The iPhone 5 launched towards the end of 2012, and was heavily promoted as thinner, lighter and faster than any previous models, complete with a Retina display with integrated touch technology. That 4in screen was noticeably larger, allowing for an additional row of apps on the home screen, while retaining the same width as the 4S.
Powered by the A6 chip, the iPhone 5 claimed performance and graphics improvements up to twice as fast, along with all-important longer, more power efficient battery life. Clearly an improvement on the disappointing 4S refresh, it still left many underwhelmed and wondering whether Apple had abandoned true innovation for incremental improvements, while underestimating the technological advances made by rival smartphone providers. The Samsung Galaxy SIII, HTC One X and Nokia Lumia 920 are all examples of handsets that have recently won rave reviews, and yet are significantly cheaper than the iPhone 5. Adding to Apple's potential woes were supply shortages, with Far East manufacturer Foxconn blaming the phone's complicated design for its slow production.
In 2012, Apple clearly lost ground to Google, with 122 million Android powered devices sold in the third quarter of 2012, representing 72 per cent of worldwide mobile sales, according to a study from Gartner Research. Apple enters the new year knowing it needs to once again push ahead and innovate, while building quickly on the solid if unspectacular foundation that is the iPhone 5. Analysts have already predicted the pace of new handset releases will quicken in 2013, much to the annoyance of customers keen to ensure the latest model stays current for a year.
The iPhone 5S or 6 could be available in the spring, earlier than many anticipate, and include a modest upgrade offering faster processor, more RAM and a better camera. It's been suggested that, in order to keep up with the competition and ensure its products have the most up-to-date technology, Apple needs to reduce its iPhone launch schedule from annually to once every six months. It has already set a precedent for this, reducing the iPad product life cycle by 38 per cent from an average of 13 months to just eight months with the launch of the fourth-generation iPad.
Apple might also consider offering the same choice now available to iPad users and introduce a smaller, more affordable iPhone.
The idea isn't new, with a source familiar with the matter recently claiming the handset will be offered to carriers at about half the price of the main iPhones, potentially appealing to a wider consumer base currently put off by high monthly contracts and data usage restrictions.
A cheaper iPhone could also help Apple win over the emerging markets of China and India, with the millions of potential customers there. While a smaller design would probably mean less memory, Apple could also increase this in a high-end version, 128GB being on the wish list of many more demanding users. Also on this list is the desire for Apple to address Near-Field Communications (NFC) payments, a system now embraced by rival smartphone providers. The new payment system would effectively turn the iPhone into a credit card, cleverly allowing for encrypted data to be passed between devices at close range without contact. Disappointingly, with the launch of the iPhone 5, Apple opted for the iOS 6 feature, Passbook, which uses barcodes displayed on its screen, and was seen by many as a poor man's workaround for not incorporating NFC.
We expect the next version of the iPad mini to have a Retina display.
If 2012 is anything to go by, Apple could have a wealth of new iPads available in the coming year, significantly reducing the time between each model appearing in stores and online, while expanding the range.
Without breaking down the numbers, Apple announced it had sold three million iPad minis and fourth-generation iPads in the first weekend of sales, which suggests the demand for new tablets hasn't been diminished by a more frequent release schedule. The faster turnaround on new models might also suggest Apple is simply reacting to market demand in a sector that still has yet to fully mature.
The iPad has decent competition at last, with Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and Google's Nexus 7 both winning plaudits, and more frequent iPad updates should help address any shortcomings. The third generation iPad, for example, didn't offer 4G or 'Cellular' reception in many countries, though the fourth-generation iPad goes someway to address that shortcoming. The growth of 4G in the UK over the coming months and years will undoubtedly make devices like the iPad much more appealing.
We expect Apple to continue to refine the iPad in 2013, with the mini particularly benefitting from a Retina Display and a move to the faster dual-core A6X chip. The fifth and sixth incarnations are likely to build on the advances Apple made by spending over $500m developing the A6 chip, with talk of an A7 already in development.
