Every year, the iPhone rumor mill cranks up to full-steam, churning out tidbits of unconfirmed reports about Apple’s next-generation smartphone. This year, however, the lack of a typical June release has driven speculation to an obscene level, creating a dizzying mishmash of information — so much that it’s become difficult to keep track of what we might see once Apple decides to let the cat out of the bag. But with an estimated 35 percent of US customers reportedly planning to buy the next iPhone, we thought we’d boil down the most important — and believable — morsels about Apple’s upcoming device before everyone just simply gives up and goes with Android.
One phone, or two?
One highly confusing aspect about this year’s iPhone rumors is that Apple is said to have not one, but two new iPhone models ready for release, so let’s just get this one out of the way now.
The first phone is said to be the standard high-end option that we’ve all come to expect, and all of the rumors refer to this device as the “iPhone 5.” The other handset, a less expensive model that is said to come unlocked (without a pre-designated carrier), is rumored to be called the “iPhone 4S” — at least, that’s what it’s been called for the past couple of months.
The double-iPhone rumor started in earnest back in February when the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg both reported that Apple had a smaller, cheaper iPhone in the works. This device, which has popped up in countless subsequent reports, has often been called the “iPhone Nano,” but that name seems to have gone out of style since the iPhone 4S moniker arrived.
More recent reports suggest that Apple has a less-expensive version of the iPhone 4 in store, and that this will be the iPhone 4S.
Regardless of what it’s called, the cheaper iPhone rumor seems to ring true because Apple is dominated on the low-end market by Android, and could make a lot of money by releasing an entry-level handset.
Another possibility (and one that may be more likely) is that Apple will offer a previous year’s model unlocked, for around $300 to $350, and we’ll only see one new handset this year, the iPhone 5.
For a while, most reports indicated that the next iPhone would look pretty much like the iPhone 4. Then This Is My Next’s Joshua Topolsky reported in April that the iPhone 5 would receive a major redesign, and the whole conversation changed.
According to Topolsky’s sources, the new iPhone will likely be thinner, with a teardrop shape that tapers toward the bottom. The screen will get a boost from 3.5 to 3.7 inches (though many other reports say it will be a full 4-inch screen), and extend from edge-to-edge, with little or no bezel.
(Topolsky later addressed the iPhone 4S rumors, saying that Apple had been testing iPhone 5 components in iPhone 4 cases, which misled a lot of the Cupertino chatter. He also said that the iPhone 4 design had fallen “out of favor at the highest levels of the company,” which is why they are completely revamping the look of the next iPhone.)
Cases and Chinese clones
Last week, the teardrop design rumors took a detour with the publication of a Chinese “iPhone 5 clone.” This device, while obviously not the real thing, has made people believe that it looks at least similar to what Apple plans to release. (I, for one, hope that’s not true.)
The Chinese knockoff appears to be slimmer than the iPhone 4, with a curved backplate. But the device lacks nearly all the other features — teardrop shape, larger edge-to-edge screen, etc — that have been included in most credible reports about Apple’s next handset. To be honest, it looks more like an iPhone 3G than anything “next-generation.”
A number of cases have also surfaced, all of which are made in China. They claim to be iPhone 5 cases, and look like they would fit the iPhone 5 clone perfectly.
In short, Topolsky’s guess that the iPhone 5 will have a major, sexy redesign seems to me far more likely than Apple releasing something nearly identical to what it offered five years ago. That’s just not going to happen, so expect the teardrop design.
Reports about what Apple plans to upgrade component-wise have been surprisingly coherent, and have only strayed slightly from each other in either direction. Just this week, Bloomberg published a list of “hypothetical” iPhone 5 parts, which more or less matches up with what we’ve been hearing for the past three or four months.
So, rather than run through all the ins and outs of the rumors, here’s what will likely be included in the iPhone 5: The 1GHz A5 processor, which is twice as fast as the A4 that powers the current iPhone, and is the CPU that runs the iPad 2; 16GB of flash memory (same as iPhone 4); 512MB of DDR RAM (same as iPhone 4); an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera (up from 5-megapixel on iPhone 4) and an improved front-facing camera.
