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The Apple Report: Losing the Faith?

Loyal Apple customers haven’t had an easy ride over the years. For those of you who started using Macs back in the 1980s, at times you wondered whether the company would be bought out and fade away, or just shut down. This was particularly true in the early 1990s, long after the enforced departure of co-founder Steve Jobs. It seemed as if Apple just couldn’t catch a break, but don’t forget the procession of clueless executives who hastened the process simply because they didn’t get it.

You can certainly agree that Steve Jobs got it, for after his return to the company, he fashioned it into the most powerful tech business on the planet. Today, Apple counts for a lot more than Microsoft, even though the aging Windows OS is still to be found on the majority of PC desktops. Today, Microsoft is fighting the battle to remain relevant with the apparent failure of Windows 8 and the Windows Phone mobile platform.

All right, maybe Windows isn’t quite a failure yet, but Microsoft needs to make a lot of changes before it’s too late.

Despite hitting the pinnacle of success, Apple’s future prospects are being questioned by the media and industry analysts. After a record quarter that didn’t quite match estimates from the financial community, Apple has continued to confront declines in the stock price and perceptions that their best days are behind them. Without significant product updates in the first quarter of the year — and the MacBook Pro with Retina display refresh was so minor you wonder why it merited a press release — the critics are wondering about the next great media event.

If you look at traditional product roadmaps, they’re skewed. The iPad had a full refresh in October, so it may be a tad early for another. It’s also early in the game for the iPhone, and now that a slightly revised version will be sold by T-Mobile — the revisions to accommodate different cellular frequencies — would Apple just render the model obsolete two months later?

Last year, the iPhone 5 arrived 11 months after the iPhone 4s. If that schedule is kept, and nothing is certain with Apple, the next model will arrive in August along with iOS 7. The only Mac that hasn’t had a recent update is the Mac Pro. Tim Cook has promised something big to satisfy the content creators who depend on that workstation to earn their keep, but when will it happen?

And will it be built in the USA?

The next Mac Pro refresh, with a new name or not, would seem tailor-made for the WWDC, which usually happens in June. But the next generation of Intel Xeon chips that might be fitted into the guts of a Mac Pro won’t be out until later in the year, though it’s not at all unusual for Apple to get first dibs on new processors. It’s also possible that Cook will announce a new Mac Pro in June for, say, August shipment. Since existing Mac Pros can’t even be sold in Europe, the potential loss of sales won’t account for much.

The WWDC might also launch OS 10.9 and iOS 7, though it’s possible there will be earlier media events to introduce both. But time is short.

So what other product might Apple deliver before June? Or will it be barren until then? Well, beyond a new iPad, and there are unconfirmed reports that iPad mini shipments will be cut early in the quarter in preparation for a new model, what else does Apple have up its immense sleeve?

Sure, Cook has promised great things this year, but that promise only raises anticipation that the promise will be kept. So what can we expect? One possibility is a wearable device of some sort, perhaps an iWatch. But aside from rumors that 100 Apple engineers were working on the product, nothing has been heard. There are no supply chain leaks as to the form such a beast might take, whether it’ll be an iPhone and iPad peripheral, or serve duty as a standalone device. Nothing. However, a consumer gadget of that sort might best appear as a fall introduction ahead of the holiday season.

The same might be true if Apple plans to do a major Apple TV upgrade of some sort, and particularly if that upgrade will accompany the release of a TV set. A recent story had it that Apple was considering a move to the high-resolution 4K format (HDTV on steroids), but that would mean a huge purchase price. Besides, Apple rarely ventures into such uncharted waters of that sort early on. If 4K, or Ultra HD, really catches on, Apple might get involved once the prices for the hardware approach reasonable levels, and we’re still a few years away from that, assuming customers even care. Remember that 3D has done little or nothing for TV makers, and you can find the feature even in relatively cheap TVs these days. It’s just another seldom-used feature that is used for bragging rights.

It may also be true that Apple is planning something none of the analysts has predicted. Hard to believe, but it might explain Apple’s silence on such matters.