Officially, we haven’t a clue what the iPhone 5 will look like. But out of all the fifth-generation iPhone “rumors” that have engulfed the technology world, few provide a better idea of the design of the device Apple will likely reveal within the next few weeks than the series of leaked “iPhone 5 cases” we’ve seen over the past few months. Here, we review the nine most-talked about iPhone 5 cases from this rumor season, and what they tell us about what Apple likely has in store.
All the way back in May, an alleged iPhone 5 case appeared on the global trading site Alibaba.com. The case was later removed — possibly at the request of Apple’s legal team — but that didn’t stop the tech press from taking notice. Pretty soon, images of the case had spread to the far corners of the web, and everyone was buzzing about whether this really would fit an iPhone 5. While the case was made to fit a larger screen — a feature present in nearly every iPhone 5 rumor, in one way or another — it also showed the LED flash moved to the other side of the phone, a design change many found hard to believe.
In July 20, Italian tech site Macitynet.it kicked off the iPhone 5 case party with photos of a soft, rubbery, neon-green sleeve that corroborated the ‘thinner, lighter’ design description of the iPhone 5, which we first learned about in April from This Is My Next. Photographed side-by-side with an iPhone 4, (and an iPhone 4 case), Macitynet‘s find was clearly made for a handset with a significantly larger screen (both taller and wider), and a much thinner profile — design details that run throughout the most believable iPhone 5 case leaks.
Less than a week after Macitynet’s case leak, UK-based MobileFun released CAD design documents, from a Chinese manufacturer, for an alleged iPhone 5 case, which showed a near-identical design to Macitynet‘s case. Judging by the dimensions described in the documents, MobileFun purported that the iPhone 5 would have a 4-inch screen, up from the iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch display. (This was later refuted by other rumors.) The tapered “tear drop” design originally reported by This Is My Next was also part of the case’s design plans.
In addition, the design docs showed that Apple’s next-gen handset would have little to no bezel on the sides of the screen, as well as reduced space for a speaker and front-facing camera at the top, along with smaller space at the bottom for the home “button,” which they say may be replaced with a larger pad for “unique multi-touch gestures, given its increased size.”
The authenticity of MobileFun‘s documents were quickly supported by an actual case, which appears to be based upon the same design, or at least something close. The real value of this leak, according to 9to5Mac‘s Mark Gurman, is that it gave “independent” confirmation that “Asian case manufacturers are now shopping [iPhone 5] case designs to case sellers across the globe for their own branding” — a move that indicated that authentic iPhone 5 design dimensions had breached the walls of Apple’s notoriously secretive garden, and made their way into the hands of opportunistic accessory makers.
Just days later, 9to5Mac busted out with two more cases, adding more drips into the iPhone 5 rumor bucket. While asserting that the source of the cases were trustworthy (based upon the accuracy of rumors they’d provided in the past) 9to5Mac reported that this iPhone 5 case measured 5 inches tall and 2.8 inches wide — much too large for the iPhone 4. The cases also showed that, if authentic, the iPhone 5 would have “a slight – not major – tear drop in the design,” since the case “goes thick to thin from top to bottom.”
Adding further evidence to reports that Asia-based accessories manufacturers were ramping up production of iPhone 5 cases was an ad for “iPhone 5G” cases sent to us from China’s Mettei Technology. The cases in the ad do show a thinner design and room for a larger screen, but don’t provide much in the way of groundbreaking details about Apple’s iPhone 5 plans. Based on our assessment, these cases were likely created with the plethora of knockoff iPhone 5 models that were also appearing in China’s loosely-controlled electronics market, not the actual iPhone 5.
Just to see what it would look like, MacRumors decided at the beginning of September to take the case design documents leaked to MobileFun in July and commission an actual case made from the dimensions. Based on their measurements, the fifth-generation iPhone will measure 4.33-inches by 2.36-inches, which is slightly shorter and wider than the 4.5-inch by 2.31-inch iPhone 4. Given these dimensions, MacRumors figured that the iPhone 5 would have “at least” a 4-inch screen. The tear drop design was also present in this case.
On September 8, AppleInsider revealed two new iPhone 5 case designs, from Shenzhen L&Y Technology Co., which is based in mainland China. Like most other cases before it, these cases showed a thinner, tapered design, as well as the relocation of the mute switch to the right side of the phone. Curved edges similar to that of the iPad 2, as well as redesigned volume buttons reminiscent of those on the iPhone 3G S and earlier models were also part of these case designs. Basically, nothing new, but the cases do further solidify the alleged shape of the iPhone 5 nicely.
In the most promising find to date, BGR last week uncovered a variety of iPhone 5 cases on the website of Case-Mate. The tapered edges, tear-drop design, elongated volume buttons, and new mute switch placement were all there, as they have been in past cases. Unlike past cases, however, these Case-Mate photos show the supposed iPhone 5 with a metal back, similar to the original iPhone. Case-Mate quickly pulled the page from their site. And some believe the “leak” was simply a marketing technique done to draw attention to their products — but that doesn’t mean Apple’s iPhone 5 won’t fit their case.