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Speculation About the Next Apple Event

Last year, it was early October before Apple staged a media event to roll out the iPhone 4s. Sales the previous quarter were not as high as industry and financial analysts expected, in part because many potential customers were perceived as staying on the sidelines for the refreshed model. That, in fact, is one explanation given for fewer than expected iPhone sales. Indeed, a recent survey showed more customers expect to buy the next iPhone than expected to buy the previous version before that model was launched.

So, depending on whose story you believe, either a lot of people waited on the sidelines for a rumored iPhone 5, or didn’t. But it was certainly true that the economic crisis in Europe weighed heavily on purchasing decisions for a lot of people, and it wasn’t just smartphones. Auto makers are also reporting problems moving iron in that market, and they are clearly not alone.

Now this past weekend, there were yet more rumors about an iPhone 5, including one photo of a prototype supposedly assembled from leaked parts. I don’t pretend to know the reality of that photo. It may have been based on prototype parts that will not make it into the final design.

There are also unconfirmed reports that the next iPhone — whatever it is to be called — is already in production. But that doesn’t take a stretch. Even if a new iPhone isn’t announced until October, you’d probably want to grant Apple sufficient time to ramp up the production lines, so they’d have a decent amount of product to ship on the first weekend, so all those millions of eager customers can get one.

But the real question is whether Apple really wants to wait until October, and possibly suffer another sagging quarter, or get the next iPhone into the marketplace as early as possible, and therein lies the latest group of rumors.

First, there was a story that pegged the next iPhone’s intro at Tuesday, September 25. That might make sense based on Apple’s promise to deliver iOS 6 by fall. But that doesn’t mean Apple can’t beat the deadline and emerge as a hero. So there is yet another report that pegs Wednesday, September 12, three days after my birthday, for an Apple media event. And obviously isn’t a birthday present for me.

The latter date actually makes sense, since AllThingsD, owned by the Wall Street Journal, is reporting that their sources have confirmed that timeframe for some sort of Apple event, although they are not saying for sure that the occasion will be used to launch a new iPhone. But if that happens, though, and the new model ships by September 14, it would give Apple plenty of time to move five to ten million units into the hands of customers, and thus really boost revenue for the September quarter.

As far as the design of the iPhone 5 is concerned, the guessing has it that it will sport a four-inch display and the same width, and thus use a widescreen aspect ratio. How existing iOS apps will be impacted probably depends on how the scaling is done. But there may be a black border at the top and bottom of existing apps until they are optimized for the new platform. Or maybe the latest iOS developer tools will somehow manage some of this scaling in the background and make the transition seem less awkward.

The other design element that appears a certainty is support for LTE. Apple may use the larger case to store a bigger battery, since LTE chips are notorious for less efficient power consumption. Or perhaps the LTE chips that Apple will select won’t have such prodigious power requirements. Or maybe it will be a combination of both. It does appear the new sized case will sport a different design as well, although that recent iPhone 5 mockup doesn’t seem altogether sleek.

There are other question marks about the introduction of the next iPhone. Will Apple also introduce a new iPod touch with a similar form factor? What about rumors of an iPad mini? Would Apple announce “one more thing,” and thus unveil a 7.85-inch scaled down iPad with Smart Cover and all the rest of the goodies? Apple could use such a product’s 4:3 aspect ratio as an argument against the 7-inch tablets that tend to be widescreen affairs. You wouldn’t need sandpaper with more screen real estate. Otherwise, the main arguments in favor of the tinier iPad would be easier portability, the ability to hold the unit in one hand comfortably, and a selling price between $249 and $299.

It appears reasonably certain that a smaller iPad, with a proper marketing campaign, may have the potential to gut sales of the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire before the holidays.

But I do not subscribe to the possibility that Apple is going to do an interim update to the new iPad to address alleged heat problems and reduce weight, as some are suggesting. That’s not Apple’s game, and existing customers would probably feel cheated. Better wait for the spring of 2013 to incorporate such changes, and others, into the fourth generation model.

As far as a new iMac and Mac mini are concerned, they are overdue, but, unless there are major changes in the former, both will probably arrive quietly in the near future, announced strictly with a press release.