Industry braced for 'biggest handset launch in history' ahead of iPhone 5 release

The forthcoming next-generation iPhone launch will be the "biggest handset launch in history," says Jefferies analyst Peter Misek, in a pretty risk-free prediction.

According to the company's findings, 170 million global smartphone subscribers will be coming out of their contracts in the second half of 2012, and another 440 million will be contract-free next year. Moreover, Jefferies reckons that about 30 million iPhone subscribers will complete their contract in the second half of 2012, in addition to another 85 million who will do so in 2013.

"We therefore see significant and very fertile ground for the iPhone 5's success," Misek wrote in a report last week.

Jefferies expects that Apple will have approximately 15 million iPhone 5 handsets in inventory by mid-September. The device, which may or may not actually be called the iPhone 5, is expected to boast a larger 4-inch screen, a smaller dock connector, LTE connectivity, Near Field Communications (NFC), and a faster processor.

Stories have been circulating for weeks that Apple will unveil the next-gen iPhone at a special event on 12 September. Misek reiterated that date, noting Apple will likely announce the iPhone 5, and possibly the much rumoured iPad mini.

Meanwhile, timing of an Apple-branded television set is not as clear. There is evidence that production of a so-called "iTV" is currently in full swing, he said. The device will likely be ready to launch in the fourth quarter, so there is a possibility Apple will release both the iPad Mini and the iTV before the end of 2012.

"The iTV would then be in time for the Christmas selling season, but that would mean Apple having three huge product launches in a short timeframe and leave little for [2013] outside of the typical iPhone and iPad refresh," Misek wrote.

For this reason, Apple might wait until the first quarter of next year to launch the iTV.

Yesterday, there were reports that Apple was in talks with cable firms to add their content to the Apple TV set-top box rather than launch an actual television set.

Rumours about an Apple-based television set have been making the rounds since last year after Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography mentioned that the late Apple co-founder was working on an Apple-branded TV before his death on 5 October. For now, only time will tell what Apple has in store.