Predictions for Apple in 2012

1. The MacBook Air. Apple is on to something here. MacBook Air (MBA) sales are zooming, with over 800 percent year/year growth and even cannibalizing iPad sales according to some reports. I know Apple is noticing. The MBA has finally taken off because Apple did what it should have done long ago: lowered the price, added a second USB port, added a lighted keyboard, expanded the max memory to 4 GB and dumped the Core 2 Duo, which was a so-so CPU. The MBA will continue to evolve and set the standard for Apple notebooks.

2. Along those lines, I predict the Apple patent for a thinner optical drive will only be used for the 17-inch MacBook Pro (MBP). The 13-inch MacBook Pro will die and be replaced by the MBA. The 15-inch MBP will lose its optical drive as well and become the “15-inch MacBook Air” and the 17-inch MBP will keep its name and the optical drive, but be a lot thinner than it is now.

3. Apple HDTV. I believe Apple will get into the HDTV market in a small way for people who don’t want to sign up for cable or satellite TV. It’ll be a modest, 32 to 40 inch LED/LCD, non-3D, work on Wi-Fi, have really good speakers that synthesize a virtual Dolby 5.1 system, and work nicely in a bedroom, den, or small apartment. It’ll be a really cool boutique, camel-nose-under-the-tent device, make no dent in the overall market, but instead will be a trial balloon and test market device to see if it makes any money. Accordingly, Apple will reduce the price of the current Apple TV to US$79 to increase sales, better compete with Roku, and reduce buyer’s remorse if they later buy an Apple HDTV. Timing: autumn of 2012 leading to Christmas season.

4. The Mac Pro will be discontinued. Apple is all into the consumer market, and there’s just no future for this aging, heavy, awkward Macintosh. But that’s not to say the Mac mini can’t gain a lot of CPU oomph. I’m expecting the Mac mini to grow a little and get a lot more powerful.

5. iPad 3 HD. This is a no-brainer. We know the iPad 3 is coming in the spring with a 2048 x 1536 pixel display and a better camera. Apple’s previous conceit was that you don’t need a good camera in a tablet. That idea has been repudiated by the competition and the iOS developers. I expect a 4 MP (rear) camera. I also expect the base iPad 2 will continue to be sold, after the iPad 3 launch, for $299 all through 2012. Call it the “3GS” effect.

6. Lion Tweaks. Apple will introduce a heavily revised version of Lion, 10.7.x at WWDC 2012, and perhaps it will affectionately be called Lion Cub. It’ll be the result of some better thinking about how to handle the movement to iOS integration, installation, gestures, versioning, and sandboxing. It’ll defuse the brewing irritations and make the developers and users a lot happier.

Lion crystal ball

7. Patent litigation will get smoothed over. Apple has been trying to slam dunk those who seem to have infringed on Apple’s iOS patents. The goal was to drive Android into oblivion. I think two things will happen in 2012. First, Apple will realize that it cannot destroy Android and secondly, the business of trying to block infringing devices from retail sales in many countries is an exhausting and futile endeavor, especially as the competition returns the favor and tries to block Apple sales. As a result, Apple will instead work to quietly achieve a detente, extract a revenue stream from these infringements and then focus on innovation, manufacturing techniques (and its corresponding economic leverage) and licensing revenues in order to maintain supremacy in the tablet market.

8. Second generation Thunderbolt (TB) devices. A birdie told me that his company is not happy with the first generation Thunderbolt specifications and they’ll wait for Apple’s next generation TB. In 2012, with the hard disk supply line improving, SSD prices dropping as a result of the temporary interruption, and a next generation TB interface, I expect to see a flood of TB accessories. Unfortunately, the MBA’s we bought in the summer of 2011 may not be able to take full advantage of them.

9. iPhone 5. Another no-brainer. We’ll finally see an iPhone 5 with a larger display, 4G/LTE capability, and many Siri(ous) integrations and improvements. Apple will work out the security details with the carriers and merchants, and we’ll see Near Field Communications (NFC) and the Apple digital wallet. For example, the GPS system will identify your location at a restaurant that supports digital wallet payments, and all you’ll have to do is tell Siri to pay your check with a 20 percent tip. Done. Grab a mint on the way out.

10. Changes in iBookstore/Newsstand. I think 2012 will be the year that the rest of the industry figures out how to undermine Apple’s original (modest) success in the sale of magazines and newspapers on the iPad. Microsoft seems to think there’s an opportunity there. Despite unfavorable initial reviews, the Kindle Fire will only get better and put more pressure on Apple’s iPad. If Apple isn’t careful, the iPad could fall out of favor as the primary news/newspaper/magazine/book reader. Lower iPad 2 pricing going forward in parallel with the new iPad 3 and better terms for traditional print publishers will have to happen.

As an aside, as a virtual 11th prediction, I suggest that Apple will be less abrasive in 2012.  The company will back away from controversial, seemingly harsh moves, guided by the steady hand of Tim Cook.  While Steve Jobs couldn’t wait to secure his legacy and finish the work he started, the current executive team will focus on the essentials: security, customer trust, and rolling out new technologies with care in order to elevate customer satisfaction and confidence. That will help counter the copycats.