Return of the RIM
Having just reviewed 2012, the first big act of 2013 is already pretty much set in stone. RIM will kick off the year with the launch of BlackBerry 10 OS and a range of new supporting devices including a full-on smartphone and a more typical keyboard toting BB10 model.
With the official unveiling to take place at the end of January in New York, RIM should have the scene pretty much to itself with the first consumer-focused devices coming out to coincide with Mobile World Congress which takes place near the end of February in Barcelona.
Samsung Stretches Its Lead
That event is likely to showcase a new Samsung smartphone, will it be the Samsung Galaxy S4 or another, budget-level device for the masses? We'll see, but Samsung has spent the end of this year diversifying its range to great success as it now the biggest seller of smartphones on the planet.
Samsung was pretty brave with the S3's design and an S4 could push the boat out further with more sculpting, innovative materials and the latest in Samsung's own processor technologies. Are we ready for a bendy-screen, soft-skinned device? Certainly not at the high-end yet, but Samsung's scientists are bound to have some cool new tricks to show us.
Of course, Samsung doesn't only play in the Android camp, and if its Windows Phone 8 devices help build that market, perhaps the successor to the ATIV S will take innovative queues from the Galaxy range?
One thing is pretty, sure Samsung will continue to build its lead in smartphones. On the subject of diversifying, Nokia will be looking to the mid-range Lumia 620 to drive sales of Windows Phone 8 devices. If anyone or anything is likely to challenge the big two, it will be this level of device that can appeal to a huge audience while offering 'new and different' features.
The Big Apple Question
Naturally, everyone will be looking to see what Apple will do in 2013, and our initial thoughts are not all that much. The iPhone 5 is so new, that apart from an iPhone 5S refresh, it is unlikely to show anything revolutionary on the phone hardware front until the end of the year.
If there is an iPhone 6 launch, Apple may have to create a larger form factor to keep up with its rivals who offer all kinds of screen sizes. Adding more width to the screen for another column of icons would be a natural move after making it taller (a move which many think looks odd), and a more scratch-resistant material had better appear in the next model to keep fans happy.
Similarly, with the new iPad and iPad mini working in tandem, there is little reason to expect a radically different-looking design for them. Perhaps Apple's big first move of 2013 will be a retina-class iPad mini, it will need some factory-side cost reductions to be able to launch one, but once the screens are available at the right price, that is probably a shoe-in.
However, behind the screens, Apple didn't really blow off the doors with the release of iOS 6.0, so perhaps fireworks are being kept for iOS 7.0. The Apple mobile interface is looking positively antiquated now and while Apple may not feel the need to change, the increasingly jazzy look of Android and Windows Phone 8 will be adding some pressure for an update.
Greater levels of flexibility and access to information from icons are constantly at the top of feature requests lists, so will Apple deliver changes in that area, or will it maintain the 'we know best' approach? Especially on the iPad it does look like there's a lot of space that could be better used.
Finally, Apple will look to tie in its smartphone, tablet and TV range into a unified experience (see the Tablet section below for more on that). While an Apple HDTV may be coming, most of the power and uniqueness for it will come from your existing Apple hardware.
Patent Battles Fading?
While 2012 may go down as the year of the mobile patent battle, 2013 might just be the year that these companies realised that they need to play nice. For example, the arrival of Google's Maps app on iOS saw user updates to iOS 6 jump hugely. The benefit to Apple is in limiting fragmentation and Google gets its ad-clicks.
Samsung and Apple finally seemed to have realised that running massive legal actions around the world isn't actually damaging their rivals (by kicking them off store shelves) as they'd hoped. Sure they're paying huge amounts in legal fees and costs, but public perception is not going the way they'd hoped.
As we see the Instagram/Facebook/Twitter spat unravel, even third-party app makers should see that playing with others is better than trying to go it alone. Hopefully a spirit of reconciliation will sweep all players and we'll have less of this silliness.
Tablets Are Where Its At
The tablet market found a neat balance in 2012, and the smaller devices, such as the Kindle Fire HD tied to a neat ecosystem will continue to do very well, and anyone else looking to do well will need a sufficiently unique offering.
This is where we might see revolutions in design and technology, as there is more room to play with materials and new concepts. The Galaxy Note is one example of what can be achieved and while a stylus might be old hat, who knows what development labs have in the pipe.
Eye-control could be one upcoming method of interacting with a tablet, since they all have the front-facing cameras now. haptic screens might also create better feedback via the glass, but these are likely to be niche innovations for now.
What we should expect tablets to better in 2013 is work on and with your home TV set in easier, more efficient ways. Improved and more interactive apps, programs and even TV events should firmly tie watching the TV and having your tablet running a related app to the show or event will become more common.
So, 2013, might not be quite the mega-event that 2012 turned out to be, as the hardware is rapidly maturing. However, on the software and content side, we have really only scratched the surface of what tablets can do. Things like Zeebox are only the start of a journey to better home media integration.