When Steve Jobs returned to the stage at this year’s WWDC keynote to wrap up the proceedings, more than a few of attending Apple faithful held their breaths for one of those ‘and just one more thing’ moments for which the company’s front man has become famous.
Many had anticipated that Jobs would announce the next generation of the company’s genre-defining, much-copied iPhone, but all left disappointed.
Before the fruity banners were even removed from the Moscone West conference venue, the rumour mill started to grind into action as to why Apple had broken out of its usual refresh cycle for the handset.
Now, with most pundits predicting a September release for the next iPhone iteration, tech sites everywhere are winding themselves into a frenzy trying to second-guess Apple’s intentions.
Now, we like nothing better than a bit of rumour and conjecture, and Apple’s PR machine practically rolls along atop the thousands of column inches lavished on predicting where the company will go with its next top-secret iGadget, but we can’t help returning again to our regular mantra of, nothing is set in stone until Steve says it is.
Apple has a reputation for innovating and updating in equal measure. The bump from the iPhone 3G to the 3Gs was welcome for iPhone initiates, but underwhelming for those already indoctrinated. The iPhone 4, on the other hand, was a major boost for the ubiquitous brand bringing with it a host of new features, a new and much-tweaked iOS, and a radical new design.
Yes, the iPhone 4 had its troubles, including the whole Antennagate kerfuffle which resulted in a rare PR gaffe on the part of Mr Jobs when he suggested that users were holding it wrong – and cost the company more than a few quid when it was forced to hand out millions of free cases – but the handset continued to sell quicker than the Chinese factories could churn them out, and still does today.
Even the white iPhone 4, which was interminably delayed by manufacturing problems, sold out in days when it finally tipped up, nearly a year after the original launch.
Such is the draw of Apple’s gadgets that the company could simply stick an ‘iPhone 5′ logo on an iPhone 4 and still sell them by the container load.
But the latest rumblings coming from ‘secret sources’, ‘anonymous insiders’ and our particular favourite ‘people familiar with the matter’ universally point to a September release and then diverge in their own directions in many cases.
Some of these notions are eminently possible, many are probable and others are so way out there as to be highly unlikely, but we’ve decided to round up what’s out there and run them through our very own Cobblers-o-meter (CoM) to see how they fly.
High scores contain less cobblers and are more likely to come to fruition.
Dual GSM and CDMA support
When Apple ended AT&Ts US monopoly on the iPhone and let rival Verizon in on the action, the iPhone forked into two distinct models, one with a GSM radio chip, the other with a CDMA version. Current users can’t switch between the two providers and separate iOS builds have to be made for each. Which is a pain for Apple so we reckon this is a goer in the USA only.
CoM Score: 10/10
Apple has always been closely associated with digital photography (having produced the first consumer digital camera in 1994) and the iPhone’s credentials as a snapper are lagging behind the rest of the industry. Rumours of an eight-megapixel camera to replace the current weedy five-megapixel version are probably not too far wide of the mark.
Whispers from Taiwanese component counters at Digitmes also suggest that Apple is planning to beef up the current single LED flash with a dual version.
iOS5 will also allow the camera app to be launched from the lock screen, and one of the iPhone’s volume buttons to take on double duties as camera shutter release, which also points to Apple focusing on the handset’s photographic credentials.
CoM Score: 9/10
New case design
Everything from an aluminium back (a step back to the original 3G), a curved-glass screen (just plain horrible), a tapering teardrop profile (no room for the 30-pin connector), and the removal of the Home button (possible with new multi-finger gestures coming in iOS5 – but unlikely in our estimation) have all been suggested as possible new directions.
Although we’re happy to go along with the theory that the iPhone 5 could have a slightly larger screen, hence a thinner surrounding bezel, our money is on Apple’s British design supremo Johny Ive sticking to the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it principal’.
So, there may be some slight tweaks to the overall design but we reckon the monolithic flat slab motif is here to stay for at least one more generation.
CoM Score: 6/10
Rumours that Apple held back the launch of the iPhone 5 – started by those ‘people familiar with the product’ quoted on a regular basis by Bloomberg – in order to wait for iOS5 to be finished seem a bit wide of the mark to us. We have little doubt that Apple will want use its enormous user base as guinea pigs for the heavily-updated OS before unleashing it on new hardware. Much more likely is a minor bump to iOS 5.1 which will make use of any new features added to the iPhone 5.
CoM Score: 3/10
iPhone 4S rather than an iPhone 5
Apple has put an awful lot of energy into iOS5 and there’s a distinct possibility that any hardware tweaks will be minor. The iPhone 4 already has the best screen in the world in the form of the Retina Display, has battery life comparable or better than most handsets on the market, and more apps than most other platforms could dream of.
The company set a precedent when it bumped the 3G up to the 3GS and it’s not beyond the realms of the imagination that the next version will have little more than a beefed up processor. Disappointing for anyone looking for a major shift but all too possible.
CoM Score: 7/10
NFC digital wallet
Touted as the next big thing in mobile technology in some circles, including by Google which is keen to add Near Field Communications payments to future hardware, adding the ability to pay for tickets and other small items by waving your iPhone over an NFC terminal could show up, but we’re doubtful. The technology is in its infancy, has some serious security issues, and would lead to iPhone users having to wave their expensive gadgets about in some insalubrious public places for every mugger in the vicinity to see.
CoM Score: 4/10
Dual-Core A5 processor
This one has been doing the rounds now for so long that even Apple must be starting to believe it. Designed by ARM and probably fabbed by Samsung, the probability that Apple will cram the same chip as used by the iPad 2 into the iPhone 5 is pretty much a shoo-in.
CoM Score: 9/10
Nope. Not now, not never. Steve has spoken and Steve’s word is law. Even Adobe is moving away from its own proprietary platform into recognised standards so why should Apple back down. Not gonna happen.
CoM Score: 0/10
Now this is a tricky one. Antennagate was a PR nightmare for Apple. The company denied there was a problem, blamed people for using it wrong, said everyone other phone maker had the same problem and that theirs was no worse, blamed the non-existent problem on a bug which measured the signal strength incorrectly and finally gave people free cases to fix a non-existent problem which eventually went away.
Redesigning the current band ‘o’ steel antenna, which works perfectly well in Apple’s eye, would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. They may tweak it slightly, but if it gets a major revamp we’ll eat our Bumper Case.
CoM Score: 1/10
Well there you have it. Our predictions for the iPhone 5 when it arrives on September 7th 2011. Unless it doesn’t.
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