Could 5 new iOS devices make up Apple's fall family?

Previous years have seen Apple's annual fall music event showcase iTunes and iPod in decreasingly spectacular fashion, last year's exceptions being the iPod touch 4 with cameras and the all new, all iOS-powered Apple TV. This year could be very different, with the possibility of Apple introducing up to 5 new iOS devices to the family at roughly the same time. It would be unprecedented, but so was no new iPhone back at WWDC 2011 in June.

1. iPod touch 5

If anything would usually be considered a safe for the fall music event, it would be a next generation iPod touch. For the last four years, Apple has introduced a stripped down, non-3G version of the same year's iPhone wrapped in iPod touch clothes. So this year we'd expect an iPod touch 5 with an Apple A5 system-on-a-chip (SoC) and enhanced cameras. (Along with fierce demands for 128GB option to finally retire the iPod classic, of course.) Since WWDC 2011 came and went with no new hardware, however, and we don't have a new iPhone 5 to base a new iPod touch 5 on, that challenges all preconceptions.

A new iPod touch definitely makes sense for the lucrative holiday season, but with so much else on their plate, it could end up being massively over-shadowed at best.

2. Apple TV 3

Last year's iOS and Apple A4-powered reboot of the Apple TV in a rental, streaming model at the low price point of $99 turned their previous set top box strategy on its head. An Apple TV 3 (or whatever a 2nd generation of the 2nd generation Apple TV would be called) is certainly a possibility for this fall, especially if the new Apple A5 chip could boost it to a true 1080p powerhouse. Would Apple have 1080p streaming content in place to support it? Would any other new technology, like AirPlay mirroring in iOS 5 make more horsepower make more sense? Quite possibly. There's every indication this is Apple's "hobby" entry into the living room app and console gaming market and they're going to want to hit it hard before competitors catch up. Again, it feels like a safe bet but one Apple could just as easily hold off on for another cycle.

3. iPhone 5

Unlike the last 4 years Apple didn't introduce a new iPhone back at June's WWDC 2011 so it feels like we're overripe for one. The general assumption -- and a lot of rumors -- indicate this fall we'll finally see it. Whether the delay was due to Verizon contacts, iOS 5 delays, or hardware production lead times, Apple probably needs to get a refresh out the door just to keep up with competitive pressure from Google, expired iPhone 3GS contracts on AT&T and other contracts, and the increasingly fashion-concious mobile market. Thinner, lighter, faster, these aren't the things Apple's TV commercials tell us matter most, but they're probably the things that will change the most for iPhone 5. The dual-core, ARM Cortex A9-powered Apple A5 processor is probably a given. An 8 megapixel, 1080p rear camera and FaceTime HD front camera feel likely as well. More RAM, 64GB of NAND Flash storage, and a larger, 3.7-inch screen, are on a lot of wish lists as well. (Hopefully 3D isn't, and we're still probably a year away from LTE 4G.)

The big question is whether or not it will be a major redesign or just a streamlined iPhone 4. Rumors have gone both ways, which isn't unusual given Apple typically tests both less and more ambitious prototypes during the design face, and field tests camouflaged units as production gets closer. I'm guessing we'll end up in between. A tweak, but not a major overhaul. Not yet.

white iphone hero

4. iPhone nano

iPhone nano rumors have been around as long as... the original iPhone. There's an iPod nano, after all, and it's the most popular model in the industry. Every other manufacturer makes multiple models, so why not Apple? If they want to move into greater demographics and emerging markets, it's a logical move. Just like Intel Macs and CDMA iPhones, they've probably had an iPhone nano, and other variants, deep in the Apple labs for a while, waiting until they felt was the right time for release.

With that in mind, Jeremy keeps hearing it's done, it's ready, and it's just waiting on Apple to pull the trigger. What "it" is, however, remains a mystery. Just like neither the iPad nor 11-inch MacBook Air are Netbooks, collectively they effectively address -- and eviscerate -- the netbook market. Apple is as notoriously hard to predict in advance as they are seemingly obvious in hindsight. A barebones feature phone is probably out of the question given the size and power of the App Store and iTunes ecosystems, but could a stripped down, 3- to 3.5-inch iPhone 3GS in new packaging work for the ultra casual and emerging markets? The lower resolution but still compatible screen and the other components, now enjoying huge economies of scale, make it an interesting idea.

(Georgia's still hoping the iPhone nano is a watch that "AirPlays" iPhone information to a more convenient screen.)

2010 iPhone 3GS 8GB

5. iPad 2 HD/Pro / iPad 3

Whatever you want to call it, Apple really could release another new iPad this year. Since they called 2011 the year of the iPad 2, iPad 2 HD or iPad 2 Pro (given the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro branding) makes more sense, but either way we might just see a new tablet with a Retina Display this fall. It's not an obvious choice, given how it will have only been 6 months or so since the (original) iPad 2 shipped, and since the "pro" market for iPads hasn't even begun to be established. But Apple doesn't exist in a vacuum. Component pricing and production yield rates could mean a 2048x1536 iPad can't be produced at Apple usual $499 price points, at least not any time soon. And while competing tablets from Samsung, BlackBerry, and HP webOS have failed to gain any real traction, they're going to keep coming. Getting a Retina Display iPad out on the market soon, before anyone else is even anywhere close, just makes competing that much harder, and going with a "pro" level price for those who want and can afford it protects Apple's low cost of entry on the regular iPad 2. It would be a tactical gamble, but Apple has often been utterly fearless when it came to those.

Whether "pro" also means LTE, USB, SD, or any other acronyms you want to throw at it, and whether it mandates a newer battery or even newer A5 chipset remains a really interesting question.

