Over the years, tech pundits and so-called industry analysts have been saying over and over that Apple will inevitably build their own TV set — someday. On the heels of the claim from Steve Jobs, in that authorized biography, that he had solved the secret of the best TV interface ever, many felt that such a product would see the light of day really soon now.
In 2011, they said 2012, and some companies, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, demonstrated advanced TVs possibly anticipating something from Apple. Compare that to the way new tablets were prominently displayed in 2010 ahead of the arrival of the iPad. But many of those fledgling tablets never saw the light of day, even though the form of the iPad, which some compared to a bloated iPod touch, was fairly predictable.
When Apple failed to deliver anything more than a refreshed Apple TV with support for 1080p resolution last year, the media said it therefore must happen in 2013. I expect you’ll see even more products at the CES anticipating Apple. Samsung has already promised the “new shape” of TV. This is most curious, as more and more TVs these days are little more than screens with narrow bezels and thin cabinets. Not quite as thin as a new iMac, but the trend is there.
LG Electronics, a main rival to Samsung, has already announced a 55-inch OLED TV, listing for more than $10,000, which will be sold in South Korea beginning next month. According to published reports, the set will weigh less than 22 pounds, and is a mere 4mm thick. Compare that to the 2012 27-inch iMac, which is, at the edges, 5mm thick, and weighs 21 pounds.
The price for the LG set might seem outrageous until you consider that the first commercially available plasma TVs, introduced in 1997, had 42-inch screens and cost $14,999. As OLED manufacturing techniques improve, you can bet that they will become reasonably affordable in a few years. For now, it’s a sure thing Apple isn’t going to launch an OLED set anytime soon.
So if there is going to be an Apple smart TV, expect the display technology to be a variation on the LCD theme. You probably shouldn’t expect anything that Apple isn’t already using, say, on the 2012 iMac.
When it comes to Apple’s set top box hobby, the Apple TV, I have already speculated about a digital hub version, but with three or four HDMI ports, and audio input and output jacks, such a beast would have to be a fair amount larger than the current model, maybe as large as the original version; in other words, comparable to the Mac mini. While such a product seems to make sense when it comes to integrating the various accessories that are found with existing TV setups, the form factor would have to be taken into consideration. But if the Apple TV Hub were offered as a complete replacement for your cable or satellite box, it might make perfect sense.
There is also renewed speculation about the form of the next iPhone. Will Apple cap the size at four inches, introduced with the iPhone 5, or will they add, say, a 4.5-inch model? Now one thing is certain, and that is that Apple makes no effort to fill every possible product niche, so on the surface such a prediction seems nonsensical. There is just so far a smartphone can grow in size before it becomes a small tablet, or, as some call them, fablets. They are not as easily carried around as smartphones, though it appears that Samsung’s fablet lineup has done reasonably well. Or at least that’s what some tech sites claim.
Even if it otherwise made sense to make a bigger iPhone, consider the additional element of app fragmentation for developers to confront. The side effect on the iPhone 5 is minimal, tiny borders on older apps, fixed by using the iOS 6 developer tools. To keep the apps compatible, there’s reasoned speculation that an iPad mini with Retina display will sport the same resolution as the 9.7-inch model. Considering that the existing model has the same resolution as an iPad 2, this would make perfect sense. It would also mean that apps wouldn’t have to be modified to work on the smaller model.
There’s also ongoing chatter about a smaller, cheaper iPhone to sell in the third world, where most wireless handsets these days are feature phones or cheap smartphones. But Apple has never played the cheap game. The current approach is to offer older models from two previous generations for those who want to save some upfront cash.
This approach appears to be working quite well, thank you, although pricing for the unlocked version of an iPhone 4 still ranges between $350 and $400. That is probably too much a climb for many, considering it’s free with a two-year contract.
What few predictions I’ve made for new Apple gadgets this year are all about predictable refreshes, or fulfillment of existing promises. But also remember that Apple’s approach, as expressed by Tim Cook, is to build the product you never thought you’d need, but, once you have one, you cannot live without. Can you say that about an Apple TV set, or a larger — or smaller — iPhone?