Apple in 2012: What to expect?

Despite the loss of its Cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs, 2011 was a good year to Apple financially. Over the past 12 months, the company enjoyed record iPhone sales, kept the iPad in the top spot in the tablet market, continued to win new patents while bitterly fighting for its existing ones, and logged record Mac sales.

2012 will be a challenging year for Apple as companies like Amazon find new ways to battle it in fields like tablets. Also flooding in Thailand is threatening the tech manufacturing industry overall, although Apple showed last spring after Japan’s devastating earthquake that it could recover relatively quickly from unexpected slowdowns.

Other challenges continue to emerge from top competitors like Samsung. It and others have been engaged in public, bitter patent disputes with Apple over the past year, and they don’t show signs of stopping. Apple and Samsung are still waiting on rulings to determine whether or not the Galaxy Tab will be banned in some parts of the world. One recent patent drama arrived when it was discovered that Samsung – intentionally or not – hired the same child actor that appears in Apple commercials.

As tablets continue to become more mainstream, the question arises of whether or not a worthy contender will emerge to knock the iPad out of its reigning position, although no product has yet been able to come close.

“With Android and other devices, there will be a market for those, but I see it as serving a small niche, and they won’t have the mass market that Apple does. In terms of software and usability of the other devices, they’re not close to what Apple is delivering. Their innovation and philosophy is so fast and on-target that competition will succeed not based on how smart they are, but if Apple screws up or can’t maintain its position, and I don’t see that happening,” Trip Chowdhry, senior analyst for Global Equities Research thinks.

That advantage is also still clear when comparing the iPad to e-readers. The holiday season of 2011 saw the announcement of Amazon’s tablet, the Kindle Fire, which severely undercuts iPad on price. Just before Christmas, Apple iPad sales were still ahead of Kindle sales, according to numbers released by IDC, and the iPad remained the top option not just for tablets, but compared to e-readers as well.

Apple continues to wow consumers in 2011, but far less than it has in the past. A small group of Apple fan boys remain loyal, but Apple has more women fans overall. Apple can also depend on people from the top and bottom income brackets. Kids without money want their rich parents to buy them iPads. Cost-conscious consumers prefer Droid and Nook for the price, regardless of features or quality. Apple also has put its bet on the right format for e-books, which consumers have shown they prefer over the Kindle’s format, and they have the critical mass. Plus, they’ve created a product that is far superior to the Kindle and other e-readers, because the iPad can be the best e-reader, the best media consumption device, the best game-playing console, the best communication device, and the device can be what you want it to be.