From all accounts, we're looking at it. The prototype Gizmodo obtained and which we scored photos of -- including a shot of one sitting near a locked down iPad -- is clearly Apple's, and according to John Gruber's sources, the "DVT" in its barcode means the phone is very late in its design cycle, and might even be exactly what we'll be seeing hit the shelves.
The phone sports an oh-so-familiar glass front, but instead of the rounded bezel there's a flat metal band running around the sides creating an ice cream sandwich of sorts. From the side the design is actually a lot like Nokia's N78, with some hints of Sony Ericsson C510 and T610 (one of the most famous examples of this sandwich aesthetic). Around back is the design's most interesting innovation, a flat, glass-like back. Apple has a 2006 patent for a "ceramic" enclosure that's highly durable, scratch-resistant and radio transparent, and the popular thinking is that this is being used here.
One very interesting aspect of the design are the very un-Apple-like vertical notches in the design, one on each edge. Some have thought that this might point to the non-final nature of the handset, but others are speculating based on the build of the device internally that two of the notches actually allow for side access to the battery, while the other two notches are there for aesthetic symmetry. With the MicroSIM card holder located on the side of the phone now, the paper clip-friendly hole on top would make for a convenient way to unlock the side. Meanwhile, Gizmodo has speculated that this hole could be for a noise canceling mic, another possibility, and their discovery of an "Authorized Service Provider Only" tab under the battery would seem to imply that it isn't user accessible.
The final tweak to the look and feel of the device are the all-metal side buttons. The mute switch, lock button, and volume buttons (now two separate circles instead of a rocker) are all silver colored now and made of metal. One potential for the newly separated volume buttons are as dedicated camera controls when the camera app is open, but that's just pure speculation. %Gallery-91070%
While the looks are the first thing that strikes you, Apple's general design direction for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad has been a de-emphasis of form in an attempt to highlight and center the screen in the user's consciousness. The actual device should disappear. So, day to day, the biggest news for users might be the higher resolution screen that Apple is apparently using here. Gizmodo wasn't able to count the pixels, but also: they weren't able to count the pixels. The density is obviously very high. The screen is apparently slightly smaller, or maybe just narrower than the current iPhones, possibly lending credence to those leaked screens we've seen.
The most popular rumor about pixel density is John Gruber's report of 960 x 640, an exact doubling of the resolution in each direction (quadrupling the pixel count). The benefit to developers would be obvious: instead of reworking every pixel of their apps, they'd just look exactly the same to the user, with each pixel represented by four pixels, until they can rework the app for the new screen with some eventual SDK release. With 800 x 480 screens becoming popular over in Android land, it seems obvious that Apple needs to do something to stay competitive resolution-wise, and the boost in pixel density (330 ppi, the Kindle offers 167 ppi by contrast, and the current iPhone packs a mere 162 ppi) would be a real boon to folks who use the devices for heavy reading.
Around back is more good news: the camera lens seems to be larger, which would theoretically point to an improved camera, a sort of no-brainer for phone updates in this day and age, though it's hard to see Apple shooting up all the way to the 8 megapixel sensors we're starting to see from the competition. We've heard 5 megapixels as one possibility, which sounds more reasonable, but this could really fall wherever. Next to it is an LED flash, which will help for those dastardly low light situations that the iPhone so struggles with.
This is probably the biggest mystery so far. Gizmodo did a teardown of the phone, but since they didn't want to damage the insides, we weren't able to learn too much. The biggest question mark is if the phone is getting a version of the iPad's speedy, power-sipping A4 processor. Our guess would be yes, but there's nothing solid that's been unearthed so far to actually verify that assumption.
Storage is also a mystery, since the back of the prototype says "XX GB." Very unhelpful, but a bump seems a natural. We heard 80GB from our source, a number that's been bandied about unsuccessfully since 2007. Since flash storage is typically sized in powers of 2 (16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, etc.), it's an odd number, but it would make sense if Apple has somehow managed to find room for two flash chips and decided to pair 16GB and 64GB modules -- which would be much cheaper than a single 128GB chip. Typically Apple only has room for one flash chip in its iPhones, while the iPod touch can make room for two, but with all the internal rejiggering that's going on it's not out of the question.
