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The newest rumor out of the East from usual suspect Digitimes is claiming that Apple is set to "overhaul" its major product lines in 2012. The report mentions the lineups of the iPad, iMac, iPhone, and MacBook Air, citing leaks in Cupertino's supply chain. The word "overhaul" implies that Apple is planning major hardware redesigns from the inside out beyond internal specification upgrades.
iPad 2S or iPad 3?
Digitimes also goes as far as to suggest that Apple has two different iPad models in the pipeline, one of which would be an upgraded version of the iPad 2, which is said to see 2 million units built by year's end. It is expected to feature a high-resolution Retina Display with twice the current iPad's resolution, which would come in at 2048 x 1536.
LG Display (NYSE: LPL ) and Samsung are set to be suppliers for the display but may have run into production challenges, since Apple wants the device to be even thinner than its predecessor. The reports also contend that the "real iPad 3" will be launched during the third quarter of 2012 at the earliest.
It's harder to predict an iPad redesign, since it's been in the market for less than two years and the second iteration did feature a revamped body. It's not out of the question, but releasing two models in the same year is bound to alienate anyone who picks up the first model only to see a new one released six months later. The Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) iPhone 4 was released on a different schedule, but that device had a different context, with AT&T (NYSE: T ) exclusivity coming to an end.
iPhone 5, iPhone 6, or iPhone 4SS?
Yes, we were all "disappointed" that Apple didn't release an all-new iPhone this year, instead opting to append an "S" to the existing model. Cupertino now has somewhat of a precedent of sticking with physical iPhone designs for two years, with the iPhone 3G/3GS and 4/4S. The stage is now set for a redesigned iPhone 5 (or iPhone 6) to be introduced next year.
Chances are it will include 4G LTE speeds and near-field communications, which would be a boon for NXP Semiconductors (Nasdaq: NXPI ) . There's also been the possibility of an aluminum unibody tear-drop design with tapered edges, similar to the current iPod touch.
Although Apple has never gone with OLED technology for its displays because of supply constraints, to the protests of Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL ) investors, Apple has expressed interest in the technology, as evidenced by recently submitting a patent application to improve OLED power efficiency.
I think it's safe to say some type of redesign is in the works, since using the same body for a third year and tacking on an additional "S," making it the iPhone 4SS, just doesn't have a nice ring to it -- not to mention the, er, associations some people would be bound to make with the name "4SS."
It's hard to say the iMac line is in dire need of a physical refresh. Apple first switched from white plastic to the aluminum unibody design in 2007 and has since only made minor tweaks. I wouldn't bet too heavily on seeing a redesign here: There's less motivation to revamp the family, as users' upgrade cycles are longer for desktops than they are for mobile devices. It's hard to imagine how Apple would improve on the design for such a mature product offering anyway, beyond minor refinements.
MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or MacBook AirPro?
The current family of MacBook Airs was introduced in October 2010 with the 11-inch and 13-inch models. I have doubts that Cupertino will unveil a dramatically redesigned exterior for a model that's been around for such a short period of time. I'm going to just come out and say no on this one. Instead, there has been talk of adding a 15-inch model to the lineup -- that has more of a likelihood of happening, if you ask me.
The MacBook Pro family is much more likely to see a new case design in 2012, as its exterior has been largely unchanged. There has been speculation that Apple could merge the Air and Pro families together, but a unified family wouldn't properly address the separate consumer and professional markets. The two could take design cues from one another, such as the elimination of the Pro's DVD drive, but creative professionals need power, and consumers want portability.
Digitimes' track record is hit-or-miss, so keep that in mind with this latest batch of rumors. Many of the Apple rumors that float around nowadays inevitably lead back to the Taiwanese publication. Still, although I have reservations about some of the redesign rumors, others are fairly likely. The report doesn't mention the iPod touch, Mac mini, or Mac Pro lines, though, so no one knows what will become of those offerings.
Apple's industrial designs have always put PC vendors such as Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) to shame. If the company ends up releasing a broad-sweeping revamped lineup of all its best-selling product families, alongside a full-fledged Apple TV set, 2012 will be the Year of Apple.