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Predictions - iPhone 5

  • Next iPhone will likely have NFC
  • 4G/LTE inevitable
  • Shatterproof design?
Written by Adam Wajnberg
20/04/2012

Let the wild rumors begin! Piper Jaffray Cos, an industry analyst, has deducted an October release for Apple’s next iPhone after calculating that a) the iPhone 4S released in October 2011, and that b) 12 months is a nice, handsome number. There was also something in there about Qualcomm having trouble securing enough chips.

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            iphone 4s

                                              The iPhone 5, for all you know

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that at some point soon, Apple will release an update to the iPhone. Speculation that it will be 4G/LTE capable and contain a little more beef under the hood is also a given. Beyond that, trying to guess what it will have is something to do on an otherwise slow-news Friday. So let's not delay!

Ta-Da!

Apple’s product release method is a true work of art. The typical way to announce a new product is to open a booth at a trade show in January. On a shiny pedestal will sit a prototype handset with a meaningless name (Behold! The HTC Compatible!) or a series of FUTURTASTIC model numbers (They said the LG CXY900 was good, but that’s because they’re peasants who never held a CXY1200. I pity them).

An excitable company rep/pamphlet will report on all the fantastic, state-of-the-line, top-of-the-art specifications, the number of cores, the geebees of RAM, the most mind blowing ports. It will be released “soon”, which is industry speak for “November”. By then it will have a name change and do about 70% of the things it was promised it could do.

Apple will announce a quiet meeting of minds at a non-descript location in San Francisco. The invitation will read “I dunno, we were fooling around in the garage and…well, we think this would work maybe?” Then a guy would come out on stage, looking very “Oh, I didn’t know there would be so many people”. Then he’ll say “Well, we were doing pretty well with this unit. We sold 40 billion. So we think…y’know, maybe we could improve on this?” At this point, he will remove the still-intact pat of butter from his mouth and whip a velvet cloth off some shockingly fantastic piece of hardware.

Flashbulbs! PAFF! POMF! Reporters head straight for the phone booths outside, smoking nervously while trying to reach the city desk – oblivious to the fact they all have iPhones already. Then the man on the stage would quietly say “Oh, y’know what? This will be available tomorrow. Kthxbai”.

Masterful! Not only do you want it, you can have it – right now! It’s a sales model that works especially well considering how actually good the product is. But the most important element is to give away absolutely nothing until that point. The party line between releases is “What do you mean release a new product? What does ‘product’ mean? We make cookies here”.

But putting aside the fact that absolutely nothing is really known about what’s coming, when it’s coming and what it will be called, here’s a short list of items that we, along with everyone else, can predict.

NFC

Near Field Communications is a technology that uses a short range wireless connection, similar to Bluetooth, to share digital content. It is expected to be the next big leap in mobile technology in the application of Buying Things (BT).

The phenomenon is already quite popular in Japan and South Korea – you wave your phone over a price tag embedded with an NFC chip, and it charges to your mobile account. Simple. Like a credit card, but easier to lose. Jokes aside, it would facilitate quick and easy transaction for small, fiddly purchases like fuel and groceries.

NFC will be hard to implement in Australia, thanks to the complicated logic of our mobile cap plan system. Apple, however is better placed than anyone else to implement this technology, thanks to iTunes. There’s 100 million iPhones out there, linked to iTunes account, which are already linked to credit cards and bank accounts. Apple is as trustworthy a provider of credit as exists in the world. It’s win-win for Apple, who can easily trump Google’s failing ‘digital wallet’ attempts. Android can’t implement it, because the Android market is too open and fragmented. Too many interlocking deals and agreements would have to be implemented to make it as easy and straightforward as what Apple can do.

Would Apple want to do it? I think so. The brute-force attack on the iPhone’s smartphone market dominance has been somewhat effective, with Android operating on more handsets – even though no single handset comes close to the iPhone’s popularity. But if you’re looking at the indirect competition perspective, people see the choice as Android vs iPhone – and newer, brighter, bigger Androids are released every week. A new iPhone is released once a year.

