Can There Be No More iPhone Surprises from Apple in 2012?

August 14th, 2012

If you’ve been following all the chatter about the next iPhone, the iPhone 5, the new iPhone, or whatever it’s to be called, you may wonder if Apple has any surprises left. After all, it appears that nearly every possible detail has already been disclosed, from the basic features, to the design.

Consider what we appear to “know” about the forthcoming iPhone upgrade. It will probably sport a display with a roughly four-inch diagonal measurement, with the increases being vertical rather than horizontal. Perhaps some of the “open” space above and below will be reduced, so the case won’t be as tall as it might otherwise be. But since the width will apparently remain unchanged, it will still be comfortable to hold in one hand.

How do we know this? Well, look at all those published photos of alleged prototype cases, and consider the fact that, under the iOS 6 beta, it is reportedly possible to increase the screen height appropriately on the developer tools emulator, and have an additional row of icons magically appear. This would appear to indicate that iOS 6 was designed with a new iPhone form factor in mind.

Other changes, and this one appears to be a given, is the addition of support for LTE networks. Supposedly the newer chips are more power efficient, so Apple won’t be forced to supply a substantially larger battery just to accommodate LTE. One alleged prototype battery appears to present only a slight increase in power reserves, but I suppose it’s also possible for Apple to exact more power efficiencies from other components. Or maybe that battery has no connection with the real thing.

There’s a report that Apple expects to make the new iPhone thinner, in part, because they will switch to in-cell LCD technology. This will mean a display that combines the standard LCD panel with the touch screen. Putting it all in one part may also reduce power requirements, but that’s highly speculative.

The traditional dock connector may be changed with a new 9-pin design that can be connected in either direction. No scurrying for tiny icons on the connection cable in the night (it’s barely visible in the daytime) to plug it in correctly. If this happens, Apple may include an adapter plug to allow existing iPhone accessories to remain compatible, though newly designed parts will come out soon enough, I suppose. There may also be a newly designed SIM card.

What you’ve read so far, and a few other goodies, are all gleaned from loads of online reports that have only appeared with greater frequency as we approach the reported September 12 intro date for the so-called iPhone 5. They all seem credible enough, though you have to wonder how so much information has escaped Apple’s highly envied security controls. Are they deliberately allowing all of this information to leak to increase demand for the product?

When these reports appear in the mainstream press, you have to think that Apple is fully aware of what’s going on and is just looking the other way. After all, we’ll soon know the answers.

The problem is that almost anything Apple introduces next month may seem an afterthought in light of all of these published rumors. If the iPhone 5 is mostly or substantially the same as predicted, though, a lot of potential buyers will be surprised, because they just aren’t paying attention to the sort of inside baseball in which the online community engages. It’s way under their radar, since they have better things to do.

If the predictions are correct, the iPhone 5 will be a pretty sizable upgrade, and I haven’t begun to consider more powerful CPU and graphics hardware. So it is conceivable there will be a decent performance boost too, maybe even better than the improvement between the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s, which I regard as merely modest.

But the real question is whether Apple can still deliver any surprises for the iPhone. The big announcement last year was the arrival of Siri, even though, as a beta, it had its share of quirks. The invisible lady may deliver accurate results for some of you, but I realize Apple has been on the receiving end of one or more lawsuits claiming that Siri is a failure.

Yes, Siri’s voice recognition repertoire is expanded for iOS 6. Will it exit the beta stage? Will it become more accurate? I suppose we’ll know soon enough once lots of people have a chance to give it a try.

The larger question is whether Apple can find some more features to flesh out the iPhone 5, features that actually raise the bar. Apple doesn’t just add things because an Android phone has it. It may not get the misguided editors at Consumer Reports to give the iPhone a higher rating, but the question would be whether there are smartphone features that Apple could add that make sense.

Not being a product designer, I will leave that open for discussion. But I always like surprises.

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