Home opinion-and-analysis Fuzzy Logic 2013: Year of the iPads again, joined by an iOS X hybrid?

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2013: Year of the iPads again, joined by an iOS X hybrid? Image Credit - digital mischief Featured

Although the tablet market is more competitive than ever before, with Google’s own Nexus tablets bringing needed momentum to the Android tablet space and helping Android marketshare grow, and Microsoft surfacing its Surface Windows RT tablet alongside Windows 8 tablets, Apple’s iPad is still the tablet everyone’s trying to copy, to improve on, to "kill" and to beat.

Despite Microsoft’s decade of Windows Tablets from XP onwards, which today have finally evolved into the properly touch capable Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets of today, alongside even earlier Pen Windows 3.1 efforts , the modern tablet era debuted in 2010 with the introduction of the Apple iPad.

Although it was derided as just a big iPod touch, the iPad’s 1024x768 canvas was more than big enough to enable developers to create apps with great new user interfaces, offering more than the limited space of an iPhone or iPod Touch screen while maintaining the touch friendly UI simplicity that iOS and iDevices are renowned for.

And so, iPad apps blossomed. The last known public figure for iPad apps comes from Apple itself, which boasts 275,000 iPad apps, all of which run on the iPad mini just as they do on the iPad.

That number has surely grown since the iPad mini’s launch last year to what must be close to or having perhaps even now well surpassed 300,000 iPad apps, a real possibility given the figure of 250,000 iPad apps was reached in September 2012, growing to 275,000 in October 2012.

iPad accessories have also blossomed, even more so since the launch of the spectacularly slim and light iPad mini, lacking only the Retina department, a “deficiency” easily forgiven given the rest of the iPad mini’s mini package of mini iPad near-perfection.

iPad mini demand is even hot in China, a land that is awash in much cheaper brand name and Chinese factory made Android smartphone and tablet alternatives, and while flagship high-end Android smartphones and tablets from Google, Samsung and others have a UI, features and an experience to legitimately challenge iPads, iPad minis and iPhones, Apple’s experience is still the Apple experience, and only Apple offers it.

However, given the rapid product development in the Android smartphone and tablet world on multiple fronts, now joined by a smaller yet multiple number of manufacturers creating Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets and Windows Phones, rumours of Apple accelerating its product cycle sound good - and just in time to tackle the ever growing competitive threat.

This helps Apple keep its entire line of iPhones old and new more competitive, as the oldest iPhone (which would next be the iPhone 4) gets pushed out, and the 4S moved down to the entry-level model, alongside the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5S or 6 depending on Apple’s naming desires, thus better competing with the fast pace of Android change - alongside the renewed Windows Phone 8 challenge.

It also helps consumers more easily pass on a brand new generation knowing the next one’s around six months away, with this new gen then available at a lower price, while giving those who need a new smartphone a brand new model to buy now, rather than one that is 11 months old.

The same cycle is at play with the iPad, with the iPad 2 at the entry-level rung of the iPad equation, and the iPad 4th-gen replacing the 3rd-gen altogether.

The next iPad will surely be lighter and thinner while retaining the Retina display and 10 hour battery life, alongside expectations of an iPad Mini 2 with Retina display, something which could help push the current iPad Mini’s price down to sub $300 or better to compete with $99 to $250+ Android tablets and even the rumoured $99 Nexus tablet to come.

With these new devices come ever faster processors and more memory, too, alongside fancier and more capable graphics, helping ensure iPad apps continue looking the best in the business throughout 2013, with that being an incredibly important edge against the Android and Window RT/8 tablet app worlds, neither of which are yet anywhere near as mature and rich as the iPad tablet app library is today, with nearly 300,000 iPad specific apps towering well above the competition.

Apple, Google and Microsoft are going to have to do a tremendous amount of work with this to get developers on board, for everyone that isn’t Apple wants to build an app store as big as Apple’s and beyond, something that’s a true ace up Apple’s crunchy sleeve.

Although Windows 8 and a flood of touch screen laptops and tablets will do their utmost to unseat the iPad, iPad mini and Android tablets, the momentum is all still going Apple’s way.

Yes, Google’s Nexus efforts have most certainly borne fruit and delivered much needed added boosting momentum to the Android tablet market, but it’s still Apple’s multi-sized iPads that deliver the most comprehensive tablet experience here on the first day of 2013, and unless or until there’s an impressively radical and seismic shift in massive numbers to put Android and Windows 8/RT app development first, Apple’s iPad momentum will only continue multiplying throughout 2013, despite the Android and Windows threats.

2013 is also the year that Apple might finally launch iMacs and MacBooks with touch screens, whether as MacBook Air-style notebooks that are really MacPad Air tablets where the screen and keyboard detach in the way we’ve seen Android tablets accomplish, except with a special iOS X hybrid blend of iOS and Mac OS X that blows away everything Microsoft has accomplished with Windows 8.

Perhaps it will simply be called Mac OS X 10.9, rather than any form of iOS X nomenclature.

Sadly there’s no confirmation that Apple is doing any such thing beyond its integration of iOS elements into Mac OS X 10.7 and 10.8, but with Windows 8 and a prediction from Acer’s CEO that, after 20 minutes, people naturally gravitate to touch on touch-screen laptops, and that Windows 8 touch screen laptops will be “everywhere soon”, alongside Android tablets, all of which are fully multi-touch enabled while offering full wireless keyboard and mouse capabilities, 2013 may well finally be the year that Mac OS X 10.9 or iOS X becomes an OS that touches you personally as does today's iPad and iPhone iOS, rather than only through the inbuilt touchpad or Apple's multitouch magic trackpad accessory.

With an iPad Pro or MacPad Air, you’d get all the benefits of the iOS environment along with a radically accurate touch control of the Mac OS X desktop, through touch-elements only seen on touch-enabled Mac OS X hardware - something "desktop" operating systems and "desktop" software/apps will inevitably simply detect and cater for when used with a touch-based system as is already happening with Office 2013. 

iPad purists might say an iOS X hybrid will never happen, with the iPad its own growing platform fully dedicated to touch, but in a world where Windows 8 tablets work equally well with touch, keyboard, mouse and pressure-sensitive stylus, the creative-friendly Mac and its OS X is hopefully going to go exactly the same way, except with Apple’s usual revolutionary differences that actually make great features and enable genuinely great marketing.  

Perhaps the iOS X hybrid will never happen, or won’t come until 2014, but even if it does arrive as an end-of-year next-gen iPad Pro or MacPad Air, the vast majority of 2013 will still have been the year of the iPad 4th, 5th and even 6th gen, with the iPad Mini 2 and even 3 due to arrive this year in 2013, if this rumoured new faster delivery schedule is on schedule for faster iDevice delivery.

Google and especially Microsoft still have a giant fight ahead of them to definitively challenge Apple’s iPad supremacy, and for that reason, barring an unforseen radical shift in a new direction, 2013 looks set to be the year of the iPad and now the iPad mini yet again, with there still being a chance that this is the year an iOS X hybrid or at least touch-screen Macs and Macbooks are coming, too.

Happy New Year!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks, including stints as presenter of Ch 10’s Internet Bright Ideas, Ch 7’s Room for Improvement and tech expert on Ch 9’s Today Show, among many other news and current affairs programs.

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