You don't have to be too keen an observer of the geek space to know that a certain company from Cupertino, California is one of the world's most revered tech firms. Whether you're a consumer after the latest hot gadget or a business leader contemplating your next round of corporate devices, chances are you're familiar with Apple.
Yet despite virtually unparalleled brand recognition, some would say Apple isn't what it once was. And that would have been true if we harked back to 2012, a relatively lacklustre year for the tech pioneer. However impressive, the iPhone 5 lay firmly in the shadow of (arguably) more innovative devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Google's incredulously affordable Nexus 4. On the software front, iOS 6 was plagued by a faulty native Maps app, and general enthusiasm for the iPad mini was tempered somewhat by the lack of Retina display.
Fast forward to the start of 2014 and things have changed considerably. Apple enjoyed a much stronger outing in 2013, bestowing the aforementioned small form factor iPad mini with the desired screen and receiving widespread critical acclaim for the super svelte iPad Air. The iPhone 5S, too, was praised for its fingerprint scanning capabilities and 64-bit architecture, while Cupertino's first family also bolstered its MacBook Pro lineup with Intel's powerful Haswell processors.
In other words, there's once again a great deal of excitement circling Apple as we get stuck into the new annum in earnest. So what can we expect from tech's most mercurial firm in 2014? What follows is my take on the likely talking points surrounding Apple this year - some dead certs, and a few long-shots. As always, feel free to tell me how ridiculous these predictions are via the comment section below, or by paying us a visit on Twitter.
Certainty: Apple launches iPhone 6
Apple will continue its annual smartphone release cycle in 2014 with the launch of the iPhone 6 - this much we know. What we're less sure of is how the new flagship handset will size up, but my money is on Apple keeping with its traditional bi-yearly form factor switcheroo. Much of the gossip surrounding the new device points to a significantly expanded display, with some onlookers positing that Apple will introduce an 'iPhablet,' potentially as large as 5.7in. That's just not happening. If Apple is going to go down the phablet route, it will be as a separate, standalone product. The iPhone 6 proper is more likely to be a slimmed down affair - iPhone Air, anyone? - and should stick to previous launch patterns and arrive in Q3. Any increase in display size is likely to be marginal - 4.3in would be a more likely boost, in my opinion. It's also possible that Apple will ditch its underwhelming iPhone 5C this year. With powerful, high-quality devices like the Nexus 5 and Moto G retailing for under £200, the 5C will continue to struggle to make an impact and Tim Cook will cut his losses sooner rather than later. Learn more by checking out our early iPhone 6 rumour roundup.
Certainty: iOS 8 & OS X 10.10 'Syrah' announced at WWDC
Another certainty in 2014 is that Apple will refresh its software offerings, iOS and OS X. The new platforms are odds-on to be unveiled at Apple's annual developer event, WWDC, which will take place in June. What's most intriguing here is whether or not Apple might look to merge the two products into a single, unified platform - one capable of running across all future devices. The similarly minimal aesthetics sported by iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks suggest that such a project could well be in the works, but I feel this is a longer term ambition for the company. The real talking point, then, is what Apple will dub its latest version of OS X - the smart money so far is on 'Syrah' - and what additional features the refreshed platforms will introduce. After the overhaul of iOS 7, don't expect anything too radical, but we should see some fairly nifty new iOS capabilities making use of the iPhone's fingerprint sensor and iBeacons as well.
Likely: Apple launches iPad Pro
After the success of the iPad Air, what's the next evolution of Apple's iPad line? That's the question tormenting many insiders and there's no obvious answer. Under the hood improvements aside, just how could Apple possibly top its current offerings, which - while obviously pricey - are regarded as category defining products. One possibility is that Apple will extend its tablet line to include a professional offering. The iPad Pro would likely look similar to current-gen hybrid or convertible products like the Microsoft Surface, coming with an integrated keyboard and introducing USB ports to the fray. It could also feature an expanded display to provide users with additional real estate for multi-tasking and, yes, it's also a good bet to come with the heftiest iPad price tag to date. When might we see this product? Assuming Apple stays true to form, the next iPads will be unveiled in October or November, launching shortly thereafter just in time for the Christmas shopping rush.
Possible: Apple enters wearable tech with iWatch
Wearable technology is all the rage heading into 2014, though the market is still very much in an embryonic phase. A handful of accomplished fitness gadgets aside, wearable tech is crying out for a groundbreaking product, and many pundits predict this is going to come courtesy of Apple. Speculation regarding the iWatch, as the device has provisionally been dubbed, has been stoked by Apple's 2013 hiring of an influential Nike FuelBand developer, so it seems likely that this gadget is genuinely in the pipeline. Will it arrive this year, though? That's a debatable point - it's not a particularly strong shout, but nor is it impossible.
Long shot: Apple finally unveils iTV
Ah, the Apple iTV, the spurious offspring of the publicity hungry analyst. For the last two or three years, this rumour has been touted rabidly, only to be pegged back again and again. While Apple certainly boasts the technological expertise and design nous to enter this space at some point, it's not happening in 2014. To my mind, the iTV will be one of the final pieces in the Apple puzzle and we'll be lucky to see it before the end of the present decade. What's much more likely for 2014 is a refresh of the Apple TV set top box.