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Early Apple iPhone 6 rumour roundup: Specs, release date and features

Well before even approaching launch, some leakier-than-a-swiss-cheese-rowboat smartphones reveal all their secrets and leave onlookers with little to no element of surprise to enjoy at the big unveiling. Apple, refreshingly, runs a pretty watertight operation - though that doesn't stop fanboys and mobile enthusiasts from rabidly speculating.

The iPhone 6 is no exception. All over the Internet, bedroom pundits are teasing the masses with (unverified) reports of potential features and designs, just enough to whet the appetite but never enough to shatter the veil of mystery. So what are the main rumours making the rounds? Here's what we've been able to glean about the iPhone 6 over the past few months.

Apple's next iPhone to be iPhablet?

Back in September, sources whispered in the Wall Street Journal’s ear that Apple had plans to supersize its flagship mobile. Display measurements such as 4.8in and 6in were plucked from the air as 'experts' such as Jeffries analyst Peter Misek corroborated claims that the new iPhone would be more of an iPhablet. Where these sources came from, no one knows - they were inevitably provided by a mystery “person familiar with the plans."

Perhaps they chanced upon Phil Schiller when he was in a chatty mood in an elevator? Or maybe they talked to the drycleaner of the next door neighbour of the best friend of a co-worker who has a cousin who plays online games with an engineer who overheard an Apple designer talking to someone before the train doors slammed shut. Whatever the case, Apple's 2013 flagship iPhone 5S stuck to the form factor of its predecessor, the iPhone 5. That was also the pattern with the iPhone 4 and 4S, meaning that Apple may well be about to do some smartphone shape-shifting in 2014 with its next product, the iPhone 6.

That said, 6in sounds a little unwieldy, even crass, for Apple’s tastes, so we’re not sure just how credible this rumour is - a bump to 4.5in or even 4.8in seems a lot more realistic. A full two extra inches? You'd pretty much have the iPad mini. However, if the reports are true, a Retina+ Sharp IGZO display with 1080p full HD resolution would look stunning on a larger model iPhone running iOS 8.

Apple throws a curve ball

Speaking of displays, rumour has had it for some time that Apple is bending over backwards to imbue the iPhone 6 with a rounded display. Curved screen smartphones have been a hot topic in the headlines of late, with Samsung and LG both jumping on the bandwagon and engineering the Galaxy Round and the G Flex respectively.

Whether we’re talking Cirque du Soleil style bendiness or the gentle undulations of a screen that wraps around the phone’s body is not yet clear. A screen that runs down the sides and around to the back of a handset would certainly be an intriguing reboot of the way we interact with our phones, paving the way for some interesting apps as screen sizes effectively double whilst still retaining the popular pocket-size frame.

The source who first broke the story to Bloomberg claimed that the iPhone 6’s screen will curve “downwards at the edges,” leading many to hazard a guess that this wrap-around display is indeed being engineered in an underground Cupertino lab as we speak. Pretty design feature or genuine attempt to reinvent the wheel, who knows? Except for Tim Cook and Jony Ive, of course.

The sapphire jewel in Apple's crown

The curvature of the screen may not be the only interesting aspect of the iPhone 6's display. In November reports surfaced that Apple had signed a $578 million (£360 million) deal to open a sapphire crystal factory. This certainly wasn't a sign of Apple's desire to move into the jewellery market, so is it an indication that the iPhone 6 may sport a super-strong sapphire screen?

The iPhone 5S currently incorporates sapphire in its Touch ID fingerprint sensor, meaning that blue gems could soon become a staple feature of Apple products. Growing the crystals synthetically in labs makes them much stronger than their natural counterparts, so strong in fact that only diamond tipped saws are able to cut them into shape. It's a move that could potentially revolutionise smartphone durability and save clumsier Apple owners a great deal of money.

Motion sensing 3D technology

Apple really hasn't been afraid to splash its cash recently, and the most interesting move for fans of the Californian company's smartphones was the acquisition of Kinect designer PrimeSense in November 2013. In other words, $345 million ($214.3 million) later, Apple now has a whole host of motion sensor technology experts at its fingertips. But just what is it planning to do with them?

The most obvious answer would be the technology's inclusion in a new Apple iTV, but PrimeSense technology is not just found in the Kinect and televisions. PrimeSense products are currently used in more than 20 million devices worldwide, including handheld gadgetry like smartphones and tablets.

Consequently, the acquisition might be an indication that Apple is looking beyond the living room. PrimeSense has reportedly developed technology so small that it could easily fit into the next iPhone, giving it 3D sensing capabilities that would allow users to take a picture of a person or object to determine size and even mass.

Architects, space planners and graphic designers may certainly find that a nifty feature. Indeed, Forrester’s James McQuivey says it is “more than just a gesture interaction tool" but would give Apple the power to “fill your world with sensors” that could one day “alert you on the arrival of good friends you haven’t seen in a long time, or to remind you that you only put two cups of flour into the cake batter instead of the three cups the recipe called for.”

The power of sonar

While we're on the subject of technologies that sound more at home in a dystopian, Stepford future than 2014, Cupertino's clever-clogs have also allegedly been hard at work patenting sonar as a means of proximity detection for the iPhone 6. The US patent office published an application by Apple at the beginning of December that covered the integration of audio sensors into its displays, which of course then found its way online and kicked up a rumour storm of hurricane proportions.

The technology would mean that the iPhone 6 could use passive sonar to detect sound waves bouncing off objects, allowing customers to use the technology to map a room or have the phone automatically switch off touchscreen functions when near your face. The iPhone 6 could also be able to detect if it’s been dropped and is about to hit an object, shutting down major applications and operations for safety, or create an app for the blind that could issue precise walking directions when navigating unfamiliar areas.

Or, you could just don some spandex and use the sonar features to channel your inner Batman. The possibilities are endless.

Specs and release date

Considering that for the last three years, each brand new iPhone has debuted in October or September, it doesn’t take a genius to speculate that the iPhone 6 will be released sometime in the autumn of 2014.

On the other hand, a crystal ball or smattering of tea leaves would be rather useful to ascertain the actual specs for Apple’s brand new smartphone. Some have said that it will feature a model offering a massive 128GB of storage, which is double the maximum amount currently offered on the iPhone 5S.

NFC is also being thrown around as a hopeful addition to the iPhone recipe, which is currently lagging behind Samsung Galaxy devices that already include the technology, as an improved camera, possibly to the tune of 13-megapixels. And if rumours of a large-display iPhone are true, it's safe to say that the iPhone 6 would have more room inside for components, specifically a larger battery.

More concretely, it's like that Apple will introduce an A8 chipset, possibly featuring a quad-core configuration, and it's almost certain that a brand new operating system, iOS 8, will be announced at WWDC 2014.