Reading the iPhone 5 Tea Leaves

August 8th, 2012

According to published reports, someone tweaked the iPhone simulator in Apple’s developer tools to present a resolution of 1136×640, which is the rumored layout of the rumored 4-inch display on the iPhone 5. Supposedly the Home page looked normal, but gained an extra row of icons. If confirmed, this experiment would appear to indicate that the iOS 6 developer tools are already taking into account an iPhone with a larger display.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all apps developed or revised to support iOS 6 will also scale up proportionately without some tweaks. What it does mean is that Apple is evidently prepared to make it as easy as possible for apps to be updated when the next iPhone arrives.

One of the prevailing theories has it that existing apps will simply gain black bars at the top and bottom (or left and right sides in landscape mode) to compensate for the change. While the screen will be taller, width will evidently be the same, so you can still use an iPhone comfortably in one hand. You can search for several online mockups that present the image of a slightly taller and thinner iPhone 5.

The other key spec of the new design will probably be support for LTE. In the U.S., handset makers are bumping into themselves touting the improved performance of the latest and greatest wireless networking technology. At the same time, those LTE chips are notoriously power-hungry, so customers have to suffer from slightly thicker and heavier smartphones, to accommodate larger batteries, or shorter battery life.

Apple’s scheme may well include thinning out the other electronics and reducing weight, to allow for a larger battery without seriously impacting weight. Shorter battery life is not an option.

Certainly Apple had to compromise with the third generation iPad, which is a tad thicker and heavier than the iPad 2. But the difference is barely noticeable without a side-by-side comparison. No doubt the fourth generation model will go on a diet, as Apple discovers ways to thin the display. One possible improvement expected of the iPhone 5, in-cell technology, combines the touch layer with the LCD, which means thinner. No doubt the next iPad will gain a similar improvement, assuming that Apple’s OEM partners can build enough of the larger retina displays with the new technology. But the key elements of the design of the next iPad are probably even now being finalized

Returning to the iPhone 5, the real question is whether Apple can pull out any surprises now that so many details appear to be on the table. Sure, nothing is set in stone until the product is actually launched, and it’s been essentially confirmed that will happen on September 12. It’s always possible Apple will present a new feature or two that, along with the introduction of iOS 6, will be as iconic as Siri’s arrival last year.

As to that date, several journalists with great track records, known to have inside sources that are almost always on the mark, say you can take that September 12 timeframe to the bank. Assuming that the next iPhone ships the following week, initial demand and sales could fuel a great end to the September quarter. If a reasonable number of potential iPhone customers are hanging on the sidelines for the next model, their demand could be filled quickly.

But Apple is not about to just add needless features to look good on an advertising slick, as other tech companies are doing, when they aren’t just imitating Apple. You won’t see an iPhone with 3D, at least unless or until Apple finds a need for the extra dimension, and a way to deliver it in a way that looks good, works without glasses, and is reasonably compatible with existing software.

If there is a “one more thing” potential, Apple could announce an iPad mini at the very same event. There seems little reason not to take such a beast seriously. If Apple delivers the goods at the rumored 7.85-inch display size, with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, there will be noticeably more screen real estate than those 7-inch tablets from Amazon and Google. It will make such a product far more usable.

The smaller iPad will also answer objections to the full-size model, such as not being able to use it comfortably in one hand, being more suited to offering navigation services in your car, and the improved ease of transporting the thing. An expected price of $249 or $299 for a 16GB version would make an iPad mini an affordable purchase for cash-starved educational systems, and it will destroy much of whatever market still exists for the Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire. I realize some of you will dispute that contention, but the iPad has already captured 68% of the supposed tablet market. That’s an iPod-sized market share.

Regardless of what Apple announces, however, the critics will shout “same old same old” simply because most of the particulars were already published. But that assumes the rumors are on the mark, and, other than the iPhone 5’s intro date, that’s by no means certain.

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2 Responses to “Reading the iPhone 5 Tea Leaves”

  1. d says:

    Am one of the few who are concerned about seeing more storage space in next ipad/pod/phone iterations? Did we hit a wall with the upscaling we used to get, or is Apple so obsessed with ‘thinner’ that it can’t spare the room? Myself, I’d be a little tight with only 64GB of space to work. I’m going nuts have to regulate myself down to 16GB as it is.

    Anyone thinking along similar lines? Perhaps Gene can put an answer to the ‘why’ of this issue…

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