iPhone 5 Predictions

Tomorrow, three very important things are happening: First, MuteMath is releasing their third album, Odd Soul. Next, Jack's Mannequin is releasing an amazing new album, People and Things. And lastly, Apple is going to announce a couple new phones.  Before I start wildly speculating on what these phones will be,  let's have a listen to one of the tracks off People in Things.

Now that you're all jazzed up by emo piano rock, let's talk rumors. The rumors and speculation for Apple's next iPhone have been the most varied and confusing of all the releases. They range from boring (barely an upgrade from iPhone 4) to crazy-go-nuts riduclous (being exclusive to Sprint). Go read any 2 random tech news sites - they'll all report different crazy rumors. John Gruber described this the best:
"Bottom line on iPhone rumors: Apple has effectively kept everyone in the dark."  @gruber 9/21
So what do we know for sure? Well, nothing really, we've only got a big pile of rumors. Going through them all, there are a few things that stick out as all but certain:
  • The 5MP camera is getting bumped up to 8MP.
  • The processor is is getting bumped up to a dual core A5 (same as iPad 2) from the single core A4 that resides in the iPhone 4.
  • A new system-wide voice control feature will be unveiled, called Assistant. 
There are conflicting reports that there will be an iPhone 4S device that looks very similar to the iPhone 4 but with upgraded internals, an iPhone 5 with a drastically different hardware design, both, or a cheaper iPhone 4 released alongside a fancy iPhone 5. I have some thoughts on this...

Right now, the two choices you have for iPhones are the 4 for $199 or $299 on contract, or the iPhone  3GS for $49.99. Although iPhone 4 is extremely popular (it seems like everyone I meet has one), they are actually selling a ton of 3GS devices as well due to their super low price point. It makes sense for Apple to keep pushing back last years model, or one similar to it, down to this price point as sort of a gateway drug into the ecosystem. For that reason alone, I'm confident that they will be releasing not only a new flagship device in the $199-$299 range, but a lower end sub-$100 device along side of it.

The name iPhone 4S seems all but confirmed, but it's unclear if that will be the name of the device we're expecting as the iPhone 5. I think it very well could be. It doesn't make sense to me for the 4S to be the lower end device, not if it's going to have the upgraded processor, RAM, etc that is expected. It makes more sense for them to make the lower end device either the iPhone 4 as it is, or a slightly cheaper version of it. If they loaded it up with all the new goodies, there wouldn't be enough differentiation between it and the flagship model. Plus a 4S would likely cost more to manufacture than the 4, making it even more difficult to hit that sub $100 sweet spot.

If the 5th iPhone will indeed be called the iPhone 4S, then it will likely incur all the internal upgrades that have been rumored, but it is unlikely that there would be much of an external upgrade. The 3G and 3GS are indistinguishable, and I would expect that the 4S branding would imply something similar. The external design changes rumored included it being much thinner, maybe even a teardrop shape, and having a larger display with the same resolution and > 300ppi. Making the device thinner sounds great, and it's possible that they could do this without affecting the size of the battery. Making the screen larger would also be a good move, as Android phones in particular have been getting larger and larger with each generation. And as long as they maintain > 300ppi, they can still call it a 'retina display' because you still can't see the pixels. Sounds good to me. 

Rumors about the new iPhone looking just like a 4 could be valid, but they also could just be because iPhone 5 internals could fit in an iPhone 4 housing, and when a hammered software engineer accidentally leaves a test one in a puddle of tequila, nobody will know it's the new one. I think that the iPhone 5 or 4S or whatever they call it could look very similar to the 4. I don't believe they'd keep the 4S branding if they made the phone look much different, so if it does get a facelift, it'll be called 5 instead of 4S.

Instead of saying it's impossible to tell what's going to happen tomorrow, I'm going out on a limb and and venture a practical guess, and then a sexier one.

Practical Guess
  •  Apple will unveil a new iPhone that looks similar to the iPhone 4 called the iPhone 4S.
    • It will run the A5 processor and have an 8MP camera.
    • It will be available with 32GB and 64GB on-board storage options. 64GB should now be feasible since single chip 64GB NAND flash has been ready for mass production since the beginning of the year. They skipped the storage bump from 3GS to iPhone 4 and I don't think there are any technical reasons for them to skip it this time. 
    • It will NOT be 4G LTE equipped, but will be both CDMA and GSM capable (e.g. the same hardware will run on all carriers). Instead, it will have HSPA+, which that hot yet misinformed T-Mobile chick will call 4G anyway. It's still 3X the data rate of the current generation hardware; I'll take it.
  • The current generation iPhone 4 will become the entry level phone, cost below $100, and may have  its design changed slightly to make it cheaper.
Sexy, Hopeful Guess
  • Apple unveils iPhone5, which has a screen that takes up nearly the entirety of the front bezel and a slick, thin design. It will have all the spec bumps listed in my iPhone 4S guess above.
  • Then they unveil the iPhone 4S, which is a faster version of the iPhone 4 that runs on both GSM & CDMA networks and comes in at the sub $100 price point. 
Back in January I correctly predicted that they'd bump the summer refresh to a later date to avoid releasing a new device so close to their Verizon debut. Maybe I'll get it right again! Who knows. Actually, we will, tomorrow. You can laugh in my face then. And if I'm wrong, I really hope it's because of a dramatic and awesome redesign like this. The folks at This Is My Next / The Verge are the best in the business; I hope they're right again, but I'm not so sure.

Per usual, I'll be watching the liveblog on both Ars Technica and This Is My Next. I'd suggest you do the same.

Addendum (10/4/11) - I forgot to mention that the reason Apple won't be moving to LTE for these new phones is two fold. 1) LTE isn't quite done rolling out across the country, and like 3G, they will likely wait until it is commonplace. This may also have to do with reducing idiot customer complaints about not getting LTE service on their phone when they simply don't live in an area with it. 2) LTE radios chew up batteries. Take a gander at all those Android phones, desperately differentiating themselves from the iPhone with LTE. They have awful battery life. Combine this with relatively poor LTE coverage (the radios will work harder and thus chew through batteries even quicker) and you have a sad battery life situation. This simply isn't a tradeoff Apple will make until the radios get better. Super excited for today's announcement!