Absent fact, rumors run rampant. It's only natural. Secrecy breeds curiosity, and huge fall releases of almost every product in Apple's lineup leads to speculation about what, if anything, they have left for the new year. The broad strokes are probably obvious -- there'll be new phones and new tablets, but this year we're seeing renewed rumors of bigger and less expensive phones, and of watches and television projects as well. Like any year, we also have major newspapers publishing leaks, and financial analysts reporting nonsense. So what can be made of all of this?
Last night I took a look at the idea of an iWatch, and the difference between it being an iPhone- or iPad-level business, and an Apple TV-style hobby. The iWatch project -- regardless of how the device is eventually named or marketed -- sounds like its a go. We haven't heard anything specific about feature sets or timelines yet, but we have heard it's moving forward.
If the entire project sounds like a dumb idea to you, however, just remember how dumb Apple phones, tablets, mini tablets, and set top boxes sounded to many back before -- and even after -- they were first announced.
Conversely, it doesn't sound like there's much if any movement on an iTV, or actual Apple television panel. What was in the lab remains in the lab, what was being explored is still being explored, but the realities of that market haven't changed.
iPhone 5S, bigger iPhone, and less expensive iPhone
iPhone 5S -- or whatever Apple ends up calling the S-class internal update to the existing iPhone 5 platform -- sounds like it's well underway and will once again be the major phone product from Apple in 2013, just as the iPhone 5 was last year, the iPhone 4S was the year before, and so on.
With the iPhone 5S keeping the focus this year, the bigger iPhone sounds like it's still more prototype than product. Last month I did the math on how Apple could scale the existing iPhone 5 platform to a 5-inch form factor, and followed up with how the interface would scale to 5-inches with it. Technically, it all seems solid. In terms of go-to-market, however, it doesn't sound imminent.
The less expensive iPhone seems like it's been on the drawing board for years, but so far Apple's chosen to reduce the price of previous iPhone models instead of introducing new, deliberately less expensive ones. Massive deals with carriers in emerging markets, or the prospect of reducing the iPhone 5 to cheap or free on contract, and the pressure that puts on margins and ASP (average sales price) could be what ultimately causes Apple to change strategies and introduce the less expensive model. Like with the bigger iPhone, the way for Apple to get to a less expensive iPhone seems all worked out, it's the timing that's in question.
iPad 5 and iPad mini 2
To bring the full-sized iPad casing in line with the iPad mini's, and to bring the iPad mini display up to the full size iPad's Retina quality, will take improvements to the efficiencies of the screens, the LED that lights them, the chipsets that drive them, and the batteries that power them. All of those are coming, it's just a question of when they get here.
If you want to imagine the iPad 5, look at the mockup I posted last month (above), or the mockup at the top of this post, or picture a 9.7-inch screen with an iPad mini casing, making it effectively a package that fits halfway between. If you want to imagine a Retina iPad mini, picture the existing iPad mini with a display as dense as the iPhone 5.
Achieving displays that dense in casings that thin and light is beyond non-trivial, so if you even think about calling them "boring", please hand in your gadget-lovers card at the door on your way out...
2013 and beyond
Even with the massive updates last year, 2013 looks poised to hold its own. Even if some of the updates seem obvious and iterative, there's a chance for new, ecosystem expanding, perhaps breakthrough new products in the pipeline as well.
Sexy next generation hardware aside, I still feel like the next couple of years need to be more about iOS 7 and 8, iCloud and Siri, than iOS devices, and even given the recent management changes and turnovers, people sound excited about not just the atoms but the bits as well.
That's a good sign.