The Next iPhone
It gets to to a certain point in the Apple calendar when the questions, speculation and excitement over a new iPhone tends to become deafening. If you hadn’t noticed we’re firmly in that part of the year but for all the right reasons. It’s less that two weeks until Apple CEO Tim Cook will take to the stage on September 12 and present to the world the new iPhone.
You’ll note a trend in my thinking right from the start and that is how I intend to refer to the latest iPhone from Apple. Unlike most who are running with the iPhone 5 label I’ve instead decided to run with the camp that believe that the sixth generation of the iPhone will simply go by the name iPhone and under Apple’s marketing umbrella as ‘the new iPhone’.
There’s no real need to outline arguments for this, over the past 18 months Apple has been firmly bitten by the damage of the mainstream media and the iPhone 5 name. I could count on fingers and toes the number of people who have told me that the iPhone 4S (the fifth iPhone) “was no iPhone 5″. To solve this problem Apple has demonstrated that it is keen to drop numbering and has done so for the iPad and I have no doubt will do so this month with the iPhone.
Thankfully for the casual Apple observers looking for an “iPhone 5″ they won’t be disappointed this year. No matter what changes under the surface the average consumer clambers for the latest and greatest, especially when it comes to gadgets, and for those who can’t tell the different between an A4 or an A5 or a slightly modified antenna design it all comes down to external appearance. This year’s iPhone will change in appearance and will represent a major leap forward.
Apple is nothing if not a predictable and when it comes to the design of the iPhone the pattern has been clear. Ignoring the anomaly of the original iPhone we can see that Apple enjoys releasing a new look, newly engineered device and then iterating it with an improved model the following year. There may be marginal design changes and sometimes major engineering changes but the package as a whole is an improvement upon the one that came before it. The iPhone 4S was an iteration of the iPhone 4 which leaves us this year with an iPhone with a new look, new innards and new thinking.
But that’s enough of the philosophy what we’re all here for is the run down on what’s going to be in the new iPhone. Apple announced iOS 6 back in June at WWDC so from a software standpoint the majority of major features are covered so I’m going to look at this from a hardware point of view.
A Larger Display
The headline feature of the new iPhone will be a new larger display. It’s not uncommon to see people lugging around a smartphone with a 4- or 5-inch display these days and this has been the trend now for around 15 months. It’s difficult to say whether Apple has been feeling the pressure from these smartphone models but whatever the decision process the new iPhone will feature a marginally larger display. Unlike other manufacturers Apple has instead opted to keep the width of the device identical to that of the iPhone 4/4S and instead increase the height.
The new iPhone will include a 4.065-inch display up from the current 3.5-inch and will be close to a 16:9 ratio. The screen height will go from just over 3-inches to a little over 3.5 inches. The general consensus is that the 1136 x 640 pixel display, representing an 18% increase in pixels, will be able to show an additional row of icons on the home screen and although no sources have confirmed so it would be logical for apps not ready for the change in screen size to simply be “letterboxed”.
Visually the changes to the screen will be the most obvious difference but there are a large number of external changes that will come with the new iPhone. Changes caused by the change in display will see the top and bottom areas of the front of the iPhone be squished a little with even the home button being reduced marginally in size.
Take a look at the bottom of edge of the iPhone and the next major change will become obvious. First the headphone jack has been moved from the top to the bottom, a decision likely made due to the lack of space up the top end of the phone. The new iPhone will also come with the first redesign to the Dock connector since 2003 when it debuted with the third-generation iPod. The iconic 19-pin thin connector is being replaced with a 9-pin considerably smaller connector. Apart from the benefit of being smaller the new Dock connector is said to be able to be inserted in any direction and may even feature a snap to place feature similar to that of the MagSafe. This space saving with the smaller Dock connector leaves room for the headphone jack and also a larger speaker and more prominent grill.
Taking a look at the back there’s also a major change here. Apple has made a departure away from the gorilla glass back of the iPhone 4 and 4S and instead there is now a brushed aluminium back with a glass header and footer for antenna signal. The changes at the back are actually indicative of a major change in the way in which the iPhone is being manufactured and a departure from the heralded and problematic antenna design of the iPhone 4. In the current iPhone model the antenna band around the outside is key to holding the front and back pieces together, the new iPhone is instead made from a “unibody” (for lack of a better word) rear and the front glass panel is attached to it.
