Late winter, early spring… it’s that time of year where the entire technology world begins to wonder about what Apple has planned for the next version of the iPhone, which, come late June will be the device that sets the trend for mobile technology into the next year. Like it or hate it, the iPhone is the standard that all Android, WebOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phones must either match or surpass to be taken seriously.
So what will this phone feature? It’s impossible to tell until Steve Jobs takes the stage to tell us, and even then there will still be many unanswered questions until it gets into the hands of the consumer. Even though the release of the next generation iPhone happens like clock work, I’m still constantly asked questions like “when will the next iPhone be out” or “should I wait to buy it?” — This article serves to help anwser those questions right now.
By the way, if you thought I mistaken when I said Steve Jobs will take the stage, let me clarify:
Prediction #1 — Steve Jobs Will Introduce the iPhone 5
Unless his cancer reaches a point which seriously prohibits him from doing so, I believe that he will do everything in his power to be the one on stage to show off the new iPhone. Rumors of his impending doom are being greatly exaggerated, and unlike what the tabloids have said he’s well enough to have dinner at the White House (which I believe he’s doing as I’m writing this) so pending something that physically prohibits him from doing so, he’s going to introduce this device.
Why? Because the reality distortion field doesn’t function without him.
Do I think it’s a coincidence that the Verizon iPhone hasn’t taken off like crazy and that Steve Jobs was not the one to announce it? While there are many factors, some of which I’ve outlined in the past, that have led to the Verizon iPhone not being as exciting as what some in the tech press thought it would be, the fact that Steve wasn’t there to hock the wares didn’t help. Now don’t get me wrong, Apple’s chief operating officer Tim Cook, who is taking Steve’s place running the daily operations in Cupertino is a very capable person and did a fine job at the Verizon iPhone launch. You also have the very engaging Jonathan Ive, who I’m sure would give a fantastic intoduction, or Bob Mansfield who I’m sure could also take the stage.
But none of them are Steve Jobs. None of them really have the magic, none of them have the power to convince millions of people that the device Apple is selling is the best product on the market, even if it lacks some features that competitors have, or operates within Apple’s closed system. Regardless of your loyalties, at the end of the presentation Steve makes you want to go at least try his new device… if not stand in line for hours on end to please him.
Prediction #2 — Hardware Updates
I’m going to go on record by saying that the iPhone 5 isn’t going to look drastically different than the iPhone 4. While the antenna design my be altered slightly, the dimensions are going to be the same. In my opinion the market isn’t ready for something drastically different, yet. That will probably come with next years version. Aside from the well documented attenuation problems, the design of the iPhone 4 is solid. My best guess is, Apple won’t alter it much except to correct that flaw.
I don’t buy into the 4″ screen rumor that is going around the blogs. I also don’t give any credence to the prediction of an “iPhone Nano” — I just don’t think it’s going to happen this year, if ever.
Inside though, you’re probably going to see updates similar to that of the transition from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS. What does that mean this go round?
- Dual-core processor, perhaps in the 1GHz range. Can’t you just see Steve on stage saying “it’s twice as fast!” If they don’ t get this, they’re going to be left behind in the power plant by almost any serious Android phone in 2011 who will all be sporting dual processor/graphics cores. NVIDIA is working on a Tegra 3 chip that has a quad-core ARM processor powerful enough rival an Intel Core 2 Duo, and with far better power efficiencies. This is one area I don’t think Apple cannot afford to let us down in, and I don’t think they will.
- Improved rear camera, perhaps in the 8MP area, and with support for 1080p video recording. Honestly, as good as the camera on the iPhone 4 already is, rather than simply bumping up the megapixels I’d like to see them give the sensor increased sensitivity, faster focus speed, and better ISO/low light performance… and maybe they will.
- 1GB of RAM. It’s cheap, and it’s going to be needed as mobile computing becomes more powerful to background more and more applications. I can see Apple sticking with 512MB here just as much as I can see them update, so I’ll give this one a 50/50 shot.
- NFC, or near field communications. If you don’t know what this is, I’d suggest some research is in order. It’s too much to explain here, but it basically means using your phone for mobile payment and communication with other devices. I’ll be shocked if they don’t have this feature.
