Apple showed off the future of its software platforms earlier this month: iOS 5 for the iPhone and iPad, and OS X Lion for the Mac.
But what about new hardware gadgets?
That’s what people lust after, and that’s what makes Apple its billions.
Apple’s iPhone and MacBook Air will probably be its next gizmos to get an upgrade.
And there’s always the chance that Apple will announce a completely new gadget before the holiday season.
Expected: This summer
The MacBook Air is probably going to be a big seller for the back-to-school season, so now is a good time for Apple to give it a speed bump. This would be a great computer to launch alongside OS X Lion later this summer.
We don't expect any major new features, unless Apple decides to add its new Thunderbolt port to the MacBook Air. Otherwise, just faster chips, maybe more memory, and similar pricing.
Expected: By September
The big question is whether this year's iPhone release is going to be a minor update under the hood -- like the iPhone 3GS that followed the iPhone 3G -- or a major update, like the iPhone 4 was.
There have been reports pointing both ways, and we don't have any specific information, but it seems either is plausible.
The most obvious changes could be a faster chip -- Apple's new A5 chip that's inside the iPad 2 -- and potentially more storage space and a higher resolution camera.
It would also make sense for the new iPhone to support faster, 5 GHz wifi, which the iPhone 4 doesn't. It's also plausible that the next iPhone will support some of the carriers' 4G networks, but probably NOT the newest LTE networks. (Maybe next year, as LTE chips improve.)
There is a possibility that the new iPhone will support both GSM-based and CDMA-based networks in the same gadget, so that CDMA customers (Verizon, etc.) can roam overseas on GSM-based networks. Or perhaps this will just be the CDMA version, and there will also be a GSM version that doesn't have any CDMA components, to keep things simpler for most of the world where there are no CDMA networks.
It also makes sense that Apple would further extend its U.S. distribution via Sprint and T-Mobile, and potentially other carriers, such as MetroPCS, Cricket, etc.
Beyond that, Apple would have to surprise us, like it did last year with the super-hi-res 'retina' display.
Expected: By September
Apple typically updates its iPod lineup each September, and we expect this to happen again this year.
iPod touch and classic: Apple will likely upgrade whatever components are upgraded in the new iPhone, including an A5 chip and potentially faster wi-fi. Apple may also increase the storage capacity on the iPod touch, which could allow it to finally retire the iPod classic, which turns 10 years old this year. (Apple has already started to phase out the iPod brand on the iPhone -- the 'iPod' app will now be split into 'Music' and 'Video' apps.)
iPod nano and shuffle: It probably doesn't make sense for Apple to keep shipping two 'wearable' iPods forever. We're not privy to specific sales trends among the nano and shuffle lines, but we could see Apple eventually ditching one or both of them. Maybe the shuffle, as the nano seems to have some novelty value as a watch. But, then again, the shuffle is much cheaper than the nano. (Neither takes up much physical space, and both probably have great margins at this point, so it's not really a problem to keep them both around for a few more years, either.)
Expected: By October (in time for holiday shopping)
Apple's new Apple TV gadget actually seems to be doing pretty well -- much better than the one before it, especially. It's consistently in the top 15 best-selling electronic devices at Amazon, and Netflix said that streaming on the Apple TV quickly passed streaming on the iPad, despite millions more iPads having been purchased.
Physically, the Apple TV device will probably stay the same, unless Apple can make it even smaller. (We imagined at one point that it could just become a cord that plugs into the wall on one end and into an HDMI port on the other.)
An updated Apple TV will probably have Apple's new A5 chip (for 1080p video) and potentially some flash memory onboard to store files, apps, etc.
It would also be cool if Apple could figure out a way to do FaceTime chats via Apple TV. Perhaps that'll just be an AirPlay mirroring feature, too. (We expect the new iPhone and iPod touch to be capable of AirPlay mirroring, the way the iPad 2 is.)
The way AirPlay has matured, it now seems that Apple can take its time regarding an Apple TV App Store. But we'd still love to see more video options added to Apple TV, such as Hulu Plus. And games!
Expected: By next summer
This year's iPad 2 continues to sell well, but it's not that much of an update from the original iPad.
We're holding out for the iPad 3, which we expect to have a higher-resolution, 'retina'-like display. That will be amazing. (We'd even pay more for it, if it's some sort of 'iPad pro' or something.)
rumours and speculation persist that Apple will someday sell an actual television. You'd have to think that Steve Jobs and Jony Ive think they can do better than Sony and Samsung. This would be a ripe opportunity for Apple to move apps into the living room and disrupt the video industry the way it did to the music and mobile industries.
We'd love to buy an Apple television, and we could see Apple turning its nose at the sceptics who think that the TV industry's low margins, slow purchase cycles, big boxes, and dominant cable cartel would get in its way.
But Apple is also the company that thrives because it keeps its product lineup simple and doesn't get involved in a market unless it thinks it can really make a difference. So perhaps it'll stick with Apple TV and AirPlay for now.
One way for Apple to get people excited about buying a new iPhone that isn't exactly revolutionary in other ways could be to offer it in fun colours, the way it has with the iPod, iMac, the old iBook laptop, etc.
It took the company a while to figure out how to make a white iPhone the right way, but perhaps it's now equipped to offer multiple colours.
The iPhone 3GS continues to sell well, almost 2 years after its release, at a discounted price. It was the 2nd best-selling smartphone in the U.S. during Q1, according to NPD Group. AT&T is still advertising it on TV with a $49 purchase price.
This makes the case for Apple to offer some sort of low-end iPhone at more carriers, especially overseas where phones are often sold unlocked with no subsidy.
Perhaps it will do this via the iPhone 4, which will become 'last year's iPhone' whenever Apple announces its new one soon. Perhaps it will even do this via the 3GS, which will support the new iOS 5 software when it launches this fall.
Don't count on this happening sometime soon. Perhaps a bigger iPad someday, but probably not a touchscreen Mac. Apple is adding gestures to the Mac via its mouse and trackpads. That's what we expect for the foreseeable future.
What other gadgets do you think Apple will sell someday?
An even bigger iMac? A smaller iPad? Wireless 'can' headphones?
Let us know in the comments and we'll consider them for future stories.
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