BUT…there are two big reasons why many people are sticking with Apple. The first is – it’s still good. Like, really good. It takes a lot to move people from the first-to-market provider, but a new product that is clearly better is essential. BlackBerry knows this all too well. Android is not appreciably better than iOS, and handset manufacturers have yet to release a handset as good as the iPhone.

The second issue is entrenchment. Most people have already dropped $100 or so on paid apps over the years. Why re-buy them for a different platform? Eventually, some developers will organize a way to smoothly transition platform changers, but not without a financial imperative to do so. BlackBerry and Windows Phone should jump on that- organize a way for newcomers to get the same apps on their iPhone for free on a BB or WP handset.

NFC is a way for Apple to stay a step ahead. It entrenches customers into using Apple to provide a service that works well, to make small purchases of real-life commodities. Assuming they pull it off well – and at this point, who would assume they wouldn’t? – Apple would have another tool to hang on to customers that are, by and large, too happy to leave anyway.

Phabulous Phablets

Another rumor doing the rounds is that Samsung, Apple’s fierce competitor/loving partner, is struggling to make enough 7 inch screens to meet demands for a mini iPad. Samsung has been enjoying quite a bit of success with its Galaxy Note, a What-The-Hell 5.3 inch gargantuan love child of a smartphone and a tablet – or Phablet!

iphone samsung galaxy note comparison

 

                                                       YIKES

Steve Jobs, prior to his death, was strictly against the idea of an iPhone with a different sized screen. It’s assumed his argument was grounded in his psychopathic obsession with design, but it was probably a more pragmatic decision – developing apps that will simultaneously suit different screen dimensions is pricey and difficult, and will lead to a poorer overall end-user experience. It’s a problem Android developers have been dealing with.

But the iPad’s been around two years now, and most developers have been developing apps that are compatible with these two different screen sizes. So could Apple be getting ready to converge a mini-iPad with a giant iPhone?

Probably not, and definitely not a 7 inch one. An iPad mini makes sense for a device that competes with e-readers, which are generally paperback-sized. A giant iPhone makes less sense. As I pointed out in an article about the future of mobile handset design, Apple seems to be the only one that understands the anthropological need for humans to carry around a tool that fits right in their hand – be it a hand axe, or a wallet, or a cigarette case, or a mobile.

But a slightly bigger iPhone? Could happen. Apple’s certainly no stranger to differentiation – the classic iPod had mini, shuffle and nano versions. Most other providers are going with 4.3 inches nowadays, which provides a nice big screen that’s still accessible to most people without “The Giant” as their last name. Apple could move in that direction. After all, their bread and butter lately is in the sparkling clarity of ‘retina’ displays – why not show that off on a slightly bigger screen?

Tonka Tough

iphone sim release tool

 

                                       Behold, $100 million worth of technologies

Between the era of clamshell flip phones and the iPhone was a sea of tranquility, where candy-bar models were prized for their near indestructibility. Tales of drunken nights out where a phone would be lost in a puddle, trampled on by elephants and chewed by a dog before being found – and then working just fine the next day - were commonplace.

Cue the touchscreen phone. Dropping your phone now means losing a $900 investment. Despite not being covered by warranties, Apple was usually pretty cool with replacing one. Nowadays, they’ll charge you $300 for a replacement – which seems a little opportunistic when you’re selling such an easily breakable item.

The possibility of a rugged iPhone is antithetical to Apple’s sleek design philosophy, but one hopes THE WORLD’S TALLEST COMPANY would be able to get around the tradition of making durable gadgets that look like bits of old car tires.

In 2010, Apple bought a $100 million stake in Liquidmetal Technologies, a company spun off from a Caltech research group. Their Liquidmetal, or Vitreloy product, is an alloy of steel and other elements that have been cooled before crystallizing, creating a ‘glass metal’ that is far more durable than aluminium (or steel, or titanium for that matter).  Apple bought the exclusive rights for the use of the technology in mobile phone applications.

So far, the only application has been in the little SIM card release tools packaged with iPhones. But one assumes the alloy will find a way to toughen up some future iPhone, as will ever stronger versions of Corning’s Gorilla Glass. But would it kill Apple to loosen up a bit and add a silicon-rubber edge to their phone?

Regardless of what we’ll see in the next iPhone, we can be pretty sure of one thing- it will sell. Well.

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