One thing that's very obvious from multiple teardowns is that the battery is larger. Gizmodo pegs it at 16 percent larger, at 5.25 WHr instead of the 3GS's 4.51 WHr. Given that external battery packs are one of the iPhone's hottest accessory, it's obvious that people want more battery life, and hopefully a larger batter up against that higher resolution screen and faster processor can still win out in the end and improve usage time -- it's certainly done wonders for the iPad.
Like we mentioned before, the phone uses a MicroSIM slot now, instead of one of those old and busted SIM cards. What's the difference? Check out our handy guide and bask in the mind-expanding knowledge it provides. One thing it certainly doesn't imply is a move to 4G, since the iPad uses the same MicroSIM tech and it's a 3G device.
So, about that 4G. It seems incredibly unlikely at this point, but you can't really rule anything out, either. John Gruber points out that the "N90" in the prototype's barcode points to a "fourth-generation GSM iPhone," possibly differentiating it from some non-GSM version, though that's certainly a slim bit of evidence. Since AT&T's LTE network isn't as far along as Verizon's, if Apple were to build an LTE iPhone it would most likely pair a CDMA chipset for voice with an LTE chip for data (similar to the EVO 4G's approach to WiMAX) and bring it to Verizon, but apparently if such a handset exists, this prototype isn't it.
A regular 3G Verizon version of the phone also isn't strictly ruled out, there's just no hard evidence for it either. With LTE so near (Verizon plans to do data by the end of the year, with its first phones out in the first half of 2011) it seems silly for Apple to build a CDMA-only phone right now, particularly with how staunchly they've resisted moving to Verizon so far, but anything's possible.
Despite the fact that the prototype wasn't actually running by the time Gizmodo got its hands on it, we actually know the most about the software the next iPhone will be running, thanks to a handy little iPhone OS 4 event Apple put on the other week. We won't rehash everything (check out our hands-on and feature breakdown for the full skinny), but the highlights should be enough to start the saliva: multitasking (sort of), enhanced mail (threaded messaging), Game Center (it's like Xbox Live), iBooks, App folders, and the all-important addition of Bluetooth keyboard support. If you're an optimistic type, you can add iChat on top of all that.
Of course, the iPhone 3G and 3GS will be getting most of these features (though the mega-addition of multitasking is being left out of the 3G), but it's clear that Apple is creating a "gradient" of sorts that slowly kicks out the old phones (the original iPhone and original iPod touch are being left out of the update entirely, for instance). We're guessing the 4th gen iPhone will lay claim to a few exclusive features, and as the software continues to progress it will fare better in feature exclusivity than its older siblings -- until the 5th gen comes along to usurp it, of course.
In a sense this is a very predictable bit of all this: Apple's released three iPhones so far, two in June (the 2G and the 3GS), one in July (the 3G). We'd say that maps a bit of a trend, and we haven't heard anyone pin a launch outside of those two months. Our most recent rumor on this front is from Canada's SaskTel, whose CEO claimed a new iPhone was coming out in "the June time-frame." The statement was later "clarified" to be referring to openly reported rumors, not any sort of inside knowledge, but since June is before July, we're going to choose to believe it until shown otherwise.
In case you need a bit of added proof that this phone is right around the bend, Apple plans on shipping iPhone OS 4 "this summer," and the last time we got a big update (iPhone OS 3.0) it shipped two days before a new phone, the 3GS.
So, plenty of facts remain to be uncovered, and we're sure Apple's eventual official unveiling of the next iPhone will be action-packed in its own way, but at least one thing's clear: there's almost no reason to buy a current-gen iPhone right now. Even if the 3GS is good enough for you, Apple might do a repeat of the existing retail configuration and bop that phone down to $99, the spot the 3G currently occupies.
And that brings us back to the name: if the phone isn't actually 4G it would seem silly to call it "4G," since "3G" meant a 3G network, not third generation. iPhone HD makes a lot of sense, given the upped screen resolution, but it's also a completely overused moniker on the market currently (even Apple uses "HD" to differentiate its iPad and non-iPad apps. One other possibility is just calling it "iPhone," and leaving it to us to figure out the generation based on specs (much with the old iPods, or Apple's Macintosh lines), but now we're just speculating.