While everyone else milled around at CES waving new products left, right and center, Apple is quietly getting on with the business of iPad and iPhone development. It also managed to sell rather more Macs than experts predicted.
The Numbers Look Good
Apple got a bunch of good news from analysts this week, proving the doubters behind its more cautious recent strategy wrong. First up, in a declining PC market, it managed a 20% rise in Mac sales while all of its main competitors saw a decline.
The share of iOS devices among smartphones also shot up before Christmas from 26% to 43% of the market, not far behind Android. Apple's three devices, the venerable 3GS, 4 and 4S were the top three selling phones and while there are many, many more Android devices to go around, it was the high-profile and high-end Galaxy S models that buyers were picking up in big numbers.
So, perhaps, there is a need for the endless head-on, tech-spec-led, battle, and therefore Apple's plan to add Thunderbolt connections to iOS devices may be a requirement rather than a luxury in the near future. With more recent analyst numbers suggesting massive iPhone 4S sales in recent weeks, Apple is now expected to deliver a blockbuster quarter in its latest financial period. That will pave the way for the iPad 3 launch and another cycle of sales.
The Big Apple
Apple has now confirmed that its big event for New York on the 19 January is indeed about education, but isn't saying much more beyond that. Students might have big dreams of free iPads for all, packed with the latest digital text books, and might not be too far off the mark.
More realistically, many educational texts are massively over-priced and Apple could be looking to bring some sense to this market, but as with the TV wrangles with the major content players, will educational publishers want to give up one of their golden eggs?
The Road Ahead
After CES, most commentators seem to have settled on the iPad 3 being more of an iPhone 4S-style upgrade with a higher-res display and a faster processor, possibly 4G (something Bloomberg is now reporting) which will tide the market over until an all-new iPad 4 arrives, possibly later in the year.
This may retail for less than the iPad 2 does, with that model receiving a serious price hair-cut to make it comparable with the big-selling Kindle Fire and giving Apple some presence at the lower-cost end of the market. Any word of a smaller-sized iPad seems to have been kicked to the kerb, for now.
Whatever Apple does with iPad in 2012, the sales trend is set to slow, according to DisplaySearch, due to greater competition, all par in the natural course of consumer electronics. The iPad aside, the iPhone 5 remains pretty much an enigma, but will have a lot to live up to after the success of the Galaxy Nexus.
iPhone 5 Forever
LTE is being demanded by the likes of Verizon, so is pretty much guaranteed. Slimmer, lighter and better screens are pretty much mantras for an Apple launch, while bigger changes, like a new chipset (Intel now has the hardware to play in the mobile space) and console-level graphics engines are also rumored.
Apple has the supply chain power to get the latest, fastest hardware but it will need apps and features that will appeal to the wider user base, to keep them peddling on the upgrade cycle. Those world-stunning apps may take longer to develop than the hardware, hence the lengthening of Apple's launch cycle, just a thought.
Staying in the Game
Beyond that, now is probably the time that Apple will use all those gaming-industry hires it made last year to good use. Be it an official Apple wireless controller or third-party support, the company and developers now have the software and tools to put gaming front and center.
With HD-out to your big screen TV and a decent controller, games from big name developers could lead a charge right into the heart of the gap left by the aging PS3 and Xbox 360, and the non-appearance of their successors. Add in OnLive support for PC and older games and the game-focus can move away from lobbing avian pests around to core-audience games like Skyrim, Final Fantasy, Rage and other titles.