While Samsung continues to manufacture the A5 processor, Apple has chosen to purchase other components that Samsung previously supplied from different companies. The Korean giant's contract to provide mobile chips expires in 2014, so this year could be spent finding a suitable alternative supplier who can keep up with the huge demand for its products. If Apple can untangle those strong ties with Samsung, ultimately an entire iPad family could be pitched at different sectors of the market, including everyday users, creatives, business and education.
Now that Jonathan Ive is in charge of user interface design, perhaps the icons and other elements like the calendar, above, will be a little more tasteful.
With Jonathan Ive now in charge of Apple's Human Interface (HI) software teams across the company, and Scott Forstall, previously responsible for iOS development, gone, Apple's mobile OS looks set for an overhaul in 2013. Ive could decide to move away from the type of interface design known as skeuomorphic, which Forstall and the late Steve Jobs were reported to be such fans of. The interface, which tries to represent real-world materials such as leather and wood digitally, could make way for a more minimalist and classy look based on Ive's aesthetically pleasing hardware designs.
It's also likely we'll see a unified approach to human interface across the range of Apple products in coming years, blurring the distinction between mobile and desktops apps, smartphones and tablets, and laptops and desktop computers.
One thing we can be certain of is that Apple will fix issues introduced in the most recent mobile update, most notoriously Maps, which distracted from the advances introduced with iOS 6.
Apple's CEO Tim Cook has said the company is working to improve Maps, and we've already seen some noticeable improvements including better rendering and improved 3D Maps.
Apple will also need to enhance the usability and visibility of Passbook, which relies on transmitting payment data via barcodes, in future iOS updates. Introduced with iOS 6, possibly as a stop-gap for the lack of NFC support, Passbook will need to mature, the ability to make payments and collect loyalty card points for example, to be of any use in the long term.
Apple is working hard to improve its Maps app, so hopefully it will be back on track soon.
While iOS 6 brought a number of improvements to Siri, noticeably the ability to locate business information, it still appears underused, undervalued and in some ways left wanting.
Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak is one of many who have criticised the technology for underperforming. He claimed that before Apple bought Siri, the service would return useful results. "This was the future: speaking things in normal ways, feeling like you're talking to a human and how Siri was the greatest program," Wozniak said. He was disappointed that the software appeared to have lost some of its intelligence in the move to Apple.
The ability to launch apps just by saying their name into Siri is a cool feature and one that shows the potential of a world where Apple's mobile devices and "absolutely everything" will be controlled by voice.
Siri's failings need to be addressed if Apple hopes to be at the forefront in this voice-controlled world. Meanwhile, a recent job listing suggests the company is aiming to make Siri available in many more languages, including Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish in the not too distant future.
As anticipated, 2012 saw Apple refresh its iPod range, well half of it, with the touch and nano both getting an attractive makeover. The former particularly benefited from much-improved specs, including a dual-core A5 processor, Siri, a 4in Retina display and a 5-megapixel camera. Each device now ships with new EarPods as standard.
Despite the clear benefits of Apple's upgrades at least one leading analyst predicted the touch had: "Entered the final stage of its product life cycle." It's a view not shared by everyone though, and any move away from iPods would be an extraordinary one.
Apple built much of its success on the back of strong sales for the iconic music player and it's a safe bet to suggest it still has great appeal, if not the same strong user base. Additionally, Apple has no real competition in this market, unless you count it's own iDevices, and those wanting an MP3 player would have little left of quality to choose from.
For many, the nano and the shuffle are still the cheapest way to buy into the Apple brand, and today's iPod customers will likely be future iPhone and iPad users.
Price, however, has become a potential issue with the touch, despite often accounting for more than half of all iPod sales. The entry-level model is currently just £20 less than the cheapest iPad mini at £249. For lovers of the latest gadgets, the iPad mini clearly looks the better deal. Apple could always tempt doubters with an iPod touch price-drop, but based on previous form this seems unlikely.
One scenario could see Apple simply stop updating its newest iPods, at least in terms of hardware specifications. This would follow the lead set by the iPod classic, which remains quietly on sale despite not being updated since 2009.
If Apple does abandon the iPod in 2013, and we struggle to believe it will, we think it will be a mistake it will live to regret.