Predictions Apple 2011: buys TomTom, 3D iPhone, more

December 14, 2010 10:09 AM EST
If you thought Apple [AAPL] had a busy year in 2010, expect even more in 2011, when at least one analyst is expecting significant acquisitions, a move into 3D, the introduction of its connected TV set and the emergence of multi-core processors in the iPhone and other mobile devices.

These predictions are among 12 emerging from CCS Insight director of research Ben Wood, and while Apple-guessing is not an exact science, some of these notions make some sense to me.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

"Apple to buy TomTom"
This one makes sense because Apple clearly wants to reduce its dependence on Google Maps (recall last year's PlaceBase purchase?) and such a move would help by giving Apple the mapping assets of Tele Atlas, just as it would also give Apple a bunch of patents pertaining to turn-by-turn navigation and more.

Better yet, you could expect a wave of useful location-based features to reach MobileMe, third party apps, and, of course, Apple's iAds system. And, of course, such a purchase could assist Apple should it decide to make a stab at the auto-electronics market.

Tom Tom shares are currently trading at €7.81 -- while that's down a few cents on the stock's opening price, this means trades are currently set at their highest for the last 12 months.

"Apple to unveil the iScreen"
Could this happen? While Wood doesn't anticipate the long-predicted Apple television will ship before 2012, years of rumor have claimed Cupertino has a front room plan beyond Apple TV.

In line with expectations, Wood thinks this device will offer all the features of a television, games console, computer and will also deliver what he calls a 'life stream' of cloud-based services, such as photos, videos and social networks.

The device will be iTunes-connected and you'll be able to use an iOS gadget as a remote controller or game controller. These expectations match the muttering and speculation surrounding Apple's purported front room plan.

"3D goes mobile"
Expect a wave of ads claiming smartphones will be able to deliver 3D 'experiences', but take them with a pinch of salt, warns Wood: high-end devices (iPhones, for example) should be able to record and play 3D content, but this is early-stage technology. "Consumers will be disappointed," Wood warns.

Will Apple play? No one knows for certain, but it continues to file those 3D patents and recent news from iPad graphics chip supplier Imagination Technologies is interesting. This morning that company (itself owned 9 percent by Apple) confirmed it has acquired Caustic Graphics for $27 million.

Caustic Graphics makes the OpenRL SDK. "Built on the OpenGL and OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL) APIs, the OpenRL SDK is a cross-platform, industry-standard programming API with unique raytracing extensions," the company says.

I can't be certain Apple plans an immediate move here, but the purchase sure is interesting. It implies even deeper compatibility between the graphics chip and the processor in future mobile devices. Imagination Technologies is certainly assembling the building blocks.

"iPad competitors will fail"
I kind of know how this one might go down here. Wood warns that iPad competitors will not meet over-optimistic sales expectations. This is partially because everyone and their brother is pulling a tablet together, which is likely to mean too much supply hitting too small a channel.

The result? iPad competitors will be forced into a price war. Profitability will drop. Meanwhile those ultra-low-cost Android tablets will "irrevocably damage consumer perceptions and dent the market's potential".

Regular readers already know what I think.

Carriers face network hassles
There's a number of issues here, which I'll summarize:

  1. Operators will move to tiered services in an attempt to manage huge demands on their data services as consumers get ever more entranced in video.
  2. In an attempt to manage this, subscription services will be pushed by carriers and net neutrality on mobile devices will become a big talking point.
  3. "Operators will pay subsidies based on the data efficiency of a software platform, flavoring BlackBerry over iOS and Android," Wood writes. He also predicts that we'll see carriers offer the best deals with devices that aren't as data hungry.  I've heard network industry insiders mutter about this before -- those notifications you receive on an iPhone? The device polls for these regularly. All this raises network traffic and bandwidth demands. I'd suggest reducing network data demands may be high on the list for Apple's iOS 5.0.

Former Google employee, Gmail creator, and FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit, has said he believes Chrome now has "no purpose that isn’t better served by Android," predicting Google's OS will be killed or merged with Android next year. Wood agrees, calling Google's Chrome OS a 'problem child'

Wood offers a host of other interesting predictions for the coming 12 months: Dual processor smartphones will emerge as the best-in-class devices. Eager to take on Apple, Nintendo will launch DS Mobile, its own connected device. Too little, too late?

My favorite prediction: Facebook will buy Skype and launch its own calling service which will be accessible from within Facebook apps on mobile devices. Carriers will be upset.

I think there's a good degree of substance in Wood's predictions. Do you? Can you see dual-core processor iPhones running 3D screens in your future? Would you buy an 'iScreen'? Let me know in comments below. If you want to keep up with the AppleHolic, please follow me on Twitter and get these blogs when they first get published over here at Computerworld.