This unibody enclosure with glass ends is just one of the ways in which Apple will make the next iPhone even thinner than the current design. Estimates suggest that the new iPhone will be under 8mm in thickness (compared to 9.3mm for the iPhone 4S) primarily helped along by the unibody enclosure, thinner battery but also the inclusion of in-cell technology in the display. The current iPhone display uses on-cell touch technology which means the display unit is a sandwich design with the touch panel sitting atop the colour filters. With in-cell technology the touch sensors are placed inside the colour filters reducing the thickness of the display unit.
Inside the new iPhone there are also big changes but not major. Much like Apple’s industrial design which cycles every two years the same goes for Apple’s choice of System on Chip (SoC) – that is the package of CPU, GPU and memory. Inside the iPhone 4S is the A4 SoC fabricated by Samsung but it’s not as simple as suspecting that Apple will put the “A6″ inside the new iPhone. Traditionally Apple blazes the path with the iPad, so in early 2011 the iPad 2 included the A5 and then later that year so did the iPhone 4S. But the new iPad (iPad 3) released earlier this year includes the A5X, a modification upon the original A5 which includes a quad-core GPU to push all those pixels on the iPad’s Retina display. The new iPhone doesn’t need that much GPU grunt.
It’s simply not possible to accurately speculate Apple’s move here but a betting man would suggest that Apple will give the new iPhone a SoC chip with a dual-core Cortex A9 processor and a PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU with 1GB of RAM all on a 32nm process. It’s this 32nm process that will give battery life benefits and Apple has been testing the 32nm yield with the modified A5 that live inside the 2012 iPad 2 and third-generation Apple TV.
Battery life is another subject up for debate, clearly the methods to increase battery life are to make the battery larger, adjust the chemistry and make other components more energy efficient. With regard to these points Apple is clearly making efforts to shrink other components in the iPhone, possibly to increase the size of the battery. Apple may make use of chemistry changes that Motorola made last year which could see the voltage of the battery increase and finally by making use of 32nm process chips and the latest cellular chips and an improved WiFi stack will create a more energy efficient device.
Cellular connectivity is another area where Apple is going to be touting the new iPhone, with the iPad getting LTE connectivity earlier this year it’s a given that the iPhone will follow suit. Pegged to bring LTE connectivity to the iPhone is Qualcomm’s MDM9x15 (most like MDM9615) which also packs TD-SCDMA support. This world mode cellular chip includes more LTE bands than the chip inside the iPad 3 bringing compatibility to more markets but it’s up to Apple which ones.
The cameras on the new iPhone are one area where the supply chain leaks have failed to come up good. We’ve seen camera modules but it’s almost impossible to tell what kind of sensor, optics, lens are in such a package. The camera in the iPhone 4S was a huge leap from the iPhone 4 with Apple focusing a lot of hardware and software engineering on improving the quality. It’s possible that Apple has done as much as it can do hardware wise, especially considering the thinner enclosure. I would personally expect the camera to stay at 8 megapixels but there might be some optic and sensor tweaks to increase light throughput and sensitivity. The big change will likely be the front facing camera which could take a leaf out of the Mac’s book and jump up to HD quality.
Then there is the perplexing subject of Apple’s relationship with NFC. If this roundup of rumours, knowledge and speculation was being written ahead of the release of the iPhone 4 or even 4S I would have told you that NFC was coming (I probably did). I wouldn’t have been wrong in that assumption, even those with an ear to the ground at Apple have before indicated that NFC is coming to the iPhone. But as AnandTech points out the design of the new iPhone is not conducive to NFC and the ever wise Dalrymple confirms it so.
It’s a bizarre and frustrating move to say the least. Clearly Apple doesn’t believe in the technology as a whole. Before I might have argued that it was the age and price of NFC creating a barrier but that can no longer be the case as my wallet is breaking at the seams with NFC capable credit cards and travel cards. Apple’s solution, whether it is temporary or not is a software one in the form of Passbook but that’s not going to stop the hunger for NFC on the iPhone.
We’ve seen a disturbingly large amount about the new iPhone. The fact is that when you’re trying to manufacturer tens of millions of iPhones across a vast supply chain it is impossible to keep the ship water tight. However don’t be surprised if Apple manages to surprise us anyway.
The new iPhone will be announced on September 12 with a release speculated to be September 21. It is unknown how many countries that initial release will be in or whether they will be pre-order only.