to feature displays or processors manufactured on Apple's behalf by Samsung. Funny that.

Apple chips

Apple's A-series chips are interesting because while on paper they may not deliver the processor speed of others available on the market, they work far more efficiently because they are custom-built to run iOS software on Apple-designed devices. That’s why other tablets may offer something better on the spec sheet, when it comes to actual usage Apple's comparatively lower-specced devices frequently trounce the pack.

There's no reason to expect this to change. One thing that will change is the company manufacturing these processors. Samsung will be out the picture as TSMC moves into the frame, big time.

"Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is already ready to take on a growing challenge from Samsung Electronics in the IC foundry space, company chairman and CEO Morris Chang said during a recent event in Taipei."

Digitimes sources report: "Apple is expected to contract other foundries to manufacture its APs used in iPhone and iPad devices in 2013."

Adding a little substance to such speculation, Imagination Technologies and TSMC are working more closely together on development of next-generation processors. Interestingly, Apple owns a few million shares in Imagination.

Component command

Apple's last year has been stymied by sundry problems finding component suppliers equipped to deliver the parts it needs in order to fulfill demand. This has been the case since its former partner, Samsung, decided it wanted a slice of the mobile devices action for itself.

Operational challenges of this nature have been part of Apple CEO, Tim Cook's remit for many years so it's not really a surprise the company has spent a great deal of time and energy on rectifying these challenges.

Evidence for movement of this kind emerges fairly frequently -- most recently we learned the firm's inked deals with Simplo and Dynapack to provide batteries for its devices. That's good news for smaller third party product manufacturers, even as Apple takes yet more business away from Samsung.

At this stage it seems Apple is in position to source components in quantity to underpin its product releases across the coming 12-months.

Summing up: Apple has a raft of new products waiting in the wings, and while its success in the previous 12 months has been impacted by component supply problems which have affected relative marketshare measurements, competitors can't expect the same good fortune across the next 12-months.

With components sourced, Apple now has the space it needs to get back to what it does best: Launching products that capture popular imagination through innovation.

Not only this, but it's easy to imagine employees at every level of the company now want to show competitors what they can really do, following months of cut-throat competition and unwarranted media criticism. That's why I think the Apple story is about to get insanely interesting once again.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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