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  • Expectations About the Next iPhone

    May 31st, 2013

    So members of the media have pushed this rumor and that rumor about the form and substance of the next iPhone. While some commentators are suggesting that such competitors as the Samsung Galaxy S4, which is doing pretty well on the sales front, are beating Apple, the iPhone remains the standard by which others are judged.

    To nobody’s surprise, Galaxy S4’s improvements over the Galaxy S3 have been relatively minor in the scheme of things, such as a slightly larger screen, faster chips, and a bigger battery in a slightly lighter, slimmer case, and, of course, lots more junkware, Apple continues to face heavy criticism if they don’t do a major refresh for the next iPhone. But Samsung seems insulated from complaints that they aren’t revolutionizing the market. Only Apple does that.

    Some of what you can expect will be previewed when iOS 7 is unleashed at the WWDC in June. But if there are exclusive hardware-related features, such as support for fingerprint recognition or NFC, that will await until there is a device available with that capability.

    But trying to figure out what’s happening on the basis of what Tim Cook has said in recent months, particularly at this week’s AllThingsD conference, might be an exercise in futility. He continues to repeat essentially the same talking points, perhaps couched in slightly different language, so it’s not as if there was much new, except for loads of articles repeating the same things without reminding you that little has changed.

    You know, for example, that Apple’s ongoing interest in TVs and the living room is now part of a “grand vision,” as if this represents anything altogether different, and it doesn’t. You know that Apple is looking into wearables, but that doesn’t mean the rumored iWatch is in our future, near or otherwise.

    You know that Apple is skeptical about larger screens for a smartphone. Cook has repeated the basics, about color quality, longevity, battery life and all the other considerations. He should also mention being visible in sunlit surroundings, where the 5-inch Galaxy S4, and the 4.8-inch Galaxy S3 fail miserably. Well, they fail in the eyes of most users and reviewers except for Consumer Reports, which gave the latest Samsung smartphone high ratings for brightness. They must spend too much time indoors.

    The issue that Cook didn’t mention, however, is the fact that changing the screen resolution and aspect ratio potentially causes trouble for iOS developers, who would be forced to update over 800,000 apps to take advantage of those changes. Sure, you got black bars on apps run on the iPhone 5 until developers got the message and made the necessary updates. If Apple makes the iPhone too large, using one hand to do basic navigation becomes essentially impossible for most users. Apple cares about such things, but if enough customers prefer bigger displays, Apple would want to consider how best to provide one.

    There is also a case to be made for a cheaper iPhone, and a recent report suggests that Apple has selected a different contract factory, Pegatron, a Taiwan-based corporation with operations in China, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Mexico and even the U.S.A., to build them, Supposedly Pegatron is hiring tens of thousands of workers to run the production lines for new Apple gear, and one of those products might indeed by a cheaper and possibly smaller iPhone made of less expensive parts.

    Possible? Cook won’t dismiss the possibility of a lower-cost iPhone. He doesn’t say anything about it, but selling models from last year and the previous year does not seem to be a credible long-term solution. Certainly the competition is producing new cheap models, not just relying on older gear.

    But it all comes down to the bill of materials. Regardless of where the iPhone is built, it would have to be available at a relatively affordable price for it to make sense. That means something less than the current $400-450 for an unlocked iPhone 4. How much less? Would $299 be sufficient to get lots of sales from developing countries? Would Apple be able to make it that cheap, assuming that’s cheap of course, retain a high level of quality, yet earn enough profits to keep stockholders and Wall Street happy? Well, if they build tens of millions of them, I suppose it’s not going to be much of a problem.

    One thing is certain, however. You don’t need to look over the tea leaves to realize that there will be no new mobile products from Apple at the WWDC. iOS 7 will be demonstrated in a way that withholds news about any feature that would require a newer iPhone. You expect it’ll arrive in two or three months, and that the release will coincide, roughly speaking, with the release of the 2013 iPhone or iPhones.

    Will it be an iPhone 5s, an iPhone 6, or an iPhone with another designation isn’t clear. It seems that, unlike the iPad, existing naming conventions will apply, to make it easier for wireless carriers to market the thing. Or maybe not.

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