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iPhone 5 / 4S: the rumor roundup

Brian Heater
B. Heater|07.07.11

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iPhone 5 / 4S: the rumor roundup
It's July, there is no new iPhone, and the analysts are restless. This time last year, Apple had already announced and begun shipping the iPhone 4 -- in fact, every single previous model has been announced in June, save for the first, which was unveiled in January 2007. So, now that the month has come and gone and WWDC with it, what are all of the tech publications out there to do? Make with the rumor stories, naturally -- and over the past few weeks, they've been coming fast and furious.

DigiTimes has offered a fairly constant stream of sometimes dubious rumors surrounding the device from its stable of supplier contacts, and a recent article from The Wall Street Journal has reopened the floodgates. GigaOm has gone so far as to suggest that the latter may well be a controlled leak from Apple, and certainly it has reignited interest in the belated device.

There's not a lot in the way consensus here, save for one key detail: Apple appears set to release a new iPhone. That much seems certain. After all, the iPhone remains the company's biggest money maker, even in this post-iPad world. Last year, of course, we had a slightly better guide ahead of the launch, but this time out, for better or worse, no one at Cupertino has been considerate enough to leave the upcoming handset at a Redwood City bar after a night of partying, so let's cut through the noise and and piece together a cohesive picture based on the wide assortment of rumors.

Name: at least maybe it'll have "iPhone" in there somewhere

While Apple has traditionally released the iPhone on a fairly consistent schedule, the new device's name has always been a bit harder to predict -- the iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4. The two primary candidates here are the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, both of which are being used mostly interchangeably in rumor stories about the device, though the latter seems the more popular option. The iPhone 4S moniker has been used to refer both to the flagship iPhone 4 successor and a slight revamp to that handset to be released alongside an iPhone 5 at a lower price point, perhaps targeted primarily toward pre-paid customers.

Announcement: if not now, when?

With June come and gone, there's an "any day now" vibe amongst tech sites. Back in June, BGR cited a source suggesting that an iPhone event in early or mid-August was "quite possible." Most rumors, however, point to a September event, perhaps coinciding with the iPod unveiling traditionally held that month. Many of those September rumors are coming courtesy of supply sources offering up a wide spectrum of shipment numbers -- "a few million" at launch and 25 million by year's end, according to one and 15 million at release, according to another. DigiTimes, a few days before offering up the 15 million number, cited sources suggesting a shipment of "millions" for an October release.

All of which prompts the question of why Apple missed the June cutoff? Production problems seem to be the primary culprit, according to the majority of the rumors we've seen. The Wall Street Journal is blaming a problem with the production rate at iPhone assembler, Hon Hai Precision Co., which may delay the phone's launch even further if not improved. A rep from Hon Hai suggested last month that production issues were due, in part, to the difficulty of installing components in thin touchscreen devices. OmniVision is reportedly having some troubles producing the camera for the upcoming version of the iPhone, as well. Word is that such an issue may jeopardize its relationship with the oft fickle Apple.

Hardware: totally the same, yet completely different

Just how different would a new iPhone be? That, not surprisingly, is the subject of much debate as well. Apple has certainly seen the competition stepping up its game, with handsets like the Droid Bionic, HTC Sensation, and Galaxy S II, so staying on top may mean some serious upgrades in this latest version. That said, a number of outlets are reporting that the new iPhone may be a minor upgrade to the iPhone 4, perhaps with a few small cosmetic changes.

Most sources are pointing to some updates to the device's design, including an edge-to-edge screen, upsetting bezel diehards everywhere. Many also expect that the latest version of the handset will be both thinner and lighter than its predecessor -- not a radical suggestion, by any stretch. One analyst is predicting a return to the curved back that went away with the iPhone 3GS, but that's nothing compared to the bizarre teardrop design that we saw back in April. A month later, it was reported that Apple had purchased hundreds of glass cutting machines to created an iPhone with a curved glass front.

As for the innards of the thing, The Wall Street Journal was tipped off on the possibility of a full switch from Infineon chips to Qualcomm by one of its endless line of anonymous sources. A camera upgrade seems like a no-brainer, meanwhile, with the megapixel count on the rear of the device getting bumped up to eight, along with a sensor better equipped to handle low-light conditions. Back in June, a dual-LED flash was also added to the list of potential upgrades.

And what about LTE? It's been floated as a possibility, of course, as has NFC, but these features seem largely the musing of analysts creating a laundry list of ways Apple can remain competitive. Verizon's own comments haven't been particularly encouraging in the case of the former. The carrier's CFO did, however, make mention of a "global device."

The carriers

AT&T, check. Verizon, check. Both providers are apparently getting the device at the same time. And hey, since the multiple US carrier floodgates have already been opened, why not add Sprint to the list? The wireless provider is being pegged as the next recipient of Apple's beloved smartphone, with an analyst predicting that it will be happily receiving it before the holidays roll around. The handset is said to be priced the same, but may have a leg up on the competition with lower-priced data offerings. T-Mobile, naturally, has been suggested as a possibility as well, but given recent events, that could soon be rendered moot.


Have you heard the one where Apple releases the next version of the iPad at the same time as the new iPhone? That rumor's been pretty persistent since before the release of the iPad 2, and hey, it would certainly help the company get a jump on paying for that giant new spaceship campus the Cupertino City Council seems so excited about.

And what about the iPhone 6? The Wall Street Journal is predicting big things for that one -- seemingly lending credence to the rumor that the 2011 release won't be a major upgrade. On the list of possibilities: inductive charging. Sorry, PowerMat.
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