Apple's Juicy 2012 Hardware Harvest
What's on Apple's calendar for 2012? Bet on seeing an iPhone 5 sometime next year, as well as a small spec bump for the iPad line. MacBooks will likely see lots of action too, with more powerful MacBook Pros and perhaps a larger -- but still super-thin -- MacBook Air. Also, 2012 just might be the year Apple makes its way into TV in a big way.
12/22/11 5:00 AM PT
While 2011 was a year full of momentous moments for Apple, 2012 has the potential to outshine them all, especially in hardware.
It will be the first full year in which Apple must steer its gigantic ship without Steve Jobs, and the pressure to surprise and delight will be intense. Android smartphone and tablet makers are getting their acts together, producing better options -- and, with products like Google's upcoming tablet, promising more.
Can Apple do more than simply compete?
Looking ahead, it's possible that we won't see major changes, I'm bullish that we will -- Steve Jobs didn't manage Apple by looking six months into the future. No, there's plenty of new products with his fingerprints yet to come. Here's what I'm looking forward to.
- A redesigned iPhone 5. For a while there, it seemed as if almost everyone had the iPhone 5 pegged to arrive in fall. The iPhone 4S was a letdown ... until Siri started working her magic: accurate and smart voice assistance with an attitude. Can Apple skate by 2012 without a newly redesigned iPhone? No way. I've already got screen envy issues when I see my Android-loving friends packing big screens in light packages. Apple might be able to make the face of the existing iPhone 4S bigger and get away with it, but a new look and feel is needed to stay ahead of the mindshare competition.
- An iPad 3. Apple's iPad 2 is still far and away the tablet to beat, even with fun little Kindle Fires and Barnes & Noble Nooks lighting up the bedroom at night. To be in the market for a tablet and to not buy an iPad 2 these days, you pretty much need to be the kind of person who really doesn't like Apple, must avoid the iOS and iTunes ecosystem, or, well, really doesn't like Apple.
What can we hope for? A larger screen, faster processors, better battery life, niftier camera, and trim new form factor that will share design elements with other Apple products. Can Apple get away with an iterative upgrade here? You bet, even with Google lurking in the shadows, licking its wounds over the Nexus failure, and drooling for an opportunity to launch its own tablet. Of course, a drool-worthy new design would sure make it easier to ignore the up-and-comers.
- A New (Real) Apple TV. After Jobs died and his authorized biography came out, there was one tidbit about Jobs saying that he nailed the Apple TV interface, that he solved the problem. What's wrong with TVs? A bunch of different cable or satellite boxes, confusing Internet connectivity and services, remote controls with enough buttons to populate several alphabets, and user interfaces that are at best "blah" and at worst maddening to use. Then there's setting up systems for pristine playback, which many people get wrong.
What can fix it? Apple polish and voice-activation through Siri. Oh, and an entire all-in-one unit like the iMac. Forget the set-top box puck of today; it's high time Apple created its own big-screen HDTV.
What's missing? Not the processors, connectivity or brains. No, the only thing that is missing is negotiating favorable TV broadcast content and movie distribution rights in a way that's consumer-friendly. Oh, and making sure that Siri can understand whispers late at the night while the rest of the family is sleeping.
- New MacBook Pros ... and Maybe a Big Air? While I'm positive that we'll see new MacBook Pros sooner rather than later, thanks in part to new processors being available from Intel, I'm hopeful that the MacBook Pro line will get a curvier redesign. While they pack a lot more power and versatility, they just seem clunky next to the thin MacBook Airs.
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple kept the outside as-is -- or maybe offered to paint them black -- and focused its portable efforts on the Air line. The convergence is heading in that direction anyway, and rumors suggest a 15-inch MacBook Air will come our way in 2012. If the price of solid state drives would just drop a bit, giving us more storage (despite the joys of iCloud), 2012 could be the year of the Air.
- New iMacs. The iMac line is aging too, with a design that's ready for a refresh ... except that it still looks damn good. The problem? The iMacs are a great new system, but they no longer have the power to wow, to inspire people to really want them sitting on their desks or in their homes. Remember the old blueberry, grape and tangerine units? People wanted them around, like virtual sculptures of art. Is the iMac all about utilitarian computing with a big screen now? Is it done being art? I hope not.
- iWork '12. Please, Apple, please. I'm begging here. Give us a more flexible upgrade to the iWork line via Pages, Numbers and Keynote. More specifically, I want to see apps that let us humans who toil on Macs every day use these apps like we want to use them -- fast features, few clicks and clutter-free everything without a gob of white space that we have to have wasting screen real estate for no good reason.
And the Rest ...
I don't expect much from Apple in the way of the iPod line. Perhaps we'll get some Siri-capable, wearable iPod, but in 2012, I'm not so sure. You need a persistent data connection for Siri to be powerful, and that means WiFi doesn't cut it.
As for the Mac mini, Apple gave us a refresh in 2011, and if we're lucky, we'll get some better processor options in 2012. A price cut would be welcome, but I'm not betting on it.
And the Mac Pro? Business as usual for professionals. Nothing to see here.
The App Stores will continue to roll ahead. I hope that we'll see some improvements with app discovery, and most importantly, some method to gather up potential apps we want to buy or install -- like a freakin' shopping cart or useable wish list that would sync to all your devices via iCloud. There are plenty of Apps that I'd like to think about before I buy, and right now, they tend to disappear from my notice. If I had a little time to mull them over, more apps would reach my internal tipping point, and I'd buy.
As for the iCloud, look for some new apps, some refinements, and better marketing to show us all how to really put it to use effectively.