Will Apple Unveil the iPhone 5 This Fall, Instead of a New iPod touch?

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Early software code from iOS 5, the new mobile OS introduced by Apple this week, contains hidden references — detectable through code analysis — to the iPhone 5 and iPad 3,. Yet there’s no mention inside the OS of a next gen iPod touch, raising questions as to whether Apple will follow its usual custom of unveiling a new iPod touch each September, or roll out the iPad 5 this time instead.

In introducing iOS 5 on Tuesday, Apple’s Steve Jobs announced that Apple’s next mobile OS will contain 200 new features. That’s 300 less than the 500 new features that Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer promised in May for Windows Phone 7.1, but it’s still a hefty number. As previously reported in Brighthand, Apple demoed 10 new features, including Notification Center, a new Game Center, Twitter integration, and a revamped Safari browser, for example.

With the delivery date of iOS 5 set for September, developers at the launch venue, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), got immediate access to the code from Apple.

On Tuesday, Apple said that iOS 5 will run on existing devices that include iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 1 and 2, and third and fourth-gen iPod touches. No announcements were made of an iPhone 5, an iPad 3, or any other future gadgets.

When a new OS update from Apple is in the works, some publications scrutinize the software code for hints about upcoming but still unannounced hardware devices that the new OS might ultimately support.

iOS 5 Hints at Two New iPhone 5 and Two New iPad 3 Models
In looking at USB device files in iOS 5 this week, the online publication TUAW found declarations in the software code referencing “iPhone4.1 and iPhone4.2” and “iPad3.1 and iPad3.2.”

Under Apple’s numbering system for products, the first number is generally regarded as referring to the product generation. The first number is then followed, after the “dot,” by a number referring to the wireless provider that will carry the product. Consequently, the references in iOS 5 to iPad3.1 and 3.2 could conceivably mean that two different wireless carrier versions are in the works for the iPad 3, for instance.

As TUAW‘s Dave Caolo pointed out, however, Apple’s numbering system for the iPhone seems to be somewhat different. As Apple sees it, the iPhone 5 technically be a fourth gen product, not a fifth gen product, with the original iPhone 3G representing the first generation. (Under this approach, the iPhone 3GS presumably would be the second gen iPhone, and the iPhone 4 the third gen.)

In response, Eric Slivka of MacRumors wrote that references by Apple to the iPhone4.1 and iPhone4.2 are not new in Apple’s software, since they first appeared in beta code for Apple’s iOS 4.3 earlier this year.

In a report published in January of 2011, Engadget had also found references in iOS 4.3 to an iPad2.1, 2.2 ,and 2.3 — but not to an iPad3.1 or 3.2 — and to fourth generation — but not fifth generation — iPod touches.

Apple announced its fourth-gen iPod touch last September, although there are several other generations of non-“touch” iPods beyond the “touch” generations.

Apple iPhone 4Slivka acknowledged that the absence of references in the iOS 5 code doesn’t necessarily mean that a fifth gen iPod touch isn’t in the works. He added, though, that “it is curious that device identifiers for models presumably set for introduction in just a new months are not included.”

Apple typically refreshes its iPod line-up in September. Caolo speculated that, if that isn’t going to happen this coming September, the reason could be that Apple wants to shine the spotlight on the iPad 5 instead.

Caolo also observed, though, that the model numbers referred to in Apple’s software code don’t always turn into shipping products. Caolo gave a previously discovered “iPhone3.2” — a model apparently envisioned for a third iPhone carrier beyond AT&T and Verizon– as an example. While Apple did release iPhone3.1 (GSM) and CDMA iPhone3.3 (CDMA) editions of the iPhone 4, a third version has not appeared.

The Bottom Line on Apple’s Model Numbers
If Apple does plan to roll out a new iPhone in September, rather than a new iPod, that could only stand to reason. After all, the iPod appears to face much less competition than the iPhone right now from Android and other operating environments.

Yet as virtually everyone seems to agree, the model numbers embedded in Apple’s developer releases are not reliable indicators as to products that will come to market. The model numbers only stand as clues about Apple’s possible intentions

 

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