All said, this is pretty straightforward and predictable, so we’d be surprised to see Apple stray too far from this list in its final product.
We already know most of what to expect from Apple’s newest mobile operating system, iOS 5, which will likely arrive along with the next iPhone. (For a full list of officially announced features, click here.) But there may still be some hidden gems for us to woo over in the future.
Back in 2010, Apple purchased a Swedish company called Polar Rose, which specializes in facial recognition technology. And just last week, 9to5Mac discovered the Polar Rose technology embedded in the developer’s version of iOS 5. But rather than release an Apple-made facial recognition app, the report speculates that Apple plans to open the software to developers, so they can create their own facial recognition apps.
Better voice control
Apple already offers limited voice controls in iOS 4. But according to another rumor courtesy of 9to5Mac, Apple plans to expand the voice control functionality in iOS 5 so that it can do anything from make a call to find a nearby restaurant. The fully-integrated app is said to be called Assistant, and will likely be similar to the Siri Assistant app, which is currently available for free in from iTunes.
Both of these features seem entirely likely, though it’s possible that we won’t see them in iOS 5 for quite some time, since Apple doesn’t like to rush out products before they’re nicely polished.
Right now, Apple makes two different kinds of iPhone 4 models, one that works on AT&T’s GSM network, and one that works on Verizon’s CDMA network. According to two different Verizon executives, the iPhone 5 will have dual-mode radios that allow one device to work on both networks. And because most networks outside the United States use GSM, the handset should work most places around the world with cellular service.
I really don’t have much doubt about this one, since it would be far easier (and less expensive) for Apple to produce only one device. Put this one in the “almost guaranteed” category.
Right now, the iPhone is only available on AT&T and Verizon, the two largest wireless carriers in the US. But rumor has it that Apple will launch the iPhone 5 on all four major US carriers, which would add Sprint and T-Mobile to the list.
This speculation makes good business sense, since Apple would only sell more iPhones if it were available to more customers. It also aligns with reports that Apple has already ordered the production of 25 million units of the next iPhone, which suggests it expects higher sales of the device. And Sprint has reportedly been testing the iPhone on its network.
Even though this rumor makes perfect sense on paper, I still have a hard time believing it — or, at least, believing that it will happen anytime soon. T-Mobile is, of course, in the process of being purchased by AT&T, which would mean the iPhone would likely be headed there eventually, anyway. Sprint, on the other hand, remains the real unknown — just don’t expect a Sprint launch to coincide with the release of the next iPhone, that’s all I can say.
Possible — but unlikely — additions
We’ve been hearing for ages that Apple would include near-field communication (NFC) technology, which allows users to make payments with their handset much like they do now with a credit card, in the next iPhone. Android already has NFC, after all. But I wouldn’t bet on this one. Analysts say that widespread NFC adoption is still years away in the US, and Apple isn’t usually one to gamble on untested technology that nobody uses.
Like talk of NFC, rumors have long circulated that the next iPhone would have 4G connectivity — and it very well might. But the issue still seems very much up in the air. As we recently reported, adding 4G capabilities to a phone is still a very expensive endeavor. And Apple waited a full year to jump on the 3G bandwagon. With wireless carriers still rolling out their 4G networks, it seems like Apple will go the conservative route with this technology, too.
Last but not least: When on Earth can we get one of these dang things? And the answer is… sometime before the end of the year, but probably late-September or October. Some rumors have pointed to an August release. But seeing as it’s already August now, that just isn’t going to happen. If we had to guess, however, we’d bet on either a September announcement with a release that follows soon after, or a very late September announcement and simultaneous rollout.
If I had to sum the whole iPhone 5 rumor debacle into a single sentence, it would be this: The next iPhone will probably be called “iPhone 5;” have a slimmer, lighter design and a larger edge-to-edge screen; have a faster processor and better cameras; work on both GSM and CMDA networks; and arrive sometime this fall. Whether or not any of that is correct, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.