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The Dizzying Pace of Apple Speculation

So there’s a report this week that Apple’s main Asian manufacturing partner, Foxconn, is now on a hiring spree, supposedly to get ready to start building the alleged iPhone 5s. This comes not long after another published report appeared saying that Foxconn had cut staffing because of poor iPhone sales.

I know that if I was employed by Foxconn on the Apple production lines, I’d be mighty confused, being laid off one week, and being rehired the next. Is that a way to manage a company’s hiring practices? Maybe it would be better to keep on some workers to wind down the older manufacturing facilities ahead of setting up the new ones. But that’s just me, and I don’t claim to have any experience whatever in working or managing an assembly plant.

But this is just one more example of the illogical stories that get serious attention these days. Above all else, there’s the ongoing meme that Apple’s sales tanked in the March quarter, and that the company is poised to announce that they couldn’t even meet their own conservative guidance when the results are posted on April 23. Of course, none of this comes from anyone with intimate knowledge of the situation. Apple is pretty good about keeping earnings information a secret until the appointed time, although some details are occasionally revealed during a media event. Well, at least if the news enhances the marketing message.

Of course, even saying there will be an iPhone 5s is pure speculation. It’s all about assuming that Apple will behave in a predictable fashion, and that this year’s iPhone update will be a simple refresh of last year’s, with essentially the same look but with revised components. Maybe there will be some extras, such as fingerprint authentication and NFC. The former seems creditable enough, inasmuch as Apple did buy a company that pioneered that technology.

As to the rest of the features, talk of multiple sizes won’t stop. Today, Apple sells a four-inch and two 3.5-inch models, the latter by continuing to produce the 2010 and 2011 iPhones. That trend will probably continue with the new models, unless Apple breaks the mold and builds a lower-cost version, and maybe offers the high-end version in two or more screen sizes.

Why more than four inches? Well, because Samsung and other smartphone makers are doing very well with handsets in the five-inch range, so Apple must follow, I suppose. Apple’s argument has been that, if the screen size is too large, one-handed operation is difficult if not impossible. This is true from my experiences with last year’s Samsung Galaxy flagship, the S3, and I have long, thin fingers. Apple is approaching this from a logical point of view, I gather, but you can’t always assume customers are logical.

Even if there is a larger iPhone in our future, such as the mythical iPhone 5X, it’s possible Apple will justify the form factor with a configuration that is proportionate to the iPhone 5. This means that developers won’t have to rebuild their apps right away, and it’s possible screen resolution will scale up uniformly.

Then again, Apple’s Retina display may have a pixel density similar to that of other smartphones, but that doesn’t mean others have Retina displays too. I can tell you that I can clearly see the pixels on the Galaxy S3, even though, at 306 ppi, the spec is only slightly below the iPhone 5 (326 ppi). The difference should be insignificant, but clearly it’s not. And I won’t get involved in the differing technologies and how they might influence the end result.

What has allowed unfiltered and unconfirmed Apple speculation to continue unbounded is the fact that the company hasn’t said very much about new products. There are promises of great things, which mean nothing until the promises are fulfilled. Existing product changes so far this year have been so minor as to be relatively insignificant in the scheme of things. The Apple TV uses a smaller chip, for lower power consumption, but basic specs are the same. There was a minor MacBook Pro with Retina display refresh that combined lower prices on the 13-inch models with better specs for the 15-inch variety. You can get a fourth generation iPad with 128GB storage, and I can only hope prices on solid state memory are coming down to the point where you’ll be able to get more for less real soon.

Oh yes, there was talk of an imminent announcement of the next Mac Pro, or whatever it will be called when the promised 2013 version is out. The recent NAB convention would have been a great place to make that announcement, but it may just be that it’s still not ready. The Intel Xeon chips that will supposedly power the thing won’t be available until the second half of the year, so you may see a Mac Pro announcement at the WWDC, with shipping in July or August. Indeed, Intel may be responsible for delaying the thing.

That’s it for the almost reasoned speculation. And now let’s get back to the iWatch and the Apple connected TV. Or maybe not.