6. There is no 6

Rumors of Apple television sets continue to swirl, and there are always other product areas Apple could and one day probably will explore (maintaining growth takes work). However, the last time rumors popped up about an Apple television, TiPb heard it was a 27-inch iMac and low and behold, that's what we got. Could the latest round of rumors be a harbinger for a 32-inch iMac? No idea. The television business is low margin and everything Apple typically isn't. That's not to say they couldn't revolutionize it the way they did smartphones, but I don't think they'll do it this fall.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Could 5 new iOS devices make up Apple's fall family?


The Classic should NEVER be retired. I enjoy using my iphone, but for a pure music only experience the classic can't be beat. I use my classic at the gym and I would never want to switch to a touch only device. Just my 2 cents.

Still skeptical on the new iPad really. All the reasons in the world show that releasing a new iPad so soon doesn't fit.
Here's why:
26 million iPads sold. It' still taking as long as over a week to get it shipped from the Apple store. People are still buying the iPad 2 like hotcakes.
Competition, as you stated, has not gotten any traction and is finding itself very hard to be competitive. Now why would Apple want to release something so soon, whilst it can keep it for a little longer. It's like wasting ammunition. at Least that is how I see it.
The only reason people are buying honeycomb tablets is because they're either Android fanboys, or Apple haters, wanting something Apple is offering, but not being from Apple.
Yet, the iPhone is getting heavy competition, both software and hardware. Dual-core chips, faster, bigger yet lighter phones. Keeping this in mind, even after a year, the 5th iteration of the iPhone is not here.

"wanting something Apple is offering, but not being from Apple."
You mean like a competing product? Wow what a concept. Honestly if you are going to make an argument for yourself try not to sound like a complete fanboi who is oblivious to everything else. Also play with a Honeycomb tablet (I know you havent so dont say you have) I bet you will decide that overall it is a better tablet. I own an iPad 2 because the apps and the overall experience is there. Form factor and closed OS are bogus though. However the second Ice Cream sandwich releases I will be jumping ship to an Android tablet because of the openness.
Apple makes great products but until they learn to give their users choice I will continue to find some way to migrate off of them. Stop blocking Jailbreaks and offer a safe and exploit free alternative. When the day comes that Jailbreaking is no longer an option I guarantee you see a mass exit from Apple and iOS.

With names like "Honeycomb" and "Ice Cream Sandwich", who can ever take those products seriously? I'm mean... REALLY.

exactly! i mean...naming it after a dessert?!! c'mon now. a fruit is soooo much more serious :).
how does the saying go? people who live in glass houses shouldn't walk around naked. or something like that....

that is hilarious coming from a company who names there Os's after numbers or some type of animal. Please...... AT lease when it comes to names google thinks outside the box, Apple has had teh same OS style since iphone 1. Apps are there yeah ok but when i have to pay 15 bucks to use an app that is free or way lower priced but similar on android no competition. Also to include in this rant, apples idea of killing the competetion is suing them for bogus patents that they some how manged to get a hold of. Like samsung all that debacle of them copying them in every way from tabs to phone, now there going to them to make there displays for the ipad 2 because LG couldnt keep up.. Got to love them right

People buy things that are not Apple because they are so far superior. The iPad specks are in line with most mid-range Android tablets. The power tablets are so far ahead of the iPad it is not even funny (and yes, I mean the iPad 2).

There's a limit to how big they can make any of the iDevices - until Apple start producing TB sized MacBook Pros and such I don't see the point, there's no point in having a device larger than your main computer...

It would be exciting to see all of these things announced at the same time, but it makes for a long, boring year until it happens again. Will Apple stick to a Fall time frame for the iPhone 6 then? If I upgrade to the iP5 in the Fall it will be a year before I can upgrade again. Then I will potentially have to wait three months after the iP6 comes out to get it. Then I'll make a sad face. For three months.

Depending on which blog you read and / or believe, there's speculation that Apple is shifting to a Fall release for all of its iDevices.

The only new hardware coming is the iPhone. iPad 2 is less than and year old. AppleTV is still a hobby and the iPod is still more than capable and no new device is listed in iOS 5. iPhone nano rumors are nothing more than wishful thinking by a select few. And, even if Apple wanted to release new updates to all of these, there is no way that they will able to produce all the components. They can't even make enough iPad 2s to meet demand. Unless they have an endless store of trees growing A5 chips, its unrealistic to think that any more than 1 (maybe 2) devices will see the light of day in the fall.

Those scroll wheels suck big fat Donkey Kong balls! That's why I could never go for the iPods before the Touch debuted.

Ad. 5 Apple might have lots of cash but it doesn't let them break the physics laws. With HD display ipad would have to have graphical processor similar to the 27" imacs. Although it's not tricky to have it with 2D graphics once you go 3D and ipad definetly has 3D games which means it does support 3D mode you need a lot more power. Now do you think they will release this model being 1" thick? Technology goes forward but it's not feasible to fit that kind of display into so small device and have it responsible and maintain battery life. And whoever writes comments about video editing think again... Modern PCs are struggling with video editing, I don't see ipad getting HD screen and superb cameras and magical GPU able to handle it. With HD screen the low quality content is just going to look rubbish - hence the need for better cameras and stronger GPU.
And if the physics limitation don't convince you, go and check ipad 2 availability... It's still a bit behind the demand - hint they make a lot of money with no additional investment. There's practically no competition at the moment so they don't need to rush.
No new ipad any time soon, sorry...

Why not go feature to feature. iOS is about 1 year behind Android and 2 year behind WebOS. If HP gets there stuff together and delivers the right hardware (which they did not do in the TouchPad) then there will be no competition. Everything you say about iOS is twice as good in WebOS.

Is it just me who thinks that the ipod line will be phased out over the next couple of years, specially if there is a cheap entry point iphone nano?