What is the next clever gadget Apple has up its sleeve?
IS Apple close to unveiling its 'next big thing'? Part of the iPhone company's mojo is its track record in coming up with new markets for products – iPods, iPhones, iPads, apps – we didn't know we needed.
Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook repeated that 2014 would be a year when the €400bn company entered a new product category. But what could it be? An Apple telly? A smartwatch? Mobile payments technology? Or just a bigger iPhone? Here are four of the leading contenders for the new iThing.
A bigger iPhone (likelihood: high)
To me, this is a no-brainer for Apple. Rivals such as Samsung, Sony and HTC have all moved to phone models of at least five inches in size, with a relatively high level of success.
The iPhone, by comparison, is stuck with a four-inch display that limits its usefulness. In particular, this screen cap limits the device's appeal in 'phablet'-obsessed far eastern markets, which appear so important now to Apple.
Normally reliable sources (including The Wall Street Journal) say that Apple is currently manufacturing bigger iPhone screens of at least 4.7 inches in size.
Not everyone agrees, though. Senior Deloitte technology forecaster Paul Lee told the Sunday Independent last week that he doubted Apple would enter a market category for a model "that doesn't sell in high volumes". He said phablets were peaking in demand and did not bear the hallmarks of an Apple product.
Mobile payments (likelihood: medium)
There has been increased speculation recently linking Apple to wireless mobile payments – in other words, the ability to pay for things in a shop using your iPhone's iTunes account or some similar method.
There are very solid commercial and market reasons why this would be a good move for the company. And iTunes is one of the few digital payment systems that people have a high degree of trust in. Google has struggled to see its Google Wallet mobile payments service catch on.
"Apple is the sleeping giant in the payments world," Forrester Research analyst Denee Carrington recently told journalists, adding: "They have the capability, they just haven't tied it all together."
An Apple TV (likelihood: low)
For the last two years, the big whisper among Apple analysts has revolved around an Apple television.
The general idea would be to fuse a stylish large screen with some new, user-friendly way of watching TV shows. It was reportedly one of Steve Jobs' top projects before he died. So could we see a 50-inch set from Apple sometime soon?
It looks like an outside bet. Apple has been trying to negotiate new licensing deals with television and film studios, possibly in advance of a new product launch. But movie studios, having watched their music-label brethren wither on the digital vine, are reportedly not giving much ground to Apple at present. A better bet might be an upgraded Apple TV set-top box with limited new content.
Apple Smartwatch (likelihood: medium)
Will Apple soon launch an iWatch? This was a persistent rumour in 2013. So much so that it is believed to have pushed arch-rival Samsung into accelerating its own plans to launch its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, a gadget that has sold modestly.
However, Apple first needs to make sure that there is a market out there. And despite survey after survey suggesting that people are interested in smartwatches and wearable technology, sales of the devices, which include models from Sony and Pebble, remain decidedly niche.
However, this is the kind of product that Apple would be expected to have a tilt at, so the chances are reasonable.