The future of Apple
What will Apple do next? It's the very secret sauce that keeps the company interesting, along with some very successful products.
Here are five predictions for the next 12 months as Apple heads into one of its most closely watched years yet.
Editors' note: This is the first in a series of stories looking ahead at what's to come from a handful of major technology companies, and technology categories. In the coming days CNET will do the same for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and others.
Apple TV, take four
Has there ever been an Apple product with this much rumor intensity behind it? Well sure -- the iPad, and the iPhone before it. As the saying goes, where there's smoke there's fire, and the chances of Apple finally releasing a big new TV product in 2013 are looking hot.
Uncertainty remains over just what kind of a product Apple's working on though. The company already has a set-top box, but it's not for plugging into your cable. Instead, its main purpose is to connect with Apple's digital stores, along with third-party streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. More recently Apple's added options to pipe video and other media content from iOS and Mac devices on the same Wi-Fi network.
Would Apple really forgo something small, simple, and cheap for what is likely to be an expensive piece of hardware that's difficult to ship, stock, and that people are likely to replace maybe once every five years? While a full-fledged TV set is a possibility, expect Apple to roll out a smarter set-top box with better ways to view TV programming and control basic TV functions -- two things Apple's current models can't do.
2. More settling with rivals.
If 2012 was the year of nasty court fights, 2013 will be the year of peace. We already had a taste of that with the 10-year truce announced between Apple and HTC in November. I think there's a good chance we'll see the same from two remaining fights Apple's in with rivals.
The clear frontrunner is Apple's spat with Samsung. It's been a nasty fight, and one that's got more nastiness in line with yet another trial that kicks off in 2014. The two sides have already met several times to talk things out, something that did not go anywhere. Samsung, for its part, has gone back and forth saying it's not willing to negotiate, while also recently pointing out that it was "willing" to sit down to talk it out again.
The other big fight is between Apple and Google. While late Apple CEO Steve Jobs pledged a "thermonuclear war" on Google's Android, current Apple CEO Tim Cook has suggested he's not as interested in litigation. Both fights with HTC and Samsung have been seen as proxies for a larger battle with Google. With that said, the first jabs in that fight -- in the form of a lawsuit between Apple and now Google-owned Motorola Mobility -- has not gotten off to a very promising start. A Wisconsin judge tossed out the case last month.
Rumors that Apple has been on the cusp of a subscription music service have swirled for years, but have not resulted in an actual product. Meanwhile, developer competitors like Spotify and RDIO have flown past Apple in offering cheap ways to get a massive collection of music, on demand, and on a multitude of devices.
Where has that left Apple? In the past few years it's been a platform enabler, giving these companies a place to hawk their apps. Meanwhile, it's slowly added more features to iTunes through iCloud that let users get their own music on demand.
Sources have told CNET that deals with the big three record companies are "nowhere near to being completed." However that doesn't rule out Apple dipping into its massive cash pile to sweeten the deal and get the service up and running.
4. Small maps improvements, but big investments
Apple's maps was easily the biggest new piece of software the company put out during 2012 -- not counting new versions of iOS and OS X. It was also a source of embarrassment, as users and press alike found places where the software fell short.
In 2013 improvements will be made, as some have been made already, but don't expect an overhaul overnight. Some of the software's staunchest critics were quick to point out that it took Google years to get its own maps software right, and that it had far more people working on it. Adding to that is the fact that with Google's own mapping software back on the platform, Apple may not get as many users on its own service to help improve its data.
There are already signs Apple is hiring additional staff to boost the group in charge of maps. That includes a slew of job postings that went up the same day the software went live, as well as reports Apple has been recruiting heavily from rivals.
5. Siri out of beta
Apple's got some serious work to do with Siri. Now more than a year old, the once spiffy software is showing its age. Apple gave the voice assistant some new tricks with iOS 6, but Google made the service look slow and clumsy as part of its Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update. That software feature, which later trickled over to Google's search app on iOS, served up answers faster and often with more useful results.
So what can Apple do? Expect a big speed boost and integration with more third-party apps and services. There are also signs Siri might be headed to more places, like Apple's Mac and Apple TV platforms.