Better, Faster, But Not Always Cheaper

<p>Next year promises to deliver another round of headline-grabbing tech gadgets. Apple will continue to dominate the market, but other manufacturers have some surprises in store for tech enthusiasts. Overall, 2012 won't be a year of tech breakthroughs.</p> <p>"The consumer electronics industry goes through cycles of innovation, followed by optimization — better, bigger, faster and especially cheaper —and we're in the latter part of the cycle right now," Jordan Sulburn, a principal analyst at IHS iSuppli, said in a report.</p> <p>While tech analysts may shrug off 2012 as "more of the same," mainstream America will have plenty to be excited about. Here's our list of the most-anticipated gadgets for 2012.</p>

Apple HDTV

<p>Can Apple reinvent the TV? Based on its past performance with phones, music players and tablets, the answer is yes. According to Steve Jobs' biographer, an Apple television was Jobs' next big project. If it comes to market next year (some analysts say not until 2013, some say never), an Apple TV would use Siri, its voice-to-text "assistant" that first appeared on the iPhone 4S earlier this fall. It could eliminate the remote control and offer a simplified interface for the overwhelming amount of content available through broadcast, the Internet and iTunes. If Apple can avoid the roadblocks Google encountered with content providers, Apple could "revolutionize the living room." <p>From a style standpoint, Apple is rumored to be using OLED technology (Organic Light Emitting Diode) for its display, which would allow for an extremely thin profile. While Apple would not be the first to use OLED — both Samsung and LG have showed OLED TVs in the past and are expected to release 55-inch models in time for the London Olympics next year — Apple could vault OLED to mainstream status. Apple might also include 3D capability in its TV. Could the Apple cachet turn a lukewarm feature into a must-have?</p>

Apple iPhone 5

Hopes were high for an iPhone 5 at Apple's new-product event in September, but the company released an upgrade to its iPhone 4 with just-enough new features to satisfy consumers. The iPhone 4S racked up the most pre-orders of any iPhone device, topping a million in just 24 hours, and a long-awaited iPhone 5 could cause an even-bigger frenzy.</p> <p>The iPhone 5 is to be released between June and September, timed to coincide with the expiration of iPhone 4 owners' 2-year service contracts.</p> <p>Near-field-communication capabilities, NFC for short, are expected to appear in the iPhone 5. NFC is best known for enabling users to pay for things just by waving their devices at checkout points equipped with compatible devices. Apple lags behind Samsung, RIM, Nokia and HTC, who all launched NFC-enabled devices in 2011.</p> <p>Apple has rarely been a technology innovator, but its track record for popularizing technology is unparalleled. If the iPhone 5 has NFC, it could propel the use of mobile payments from its current low rate of 10 percent to more-than-50 percent over the next few years, an industry analyst said.</p> <p>The new iPhone will most likely have a bigger, 4-inch screen and an 8MP camera (up from 5MP in the previous phone). Less likely — but not far-fetched since Apple holds patents for this technology — the iPhone 5 will have two side-by-side cameras on the back to add 3D capabilities to the phone. Imagine Facetime video-chatting in 3D.</p>

Apple iPad 3

<p>Apple's iPad 3 could be announced as early as January and available to buy sometime in March, according to iLounge, via its Chinese manufacturing sources. While the iPad has been wildly successful, there is room for improvement. The third-generation tablet is expected to have a full HD display with four times the resolution of the iPad 2 (2048 x 1536 pixels) and may have better cameras. It is rumored to be slightly thicker than its predecessor, which could mean 4G capabilities, but iLounge said the extra 0.7 millimeters (less than 1/16-inch) accommodates a twin light-bar system needed for the higher resolution display. And like the iPhone 4S, iPad 3 is likely to have Siri, the built-in voice-to-text "assistant."</p> <p>It is possible the iPad 3 will be 3D. Business Insider recently cited "a reliable source" that said Apple toyed with 3D iPads in the past and hinted that 3D will likely make a return at some point – but only when it is "useful." The test displays are said to resemble Nintendo's 3DS screens that do not require 3D glasses.</p> <p>Pricing for the iPad 3 is expected to remain the same as the iPad 2, with Wi-Fi-only units starting at $500, while the iPad 2 may get a welcome price cut to around $300.</p>

Microsoft Kinect for Windows PCs

<p>Kinect holds the Guinness record as the fastest-selling consumer-electronics device ever, with 8-million units sold in its first 60 days. The motion-sensing peripheral for Xbox 360 introduced gamers to hands-free play and computer users will soon have the same opportunity.</p> <p>Microsoft in November announced it will launch a Kinect for Windows PC in early 2012. Keyboards and mice aren't going away anytime soon, but hand gestures and facial expressions may become viable means of controlling your computer.</p> <p>"At the most basic level, it means people will be able to use technology without any special knowledge or training," Bill Gates wrote on his blog. "Advanced computing tools that can only be used by experts with highly specialized skills today will be available to anyone in the not-too-distant future."</p> <p>The company has made hardware and firmware changes that allow the device to operate at much shorter distances, as close as 50 centimeters (about 20 inches), dubbed "Near Mode" by Kinect developers.</p> <p>To increase the number of applications using what Microsoft calls its "natural user interface" available at launch, Microsoft has also offered $20,000 to 10 tech companies for application development through its Kinect Accelerator program. Finalists will present their Kinect concepts after the Jan. 25, 2012, deadline for applications.</p> <p>Expect the new Kinect to be priced at around $150, comparable to the current device for Xbox.</p>

Sony PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Vita, a touchscreen hand-held gaming device, is scheduled for release in the United States Feb. 22, 2012. Analysts fear it may be too late for a stand-alone gaming device to compete with smartphones and tablets, and cite the lackluster sales of Nintendo's 3DS that saw an $80 price cut last summer just four months after launch.</p> <p>The Vita is an upgraded version of the PSP with two breakthrough features: 3G connectivity and dual analog sticks. The double joysticks will allow users to play console games such as "Uncharted" on a hand-held device for the first time. Hardcore gamers may be won over to the device for this reason, but casual gamers will remain satisfied with their smartphones. The Vita is priced at $249.</p>

55-inch OLED TV

<p>Get ready for a rash of reports covering the unveiling of 55-inch OLED TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show this January. Korean manufacturers Samsung and LG are expected to show off big-screen versions that will be the thinnest TVs on the market. OLED display technology has been used in mobile phones, but a viable application for large screens has eluded TV manufacturers. It works without a back light, so TVs can be exceptionally thin. LG released a 31-inch OLED TV that was less-than-one-eighth-inch thick for a jaw-dropping $9,000, but the model has since been pulled from its website.</p> <p>A new OLED technology called TFT AMOLED can reduce display cost by 34 percent, or 28-percent less than a comparably sized LCD panel, according to analysis from Korea Investment and Securities. However, 2012 OLED TVs will be high-cost due to limited production runs. Neither company has released prices for the 2012 models. Full production runs are not expected until 2013 or 2014.</p>

The 6 Most-Anticipated Gadgets in 2012