In contrast to many tech companies dampened down by the recession, Apple experienced rising revenue and profits throughout 2009, buoyed by strong sales of its various product lines. But those sorts of shareholder-heartening numbers rely on a constant base of innovation, and Apple will likely need to keep evolving in order to effectively counter competitors such as Google and Microsoft.
Apple has already announced some of its strategies for 2010, including an increased number of retail stores. Other possible plans, such as the release of a tablet PC and an expansion of its iPhone onto multiple carriers, have thus far remained products of the ever-grinding rumor mill. In any case, the following items detail what Apple could attempt in 2010.
The iPhone on Multiple Carriers
Being the exclusive provider of the iPhone in the United States has proven both beneficial and a detriment to AT&T. The smartphone has proven a rousing sales success, but with it has come pressure on AT&T's network. According to the company, its smartphone traffic has increased by 5,000 percent in the past three years.
AT&T has experienced intense criticism for the iPhone's lack of coverage in major urban areas such as New York City, to the point where the company released a free mobile application, AT&T Mark the Spot, which allows customers to communicate areas of service interruption. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless has been gleefully smashing its rival's national 3G coverage in a wide-ranging ad campaign, eventually goading AT&T to file (but later retract) a lawsuit.
Still, Apple's biggest impetus for expanding the iPhone's providers beyond AT&T could come from Google. Smartphones with Google Android, notably Motorola's Droid and HTC's Droid Eris, have been gaining mindshare and marketplace momentum in recent weeks. The Android Marketplace features an increasing number of mobile applications. Moreover, rumors suggest that Google will begin directly selling its much-ballyhooed Nexus One smartphone starting on Jan. 5.
To help blunt the threat poised by this increased competition, Apple could very well choose to open the iPhone to other providers. The AT&T contract is due to expire in 2010, leading to speculation that Verizon could offer a CDMA version of the iPhone at some point after that.
Previously, some analysts have suggested that Apple could very well choose to renew the AT&T contract. "The main reason Apple is likely to stick with AT&T beyond 2010 is the relatively wide usage and growth expected for the HSPA air standard used by [AT&T] for 3G data," iSuppli analyst Francis Sideco said in a September statement.
But that was before the rise of the Droid, and AT&T's recent burst of negative publicity. As the situation stands now, chances could well be higher that Apple will widen its iPhone provider base in 2010.
The Release of the iTablet, or iSlate, or iPad, or iPod Slate, or...
Given the sheer amount written about Apple's tablet PC in 2009, you'd mistakenly think that the device had already been released. In reality, Apple has still not confirmed that such a tablet is even under development, despite the massive numbers of Apple-centric blogs and analysts devoted to writing about it.
In the past few days, the term "iSlate" has emerged as a prime candidate for the name of this particular piece of vaporware, thanks in part to a discovery by the MacRumors blog that Apple could own the domain name iSlate.com. On top of that, TechCrunch uncovered that the trademark, "iSlate," was registered by a company that could possibly be an Apple dummy corporation. But the name of an eventual device is still open to conjecture.
Other rumors suggest that Apple has rented the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for several days near the end of January, with unnamed sources saying that a "major product announcement" is coming Jan. 26. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has pegged the chances of a January event at 75 percent, with a further 50 percent chance that the event will see the Apple tablet unveiled for the first time.
Analysts, meanwhile, have posited that such a tablet will have either a 7-inch or 10-inch screen, run on either a modified version of the iPhone OS or Mac OS X, be released at some point between January and April, include 3G wireless and offer content from book publishers, and cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000. An August report in The Wall Street Journal suggested that Apple CEO Steve Jobs was spending nearly all his time working on the tablet, which led him to respond to the newspaper with a curt "most of your information is incorrect."
Given the deafening level of buzz, the most shocking tablet-related announcement will be if Jobs takes the stage sometime in the next few months to announce that such a device was never under development in the first place. But given the variety of sources and the rumors' staying power, it's not unsafe to suggest that Apple will announce something tablet-related in 2010, likely in the first quarter.