Prediction #3 – Networks
- No LTE. It’s not needed, the chips that are out to support it are not mature, and suck a lot of battery life. Besides that, cellular networks around the world are not deploying it at the level where it’s even going to be utilized except by a few lucky few. This is an area where if you can get LTE now (or soon) and really feel like you need it, you’re going to be better off with Android anyway.
- Support for fake-4G also known as “HSPA+” — although I really hope that Apple doesn’t ever call it 4G. Enhanced 3G is all it is.
The reason why I think Apple will support HSPA+ in the next version is the same reason why I think the iPhone 5 will be a unified GSM/CDMA device. I think it’s going to be launched at the same time on AT&T and Verizon in the USA, in addition to all the GSM providers around the world. The current iPhone 4 model on AT&T is a GSM-only radio made by a company now owned by Intel. The Verizon iPhone uses a radio that is both CDMA and GSM capable made by Qualcomm. If I could bet on it, I’d put big money on this same exact chip being in the iPhone 5. This chip currently supports HSPA+ but it’s not in the iOS firmware, nor does Verizon utilize this technology on their EVDO data network.
One chip both simplifies Apple’s SKUs and allows them to use the same device around the world.
I also think Apple is going to announce support for other CDMA providers around the world, including Canada and most of all… China. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t happy until after the initial launch.
Prediction #4 – Software
Obviously with the release of a new iPhone comes updates to iOS, in this case bringing us to version 5.0.
This is the area where my predictions are somewhat fuzzy. Because we’re still in the process of evaluating the soon to drop (like, within the next month, possibly with the iPad 2) version of iOS 4.3, that’s all many are focused on.
But I will say that I think Apple finally is going to get serious about the cloud, and wireless. While I don’t think that Apple will be switching to over the air updates from carriers (nor should they), I think they’re going to finally open up wireless sync for iTunes. The time is right, and their track record recently with things like Apple TV streaming, Air Play, etc, is leading them in that direction.
It would be fantastic if Apple would let you sync your device with iTunes from anywhere, but I have mixed emotions about if this will happen. Carriers are not going to want to allow them to do it, especially AT&T, so it’s possible it will be a Wifi only feature, which honestly wouldn’t be a horrible thing. I’m not sure I’d want to be syncing back over 3G, even at HSPA+ speeds and especially not on regular 3G or worse yet, Verizon’s slower broadband network. Syncing back to my home computer, or even better, Apple’s North Carolina datacenters, would be fantastic.
What I hope to see, but don’t think we will, is a better notification system in iOS. Despite Android, WebOS, BlackBerry and even Windows Phone having a superior notification system for new events, I think this is one of those areas where Apple doesn’t see major issues. Those that do, are going to continue jailbreaking and installing things like Lockinfo, Notifier, etc.
It’s my hope that some of the built in applications will finally get some love in iOS 5. I’m looking at you Calculator, but especially you Weather and Stocks… which have hardly changed at all since iOS 1.0. Most of all though, I think Apple is going to have to invest heavily in revamping their Maps application, which hasn’t changed much since the original version. Google Maps on Android is absolutely crushing iOS in this area.
Last, voice commands are going to be improved, hopefully to the point where it reaches the ability to run much of the phone without touch. If Apple could duplicate the text-to-voice functionality of Android, it’s be all over.
Prediction #5 – Most of this will be wrong
In all five of these areas, I’m probably going to be wrong more than I’m right. Predicting what Apple will do is like predicting the weather in Kansas on the day they announce the iPhone 5. It could be sunny, we could get a dual-core, or it could be stormy and we get only minor improvements. Hell, it could snow in June and we get nothing. The world honestly won’t know until later this summer.
I will say this. After the end of February, if you are reaching the point where your iPhone 3GS contract is about to expire, and you’re not considering a switch to Android or Windows Mobile (which you should, there are some great alternatives out there) then don’t buy an iPhone 4 right now. Not on AT&T, Verizon, or any other network. We’re quickly reaching the point of no return where you’re going to be kicking yourself for investing $200/$300 and two years of your life in a contract for a device that is soon to be last generation.
But, perhaps my #6 prediction is that many will not see or heed this warning, and do so anyway.