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The Apple Report: Time to Return to Sanity?

For one day, at least, it appeared as if the Wall Street freakout over Apple’s past and future prospects might be abating. The stock price had begun to soar way ahead than the market, increasing by nearly ten dollars per share at the end of the trading day, but that could be a blip. Predicting the market is best left for psychics and gamblers.

While that situation sorts itself out, and it may take some time to settle down looking at Apple’s ongoing product intros seems called for, and there are lots of possibilities.

Since iPhone 5 production only recently met demand, it seems fair to suggest that there’s no need for a refresh till summer. Apple has also traditionally aligned the release of a new version of iOS with the release of a new iPhone, and that probably won’t change this year. But barring any severe shortfalls in demand for the iPhone 5, it’s safe to expect an iPhone 5s that will look the same, but have a fair number of changes inside. One report suggests using a 13 megapixel Sony sensor, and there will no doubt be a more powerful Apple Ax chip of some sort. The rest of the changes are murky. Perhaps Apple will offer NFC, a scheme used for short distance communications, such as transferring your stuff to another smartphone, or making a credit card purchase.

Now NFC is the feature Samsung touts as a major advantage of the Galaxy smartphones over the iPhone, a simple way to share your stuff, such as photos and videos, between handsets. Apple’s excuse or reason for not having NFC is best explained in a recent interview with AllThingsD, where Worldwide Marketing VP Philip Schiller said Passbook should be able to handle payments without employing existing payment processing systems. But he’s not addressing the file sharing advantage. It’s also true that Apple doesn’t always jump on new technologies until they are tested, proven and reliable, such as 3G and LTE, where the iPhone followed, rather than led, the competition.

So maybe NFC will arrive with the iPhone 5s, or Apple will get around the easy sharing factor with Bluetooth in the next iOS revision. Bluetooth doesn’t require new hardware, and that opens up the feature for hundreds of millions of iPhones.

There is also that rumor about a cheaper iPhone earmarked for developing countries and those who want a cheap smartphone for a prepaid plan. With even the existing iPhone 4 selling for upwards of $400 unlocked, even at a sharp discount, this might make sense for a purely financial point of view. Apple sells more units, makes more revenue. But Apple doesn’t play the cheap gadget game, although what they do sell is competitive with the competition. If enough profits can be had with the existing iPhone price ranges, why get involved in gutter competition with the rest of the industry? That’s never been Apple’s game, even if market share would soar. Besides, other than Samsung, what company out there makes decent profits from mobile handsets?

The expected improvements in the iPad are fairly predictable whether they happen by spring or later in the year. The full-sized iPad gets lighter and faster, and iPad mini — fast becoming the mainstream iPad — receives a Retina display. This week’s announcement of a 128GB version of the fourth generation iPad is just a normal configuration adjustment that reflects the greater availability of larger capacity memory at a reasonable price.

With the 2012 iMac still barely available, there probably won’t be another upgrade till fall. At that time, it’ll be all about faster parts, but a Retina display is still up in the air. At a normal viewing distance, the improvement won’t be so obvious and maybe it won’t be worth the added cost to Apple and the customer. When Retina displays are priced in the same range as regular flat panels, Apple might make the move. But not just because it gives them bragging rights.

At the same time, I suppose it’s possible that Retina displays will find their way into the MacBook Air, maybe as a high-end model to start, and eventually displacing all the standard displays throughout Apple’s note-book lineup.

Any upgrades to the Mac mini would involve simple refreshes. The Mac Pro will get a major upgrade, because that’s what Tim Cook promised, and he appears to be a man of his word. The largest changes will be a slimmer, lighter case without sacrificing much if any of the expansion possibilities. I can’t see that as a problem, considering that today’s Mac Pro is far heftier than the original expandable professional Macs, such as the Macintosh II, and the industry has learned lots about parts and layout miniaturization in the ensuing couple of decades.

The most anticipated product may be a possible successor to the Apple TV. There are reportedly clues to a new model embedded in a current version 5.2 software update (code name J33I, compared to J33 for the current model), but it may only represent a minor refresh, perhaps with a more powerful processor and extra internal storage. The “real” improvement remains up in the air, and the rest gets real foggy. Does Apple plan on a major expansion to the Apple TV, perhaps to make it a true digital hub of some kind that would manage all of the devices connected to your TV? What about a smart TV bearing the Apple label, and does that even make sense? As most of you regular readers know, you can color me skeptical about that prospect.

But none of those, however good the products, and however fast Apple’s sales grow, will halt today’s shaky stock market prices. But at least Monday looked promising.