Apple Inc. (AAPL): Three Jaw-Dropping Features It Should Release This Year

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)With the iPhone 5 that was launched last September, there really was no “killer” feature that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced with the device.

The Mac maker became a map maker with the release of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) Maps, but we know that transition didn’t go so well. Besides, Apple Maps was made available for numerous older devices, so it couldn’t provide incentive to upgrade even if it proved to be a smashing success. It was the first LTE-equipped iPhone, but that was mostly table stakes by late 2012.

What killer features can Apple release this year to spark a fresh upgrade cycle?

1. iWallet
Apple has been notably silent amid a broader push toward mobile payments. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) Wallet was launched nearly two years ago, leveraging near-field communications, or NFC. Wireless carriers had already put aside their differences to create the ISIS mobile commerce platform, which was announced in 2010.

All the while, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has sat by twiddling its aluminum thumbs, even as it sits on 500 million active iTunes accounts in 155 countries with credit card numbers on file. Thus far, Apple’s only wallet-esque move has been to release Passbook in iOS 6, which does wallet tasks other than payment.

Passbook. Source: Apple.

While Apple has downplayed NFC in the past because of the chicken-and-egg problem that the technology faces, the iPhone maker has also filed numerous patent applications related to NFC payments.

Security will probably be incorporated into a fingerprint sensor built into the home button, leveraging the AuthenTec acquisition last year. Since a mobile payment service using a fingerprint sensor includes a hardware element, users might be compelled to upgrade their devices if the service is unique, boosting unit sales in the process.

2. iRadio
The music industry is in the midst of a transition toward streaming access models, and as a dominant force in digital music, Apple must inevitably respond in kind. Even though iTunes isn’t a major profit center for Apple, the company has always been passionate about music and complementary content sales strengthen its ecosystem by raising switching costs.

Since Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has such a dominant position in digital music sales, it has another method to monetize a streaming service. Recent data shows that streaming listeners are more likely to purchase music, so Apple could send interested listeners to iTunes to buy content, which could help cover operating costs and royalties on the streaming side. Many existing services already include iTunes referrals, but Apple could do it better since it owns iTunes in the first place.

Add in some iAds, and offering an integrated music streaming service exclusive to iOS that’s free to users is within reach.