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Reality Absorption Field: Peering into the crystal apple

Ross Rubin

photo by carl.lacey2 | flickr

Should auld iQuaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Last year was a landmark year for Apple that saw significant leadership changes. Tim Cook has committed to preserve Apple's culture and seems committed to many of its fundamental tenets -- high-quality products, owning the customer experience, product secrecy and innovation that matters to the mainstream. But Cook has also vowed not to run a museum and has noted Steve Jobs' urging to do what is right and and not what the legendary Apple co-founder would have done.

As we head into 2013, there are three classes of predictions one can make about the company and its products.

Playing it safe

The new year will almost certainly see revisions to OS X and iOS. Facing competition against a relaunched Google Maps on iOS, Apple Maps will see meaningful improvements. There will be a new iPhone even if it continues Apple's emerging pattern of sticking with a case design through one revision.

And while one can debate the merits of a spring versus fall launch for the next iPad, it's all but certain that it will appear sometime within 2013 along with at least one more go-round for the iPod line. We also know that the first Macs to be made in the USA in many years are coming soon, presumably in 2013 -- and potentially in Apple's small form-factor desktop if the latest round of rumors prove true.

Going out on a limb

As one digs down a layer of specificity, there are a few areas that seem like reasonable extensions of current trends. Many believe we'll see an iPad mini appearing with a Retina Display and NFC may come to the iPhone or the whole Apple product line. As one arrives at the airport from which to board a flight of fancy, of course, there is that old Apple television set trope, so breathlessly anticipated that Tim Cook's mere repetition that it is an area of keen interest sets the rumor mill into overdrive.

Connected to any discussion of an Apple television set is that the company would package up a television service to compete with cable or, alternatively, partner with leading pay TV providers much as did with cellular carriers for the iPhone. And as long as you're dipping into new subscription or freemium Apple services, there's the Pandora-like radio service rumor. Once, having an operating system provider offer pay TV seemed far-flung, but Google is now doing just that in Kansas City, and Nokia seems to have finally found a viable way to differentiate its music experience with Nokia Music.

Then there's the even more far-flung notion that Apple might mash up the MacBook and iPad in strange ways such as an ARM-based MacBook, a touchscreen MacBook, or (if one purchases a first-class ticket on the flight of fancy) a Surfacesque keyboard-equipped iPad.

The unexpected

One way Apple could certainly benefit from all these rumors is if they all serve as a smokescreen for something completely out of left field. It is hard to believe that the iPad was introduced only in the beginning of 2010. Of course, prior to that, the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and the iPod in 2001. It may be a little early for a brand new product line from Apple. On the other hand, the company is investing more in R&D than ever. If Apple doesn't surprise and delight customers with a new product category in 2013, customers wil be counting on it to find other ways to do so.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research and blogs at Techspressive. Opinions expressed in Reality Absorption Field are his own.

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