We here at Small Biz Go Mobile are a rather prudent bunch, never ones to blindly pursue idle speculation and gossip in the pursuit of boosting site traffic. As such, we’ve refrained from adding to the Internet-hype-machine’s “coverage” of the next-generation iPhone (which the Webosphere, lacking any official guidance from Apple, has already dubbed the “iPhone 5”). But, with reputable sources now indicating that Apple will hold an October 4th press conference—at which the announcement of a new iPhone seems almost inevitable—we figured it was time to set aside our editorial discretion, and join in the iPhone 5-speculation fun!
Thankfully, the crew over at Cnet has done an excellent job compiling a timeline of all the major pieces of iPhone 5-related gossip, so we don’t need to rehash each and every tidbit that’s popped up over the past few months. Instead, let’s do some summary and analysis. Looking through the stories, it’s clear that most of the iPhone 5 rumors fall into one of the following categories:
Everybody wants to know when this sucker will drop. For months, sources from around the world (okay. mainly the US, UK, and China) have been prophesying an October release, and if the October 4th press conference does materialize, it looks like those modern day tech-industry Cassandras will be vindicated.
What networks will it run on? AT&T and Verizon seem like givens, so the real news here are the number of sources claiming Sprint will also get in on the action. With Android now commanding nearly 42% of the US smartphone market (Apple, by comparison, now has 27% of the market), it seems likely that Apple will try to reach the greatest possible number of potential buyers, so I’d say that we should anticipate seeing an iPhone on the Sprint network before the year ends.
Now that AT&T’s got its LTE network up and running, all the major carriers offer 4G data service, but will the iPhone be able to take advantage of those beefier signals? Probably not. I’m inclined to agree with Sascha Segan of PCMag, who argues that the current generation of LTE chipsets are too bulky and power-hungry for Apple to consider including them in the iPhone 5. More streamlined, power-frugal LTE chipsets won’t be available before next year, so we probably shouldn’t plan on seeing an LTE-enabled iPhone before the iPhone 6, at the earliest.
TWO new iPhones?
Apparently, lots of people in-the-know on Wall Street think that Apple will release two new iPhones: One will be an all-new model (the aforementioned “iPhone 5”) and the other will be a refined/upgraded version of the current iPhone, which may be intended for overseas/developing markets. As the component costs for the current generation iPhone continue to drop, this strategy makes a lot of sense, since it would provide Apple with much-needed breathing room vis-à-vis production capacity, and would return some pretty nice profit margins.
With the unending onslaught of jumbo-screened Android phones, will Apple decide it’s time to up-size the current 3.5″ screen? There have been rumors that the new iPhone might have a teardrop shape, or a curved glass display, like the Nexus S, designed to fit the contours of your hand. I expect that there will be a modest bump in display size—maybe to 3.7″—and design elements intended to make the iPhone more aesthetically consistent with the iPad. Those changes will likely include a more rounded/beveled backplate (perhaps a toned-down variation of the above-linked teardrop shape), and a display that covers more fully extends to the edges of the front enclosure.
Will it have dual-LED flash? Will there be an LED flash for the front-facing camera? With most casual shutterbugs now using their smartphones as their primary camera—in addition to the full integration of Facetime in OSX Lion, which upped the usability quotient on the iPhone’s front-facing camera—matters of photographic illumination are more important than ever. Keeping manufacturing costs and space limitations in mind, I’ll wager that we’ll see a dual-LED flash on the rear camera (likely complemented by a higher-resolution camera), but the front-facing camera will remain flash-less (just think of the prank apps developers could deploy with a front-facing flash!), and largely unchanged.
The rumor camp has been firmly split on whether Apple will include a Near-field Communications (NFC) chip—which is used for mobile payment systems, like Google Wallet—in the iPhone 5. The New York Times claims that future Apple phones (“although not necessarily the next one”) will feature an NFC chip, while The Independent (UK) says that Apple is working on its own mobile payment system, which could like use its own version of NFC technology. Like LTE, I bet Apple thinks NFC tech isn’t quite there yet—though they also know it’s too important to ignore—so I wouldn’t expect NFC to make it on to the iPhone until the next redesign rolls out.
Curiously, there hasn’t been much speculation about any major under-the-hood performance changes in store for the iPhone 5. Seems like most people believe the iPhone 5 will receive a boost to the ARM A5, the chipset that currently powers the iPad 2. Given Apple’s familiarity with the chip, and its modest power requirements, that seems a pretty safe bet.
All in all, it looks like the iPhone 5 will continue Apple’s tradition of incremental performance improvements and modest design refinements. I mean, really, when your basic template is a 4.5″ by 2.3″ rectangle, there are very real limits to the design innovations and technological breakthroughs that you can apply to it on an annual basis. I expect that the most significantly “new” aspects of the iPhone 5 will be its availability from all major US cellular carriers, and perhaps some new software offerings designed to make Android users take a second look at the iPhone. Fortunately, it looks like we should know for sure in just a couple weeks.