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More Confused Apple Product Speculation

So after fretting over the ongoing dilution of Apple’s market cap, a new spate of positive comments sent the stock price soaring all over again on Wednesday. This roller coaster effect will likely continue until next week, when Apple spills the beans on the last quarter’s earnings picture.

In the meantime, though, it’s probably far more reasonable to speculate on what sort of product mix you should expect from Apple this year. Predicting the highs and lows of the stock price is best left to people who earn the big bucks by providing that information. Or maybe they should all be ignored because of the contradictions and the really amateurish reporting you see in the financial world these days.

Now when you want to speculate on Apple’s future product plans, things can go from logical to wacky real quickly. So, based on the way Apple has handled previous iPhone upgrades, and allowing for the factor of unpredictability, it’s fair to suggest the next revision will be an iPhone 5s. It will have essentially the same form factor as the iPhone 5, and may seem indistinguishable even up close. The media skeptics will rant how Apple is not creative anymore. But when you look inside, this iPhone 5s will sport faster parts, and maybe some extra features, such as fingerprint recognition and NFC.

NFC, or Near Field Communication, is one of those features that is already present on other smartphones. Samsung uses that as an advantage, showing you in some of TV ads how you can easily share your stuff by merely tapping another Samsung smartphone, and isn’t it interesting that you can’t do that on an iPhone? Well, once Apple is satisfied that the standard can be reliably implemented, which isn’t a given these days, you may see it turn up. The iPhone wasn’t the first to offer 3G and LTE either. For Apple, it’s never about adding new features, but adding features that make sense and usually work reliably. I say usually, since Maps for iOS 6 was obviously other than reliable.

So far, there’s nothing here that should strike anyone as stretching logic. It’s a natural evolution of the iPhone. But one analyst is taking about a different sort of iPhone 5, with a plastic back. I suppose that’s to make it cheaper, and somehow in keeping with speculation about a low-cost iPhone. But it hardly makes sense since, with the same components, the cost savings would be slight. What will probably happen is that the iPhone 5, in 8GB form, will be sold for less, probably $100 with a two-year contract. The iPhone 4s will take the low-end of the lineup, and the iPhone 4 will be history. But since even a free iPhone will cost roughly $400 without a carrier subsidy, some suggest Apple must make one cheaper yet, say in the $199 range. Think about hundreds of millions of potential customers in the third world, or in any situation where a subsidized wireless plan isn’t an option?

How to make a cheaper iPhone? Well, if Apple plans to sell hundreds of millions of copies, they might not have to sacrifice very much to bring the bill of particulars down. Or maybe they will use cheaper versions of some components, and consider ditching other features, but the latter doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; well partly. Without a Retina display, and with a cheaper, but no less elegant case, maybe Apple could sell one for $299.

Remember the analysts, so-called, suggested the iPad mini would be sold for $249 or $299, and you all know how that turned out. So I wouldn’t dispute the prospects of lower cost iPhone, but it won’t be nearly as inexpensive as the analysts suggest. That’s just not Apple’s way.

Regardless, it has been suggested the next iPhone will come by summer, along with, perhaps, iOS 7. Nothing to dispute there. I think Apple does want to speed up the product refresh cycle.

For the iPad, come March or April, the mini gets a Retina display. And the fifth generation full-sized iPad will be thinner and lighter. Again no stretch.

The same can be said about the long-awaited Mac Pro refresh, since Tim Cook promises a respectable revision to Apple’s professional Mac. It may even come with a new form factor, and thinner and lighter makes sense. But if it loses the optical drive, you are going to hear loads of complaints from content creators who will object to being forced to buy one as an option on a workstation, even if it’s only $79. This one you can expect by WWDC time, along with, perhaps, news about OS 10.9.

MacBooks will get expected product refreshes, and some suggest the Retina display will be available for less money and ultimately appear on the entire lineup. But wouldn’t it be nice if Apple relented about those impossible RAM upgrade prospects? The iMac, having arrived so late in 2012, probably won’t get a refresh till fall, and it’ll just be faster parts.

Aside from some iPod updates, what’s left? Oh yes, a certain TV initiative. But I still think it’ll be less about an Apple branded TV set and more about a souped up Apple TV box.

All so predictable. But what about the Apple gadget that you never thought you’d need, but, once you use it, you can’t live without it? Can Apple still deliver such a thing? And what would Apple gadget that you didn’t expect? What indeed!