UPDATE: On Oct. 4, 2011, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S. What happened to the iPhone 5 is a mystery, but at this point that much-rumored device is still somewhere on the horizon. In the mean time, the iPhone 4S is hitting store shelves on Oct. 14. An overview of this smartphone is available here:
Predicting that Apple is going to release an updated version of its wildly popular smartphone this summer is a very safe bet. And some of the details of the iPhone 5 have already started to leak out.
Apple does its best to keep information on its upcoming products under wraps, but it isn’t always successful. In the months leading up to the launch of one of its smartphones, many of the specifications will slip out ahead of time. For example, an Apple employee lost a prototype iPhone 4 in a bar, and images of it appeared on the Web well before this device was officially unveiled.
On the other hand, some of the information that gets published is wrong, whether because the source is making an honest mistake or perpetrating a deliberate hoax. With the launch of the iPhone still several months away, any information on its specifications should be taken with a grain of salt.
According to unconfirmed reports, the next-generation iPhone is going to be the first with a multi-core Apple A5 processor. This could be dual-core or possibly even quad-core. It will also supposedly include a dual-core graphics chip (GPU).
This will give the iPhone 5 a considerable increase in horse power, especially in graphics-intensive apps like games or video conferencing.
The device could debut with iOS 5, an operating system tuned to take advantage of this new multi-core architecture. Other modifications in this new version remain unknown at this point.
4G Wireless Networking
AT&T is scheduled to have its 4G network using the LTE standard up and running this summer. Verizon already has an LTE network. As these are the two U.S. carriers that are going to offer the iPhone 5, it’s possible that this upcoming version will be the first with 4G.
If true, an LTE-enabled iPhone would have average data rates of 5-12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2-5 Mbps on the uplink in real-world, loaded network environments. That’s significantly faster than the data transfer speeds offered by either of these carriers’ current 3G networks.
So far, there has been no evidence to support this theory, but Apple likes to give customers a reason to upgrade. A move to a significantly faster network could convince quite a few current iPhone users to upgrade.
Near Field Communications
Numerous sources have indicated that the iPhone 5 and iPad 2 are going to include support for Near Field Communications (NFC). This is something that’s just starting to catch on, and will bring a number of new possibilities to smartphones.
The most obvious of these is mobile payments. Rather than swiping a credit card, stores that employ NFC could enable customers to make small purchases with their phone.
There have also been some rumors straight out of left field, such as Apple using NFC to enable users to turn any Mac PC they come close to into a clone of their own personal Mac just by putting an iPhone down nearby. This would automatically change the desktop into the users’ preferred configuration, for example.
Dark Horse Possibilities
There’s evidence that when the iPad 2 debuts this spring, it’s going to have an SD card reader and a video-out port. It’s possible that the iPhone 5 could get one or both of these features too, as Apple has tried to give its phones and tablets a similar feature set, aside from the obvious differences.
Of course, the iPad is a significantly larger device, giving designers more room to work with, so a full-size SD card slot seems unlikely in the smaller iPhone. Still, Apple could find room for an HDMI video-out port on this device, something made possible by the dual-core GPU mentioned earlier.
The iPhone series has been a huge success since it began, and Apple clearly follows the old rule, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This product line has advanced over the years, but at a somewhat slow pace. For example, the second model was basically the first one, just with 3G wireless networking added. There were a few other tweaks, but that was the primary change. So don’t expect really dramatic differenes this time around, either.
The 640 x 960 “Retina” screen debuted on the iPhone 4, giving Apple’s smartphone a higher resolution display than any of its rivals. The pixel density on this device is so high that it’s impossible for users to see individual pixels. This makes it unlikely that Apple is going to change the screen on the iPhone 5.
The general design of the device is also likely not going to see much modification. Many consumers have been asking for an Apple smartphone with a physical keyboard since 2007, but CEO Steve Jobs seems adamantly opposed to the idea. So this makes a radical change in design unlikely in the next version.
Aside from this, Apple adds features to its smartphones, it does not remove them. So if the iPhone 4 does it now, the iPhone 5 is likely to do it, too. Don’t expect the company to pull out Wi-Fi or the front-facing camera, for example.
Still a Mystery
Not surprisingly, quite a bit about the Apple iPhone 5 still remains unknown.
The iPhone 4 comes in the same storage capacities as its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS: 16 GB or 32 GB. Will the next version be the first with 64 GB of internal storage? No one knows.
Apple’s current smartphone has a 5 megapixel camera, while some of its competitors offer 8 MPx ones or even 12 MPx. This raises the possibility that a higher-resolution camera could be in the next version.
A full description of the iPhone 5 likely won’t be available until the official unveiling, which is widely expected to come this summer. Apple has launched a new or updated smartphone in early summer every year since 2007, and after such a trend, there’s no reason to think 2011 is going to be any different.