After iPhone 4, What's Next for Apple?
1) Apple TV, take two: Apple's set-top box has never garnered much respect from reviewers, consumers, or even the company itself. Steve Jobs famously (or infamously) referred to the device as a "hobby" back in 2007 at the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference. Living room entertainment has changed dramatically since then--video streaming, in particular, has gone mainstream with the burgeoning popularity of Netflix and other online movie sites--and rumor has it that Apple TV will soon undergo a similar transformation. Engadget recently reported that an upcoming Apple TV box will feature 1080p HD video, cloud storage (rather than the hard drive found in today's model) for movies, TV shows, and music, and cost as little as $99. The device had better impress because competition in this space is intense. In addition to Internet-ready TVs and Blu-ray players, set-top boxes from Roku, and upcoming devices like the Boxee Box, the next Apple TV will have plenty of challengers. Oh, and a little company called Google has something in the works too.
2) iPod fall classic: It happens every September. Apple refreshes its iPod lineup at a music-oriented shindig in San Francisco. At last year's event, Apple introduced the video camera-equipped iPod nano, and announced a few minor upgrades and price changes to the rest of the iPod family. While the era of the standalone digital music player (excluding the iPod touch) is drawing to a close, there's still some life left in the genre. This year's happening could bring a Web-based iTunes service borne from the Lala online music streaming service, which Apple bought in late 2009 and shuttered last month. Long-suffering Windows users, forced to use the bloated and slow iTunes desktop client, would certainly rejoice.
3) iPod touch meets iPhone 4: Or Apple might dote on the iPod touch and pretty much ignore the rest of the iPods. Since the multi-talented touch is really an iPhone without the phone (or camera), it's likely the next-gen model will adopt the iPhone 4's slimmer shell and some of its capabilities. How about an iPod touch with a front-facing camera for FaceTime video chat? Considering the touch's popularity with kids, and the fact that it already has Wi-Fi (required by FaceTime), video chatting is a natural. As for the iPhone 4's rear-facing camera, no, the touch won't get it. Apple needs some product differentiation, after all.
4) MacBook upgrade: Too boring? Perhaps, but Macs still sell like hotcakes, even though Apple is obviously more focused on its mobile devices these days. The entry-level MacBook did get a minor upgrade recently, as did the pricier MacBook Pros. But what about the ultra-thin MacBook Air? Apple's once-hip-but-now-forgotten laptop is ripe for an upgrade, although some critics believe the Air's time has passed.
5) iPad 2: OK, the iPad is still new by Apple standards, which is fond of annual (or even longer) upgrade cycles. Still, Apple's tablet is crying out for a front-facing camera, particularly since the shiny new iPhone 4 has one. Tablets and video chat are made for each other, and the camera-less iPad is strangely ill-equipped in this area. Plus, competing tablets will almost certainly include a Webcam. It's unlikely a new iPad will debut by the end of the year, however. January 2011 is a safe bet though.
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