With 2012 winding down and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) entering the holiday shopping season with all sorts of new toys to tempt consumers, it's about time to start wondering what the Mac maker has in store for 2013. Before his death, Steve Jobs had reportedly left Apple with a solid four years of products in the pipeline. That leaves us with three more years of gadgets that Jobs had already cooked up for Tim Cook to execute on.
Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster is always up for offering up some predictions. Let's see what Munster thinks Apple has up its sleeve for the next year or so.
As if Apple didn't already infuriate some buyers of the third-generation iPad by releasing the fourth-generation model just six months later, Munster thinks that the company will release an iPad Mini in March that features a Retina display.
The smaller tablet's biggest weakness is easily its lackluster display, especially when compared to the panels on the competing Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle Fire HD and Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Nexus 7, so there is plenty of reason to address this common complaint sooner rather than later. The only problem is that updating the product so quickly risks angering early adopters that promptly snapped up the first-generation model that may have expected annual upgrades.
Rumors have already surfaced that Apple has tapped AU Optronics (NYSE:AUO) for 7.9-inch Retina panels with a 2,048 x 1,536 resolution. With Apple's six-month cycle for the fourth-generation iPad, it's conceivable that the company would do the same with the iPad Mini.
Munster also thinks that Apple will finally open up its Apple TV platform for third-party developers, which would allow it to begin bolstering its TV app ecosystem ahead of a full-blown Apple TV set. Google TV is ahead in this respect, as Big G opened up its TV platform to developers long ago.
Apple might also launch an iTunes radio service, which could be a big threat to Pandora (NYSE: P). Pandora shares got crushed by 20% in September just on speculation that Apple was working on such an offering. As a first-mover with a large following, Pandora has a lot to lose if Apple steps into its ring, especially since it's not even consistently profitable yet.
Summertime, and the livin' is easy
Apple hosts its Worldwide Developer Conference, or WWDC, every June and should outline major operating system updates. At this year's WWDC, Apple updated its entire notebook lineup with the newest chips from Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). Munster thinks Apple will unveil MacBook Airs with Retina displays along with iOS 7 and the next version of OS X.
Intel's next-generation Haswell architecture is due out in early 2013, which should bring major improvements in its integrated graphics performance that can better handle Retina-caliber resolutions without the assistance of a discrete graphics processor. With Scott Forstall's departure, iOS 7 will probably begin to show Jony Ive's influence on the platform's design.
There should be no more lingering doubts that Apple has borrowed Intel's tick-tock strategy for iPhone launches, which puts 2013 as a "tock" year for the iPhone. The iPhone 5 saw an industrial redesign so the next model launched next September should expectedly be the "iPhone 5S."
Munster thinks the iPad Mini will also see a spec bump at the same time. That would be another iPad Mini upgrade just six months after a possible Retina model. That's a dangerous path to embark upon, because acclimating consumers to six-month product cycles is a tall order to fill.
This is about the time that Munster thinks Apple will launch a fifth-generation iPad, which should also see an industrial redesign to resemble the iPhone 5, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch. The full-sized iPad's product cycle is completely up in the air at this point, so the timing of this one is anyone's guess.
Thankful for an Apple TV set
Munster's educated guess is that Apple will launch its long-heralded Apple TV set in November, giving investors something else to be thankful for. The television set may come in sizes ranging from 42 inches to 55 inches and could cost in the range of $1,500 to $2,000.
The biggest unknown on this front will be the go-to-market strategy and content negotiations. Apple's obstacle to entering the TV market has never been about technology or vision, according to Steve Jobs. This is where Eddy Cue will earn his keep as Apple's online services head and current negotiator.